Friday, July 29, 2011

Defining "efficiency savings"

To most being told to make efficiency savings means you would look at how things work, can you buy things more cost effectively, if you rearrange a process would it take less time and hence less man hours to do. Not so though it seems for NHS managers who apparently believe that making efficiency savings equates to just cutting the amount of work they do.

As reported in the Telegraph today:

"managers, who are already rationing surgery for cataracts, hips, knees and tonsils, say they must restrict treatment as the NHS is under orders to make £20 billion of efficiency savings by 2015."

Restricting treatment isn't making an efficiency saving, it's just doing less. It's like saying the way we'll save money in a manufacturing business is to make less stuff because then we'll spend less on materials and staff.

However it gets worse, even the most die-hard don't touch our NHS, leave it as it is'er will surely question the idea that NHS management and accountability structures don't need an overhaul when they read the findings of the independent Co-operation and Competition panel report. As described by the Telegraph:

"Executives believe the delays mean some people will remove themselves from lists “either by dying or by paying for their own treatment” claims the report"

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ed's 24 hour u-turn

Yesterday Ed Milliband said:
“I think that BSkyB is a separate issue about the operation of competition law,” (Video below)

Yet at PMQs today he said that the Prime Minister was out of touch with public opinion for saying exactly the same thing. Has public opinion changed so dramatically since yesterday that he had to u-turn? or was it really just for a cheap PMQs hit

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Was public debt really lower in 2008 than in 1997?

Ed Balls keeps banging away that the national debt was smaller before the crisis than they inherited from the Conservatives. The other day Labour List used this graph to illustrate his point.

Damning stuff, except it's two data points, let's look at the whole picture from 1999 to present courtesy of the ONS (It's the graph on the right we're interested in).

So what does this show, it shows that from when they took over and whilst they were following Conservative spending plans, national debt as a percentage of GDP did indeed fall, (aided as well by the sale of 3G mobile phone licences for £22.37bn in 2000, which as Ed Balls said this morning went towards paying off national debt.), but as soon as Labour economic policies kicked in we saw an upward trajectory. By 2008 we were already running a significant structural deficit, then we had the crisis which was an excuse for opening the spending taps even more. 

What's important to remember is that this graph excludes interventions in the banking sector, so the debt didn't go up in 2008 because we bailed out the banks, as the language Balls uses always implies. Trust me you don't even want to see that graph, in April 2011 debt including interventions was 148.9% of GDP.

So next time someone tells you that the debt was lower in 2008 than in 1997, ask them if they know what it was in 2002.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The truth about ESA and cancer patients

At PMQs today Ed Milliband used all of his questions on a technicality of the Welfare reform bill, basically justifying his opposition to welfare reform. He used a press release from earlier this week from Macmillan Cancer care which states that 3,000 (or 7,000 depending on who wrote it up) cancer patients faced the removal of up to £94 a week's Employment Support Allowance.

As far as I can see it the reality is this.

Claimants for ESA are divided into two groups:
1) those undergoing treatment (the support group);
2) Those deemed able to perform "work-related activities"

For those in the support group there is no time limit for their claims for ESA. If you are a cancer patient undergoing treatment for 2 years, 3 years, or 5 years  then it appears that you are entitled to ESA.

However if you're in the second group and your treatment has ended and you have been assessed (by a medical test) as being able to perform work related activities, to help you to return to full work, then you face means testing of your work related activities ESA after having received it for 12 months. This means that if you have savings over £16,000 or you have a partners with either works more than 24 hours or earns more than £149 a week that you would lose the entirety of your ESA, otherwise you would lose either a portion of it, or nothing at all.

So will cancer "patients" be worse off by £94 a week? I guess it depends what you call a patient.

Update: I also understand that the government ammended the Bill to ensure that individuals awaiting or between courses of chemotherapy will automatically be placed in the support group and retain their indefinite ESA.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Is it Christmas already?

Ed Balls latest campaign "Britain's Lost Talent" has been launched on Labour's Campaign Engine Room site. It's a blatant attempt to cash in on the success and media interest of Britain's Got Talent, (something that has failed miserably) and even has a showbiz style logo.

Unfortunately someone in the Labour Party's graphic design department seems to think that snowflakes are the same as stars.

Or is it just so bad there are the moment that they're wishing it was Christmas already?

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Exchange of the Day

From last night's NewsNight

Ed Balls: The IMF have consistently backed George Osborne – they still are – but I have to say in the face of the evidence of the last few months.

Jeremy Paxman: So are you saying that 1,200 economists at the IMF are wrong and you, Ed Balls, are right?

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Words of Wisdom from Gordon Brown

I'm doing some research and came across this gem from Gordon Brown's 1999 Pre-budget report

"The economy of 1997 was characterised by rising inflationary pressures; unsustainable consumer spending; a large structural deficit in the public finances with public sector borrowing of 28 billion pounds; indeed, Madam Speaker, Britain was set to repeat the same old cycle of boom and bust."

So in 1999, Gordon Brown claimed he was worried about an economy that was borrowing £28bn pounds a year, even adjusting for inflation since then you'd be talking about roughly £40bn a year. Today we have to borrow that in just over 3 and a half months, yet as he was leaving government he didn't seem at all concerned about it.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Huhne Prediction

I've been meaning to write this all week just to get it down so I can say, see told you so. (After not blogging on my solution to reducing fuel duty which then ended up in the budget I don't want to miss out again).

My theory is that if Huhne is going to go of his own free will (which is by no means certain based on his behaviour to date) he will go sometime during recess, my first prediction in fact is that he will go today. Why during recess? Well it means he can lie low for a week or so without having to be in the House for votes or if he's not there getting lots of "he's not serving his constituents" comments coming through. Also there are very few MPs around for the lobby to pounce on and get a scathing "It's disgraceful, always knew he was guilty" comments.

On the negative it's relatively quiet political news wise during recess, but I still think if he's going through his choice it will be before Parliament returns.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Obama's failure to endorse government's economic plan isn't good news for the left

There is much crowing from the left that Obama has failed to endorse the Coalition's plans to reduce the deficit by saying lines such as "Our different countries will need to take different paths". However perhaps they should consider that he may not be willing to support our plans because they aren't as quick as his, rather than the other way around.

As the Spectator has shown in this graph, the "Obama plan" sees public spending reduced by a larger percentage in 1 year than we're doing over an entire Parliament.

So why has he been saying this different paths line? Well either
1) He wants to ensure that the Republicans can't accuse him of wanting to go back on what he has already agreed (i.e. not cut as quickly) or;
2) The Coalition (who surely had sight of his speeches and remarks beforehand) didn't want to embolden those on the right who are saying we should be going much quicker than we are, or do any damage to the public's view that we want to go quicker.

Either way, his comments certainly don't endorse the Labour Tax and spend approach, if anything it says the opposite.

I've just seen the transcript of the joint press conference where Obama says:

"And obviously the nature and role of the public sector in the United Kingdom is different than it has been in the United States.  The pressures that each country are under from world capital markets are different.  The nature of the debt and deficits are different.  And as a consequence, the sequencing or pace may end up being different."

The role and nature of the public sector in the US is that it provides much less to it's citizens than ours, therefore they can cut quicker than we can here, is my reading of that.

Interestingly the PM said:

"But each country is different, but when I look across now and see what the U.S. and the UK are currently contemplating for the future, it’s actually relatively similar program in terms of trying to get on top of our deficits and make sure that debt is falling as a share of GDP...."

"...So as he said, we may take slightly different paths but we want to end up in the same place."

So there's that different paths line again, clearly an agreed line between them.

Update 2:
From the transcript of Obama's speech in Westminster:

"Having come through a terrible recession, our challenge today is to meet these obligations while ensuring that we’re not consumed with a level of debt that could sap the strength and vitality from our economies. That will require difficult choices and different paths for both of our countries."

Also notice his focus on debt, which is a major issue in the US, unlike our debate here on the deficit.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Plan A working - Unemployment Falls

Unemployment is down by 36,000, it's not a huge amount but it's down none the less. The total number of people in employment rose to 29.24m which isn't bad compared to a pre-recession peak in May 2008 of 29.56m. Youth unemployment is still 20% but that is a fall from last quarter.

Overall Labour will argue that it's too slow and that the increase in jobseekers claimants (up by 12,400) shows that we are spending more money on benefits than would be spent if we just continued increasing public sector employment (That's my prediction for an attack question at PMQs today).  However some of those will be people moving off disability benefits after being reassessed and found fit to work and the overall trajectory is positive.

Basically Plan A is working, so Ed Balls couldn't be more wrong with his constant "we need a Plan B"  message.

Picture stolen from Guido, it was just too good.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why Huhne might resign today

Rumours are circulating on Twitter that Chris Huhne is going to announce his resignation at 4:45 today.

There's a few reasons why he might go:

1) No one has yet discovered the smoking gun on the rumours / claims that he got someone else to take speeding points to avoid a driving ban. He can therefore resign now claiming it's over something else (My guess is wicked Tories and their wicked and alleged "rich kids get uni places plan") and get the heat off his back before anyone can find it.

2) His ministerial pension rights apparently kick in today.

3) It's become clear that it won't be easy to get David Laws back into the government, let alone into the Cabinet, so there's little chance Huhne can just be replaced easily with a right winger in the form of David Laws.

Of course at the same time, Huhne is supposed to be at the 2nd reading of the energy bill then (although Guido was claiming that he'll be hiding out at Privy Council instead) and this rumour did start from a journalist on twitter, who has now rolled it back and didn't have that many followers, so was he just aiming to get a few more?

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Stratford Election Results

Final tally from last night.

Conservatives: Gained 4, lost 2, overall result +2

Independents: Gained 1, overall result +1

Lib Dem: Gained 1, lost 4, overall result -3

A good result for local Conservatives last night. Neville Beamer increased his majority to
Roughly 700 in Stratford itself and Lynda Organ won by over 500 votes also in a Stratford ward, both results showing Conservatives have regained the trust of the town's electorate.

Also a fantastic result for Danny Kendal in Wellesbourne winning by 300 votes to unseat a Lib Dem and a close win for first time Candidate Johnathan Gullis in Shipston, with a margin of just 16 votes, also unseating a Lib Dem councillor.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why vote no to AV today

AV is unfair
With First Past the Post, everybody gets one vote. But under AV, supporters of extreme parties like the BNP would get their vote counted many times, while people who vote for one of the mainstream candidates would only get their vote counted once.

AV doesn't work
Rather than the candidate who receives the most votes winning the election, the person who finishes third could be declared the winner.

AV is expensive
Calculating the results is a long, complicated process, which would cost the taxpayer millions. It can take days to figure out exactly who has won. The estimated cost of AV over £250 million. The cost of AV has been estimated to be £250 million by the NO to AV campaign.

AV is obscure and unpopular
Only three countries in the world use AV for their elections: Fiji, Australia, and Papua New Guinea. And in Australia, 6 out of 10 voters want to get rid of it.

AV would lead to more Hung Parliaments
Hung parliaments could become commonplace with more haggling and horsetrading between politicians. AV makes hung parliaments far more likely. While hung parliaments can bring parties together in the national interest, as it did last May, the expectation of a hung parliament -- if it becomes the norm rather than exception -- would make Party manifestos irrelevant and cause more horsetrading between politicians, both before and after elections

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

First past the post favours ....

As we enter the final week before the AV referendum the campaign is hotting up and the Sunday papers are full of politicians telling us how to vote.

In the Observer Lib Dem Chris Huhne has joined forces with one of the minority Labour supporters of AV, John Denham, to call for an anti-tory alliance to remove first past the post which he claims has favoured Conservatives.

Firstly it appears that the Yes campaign has dropped all pretence of real arguments in favour of Mandelson’s argument of vote Yes to defeat the wicked Tories. The new non tribal politics is clearly winning inside the Yes camp.

But the main thing about this argument is that first past the post favours the Conservatives. His reasoning, only twice in the last 110 years (1900 and 1931) has a Conservative government had an absolute majority of 50%. His argument appears to be that if we added together the Lib Dem and Labour vote then they would have had a 50% majority. His argument is therefore that all Lib Dem voters are anti Tory, which of course isn’t true, and if you follow it through then clearly the solution is that Labour and the Lib Dems should merge and become one party, job done.

Looking at the figures of General Election results also destroys his argument. Since 1900 there have been 13 Conservative governments (including the current coalition), 12 Labour Governments and 4 Liberal governments, so how exactly has it favoured the Conservative Party?

Of course in reality First Past the Post currently favours the Labour Party, mainly due to the current constituency boundaries (which is why they’re being changed). That’s why even though the Conservatives got a large national swing last May they still didn’t win an overall majority. In reality the Labour party (a progressive majority?) won a landslide election in 1997 and then two more majorities before being kicked out (although not in any way by a landslide) last year, and technically they could have stayed in power with the Lib Dems.

So given recent history do you really think that First Past the Post favours the Conservatives? And who do you think AV favours?

I see everyone’s favourite Vince Cable wrote basically the same thing in the Guardian yesterday. I do feel sorry for Clegg who I believe is more centre right than centre left, and is stuck with a coalition in his own party, the left side of which is abusing the AV referendum to try to enforce their dominance.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Keynes Vs Hayek Round 2

This is an absolute must watch for anyone confused over top down versus bottom up (or Keynes vs Hayek).

Favourite lines from my side (Mr Hayek):
"Wow, one data point and you're jumping for joy"

"Real growth means production, what people demand, that's entrepreneurship not your central plan"

"The question I ponder is who plans for whome. Do you plan for yourself or leave it to you, I want plans by the many not by the few"

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rebalancing the economy

Just wanted to quickly share this little tidbit that the Spectator pointed out from CitiBank showing how the government really is managing to rebalance the economy towards exports and private sector investment. Whilst the two Eds (Ball and Milliband), and of course Gordon Brown believe that the only way out of a recession is public sector spending Osborne and Team and proving that it doesn't have to be the case.

The ONS has just released the Q1 GDP growth figures (0.5% growth), however the underlying figures show that the rebalancing of the economy is working. Manufacturing up 1.1%, Services up 0.9% and production up 0.4%.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

AV Sports Day

It's been a while but with the AV campaign hotting up I expect to be blogging a bit more in the coming 2 weeks or so.

The posts might even be more than just posting a new No to AV ad, like this one:

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Quote of the day

Eric Pickles yesterday when asked if he thought it was bizzare that Ed Milliband had compared his party's struggle to that of apartheid:

"Well, I suppose there comes an occasion, you turn up, there's a lot of people there-and you just start to talk. These things happen, and we should be in a forgiving mood. I mean, anybody can compare themselves to Martin Luther King."

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Taking on Whitehall

There have been a number of posts and articles of late claiming that Cameron was wrong to identify the Civil Service as an enemy of Enterprise in his speech to Spring Forum in Cardiff. It seems that no less that the head honcho of the Civil Service, Sir Gus O’Donnell has been tasked with telling No. 10 to “Cool-it”, in their anti civil service rhetoric.

The argument from pretty much every journalist doesn’t seem to have been that the Civil Service isn’t an Enemy of Enterprise but that it’s wrong to pull them up on it. You see you need the Civil Service to support you in putting through your reforms, so you shouldn’t upset them by telling them they’re not doing a good enough job.

Rubbish, this kind of thinking is exactly why they are the enemies of enterprise. No government has ever had the guts to take them on for fear of them holding up everything else, but if we are to fundamentally reform our public services and rebalance our economy then we have to. The media should be cheering the Prime Minister for having the strength to take on a powerful lobby and set of vested interests, or are they too worried about losing the Civil Service’s support and access, to tackle them too.

Update: As I wrote this James Forsyth at the Spectator posted a piece on Coffee House pointing out that even former Labour government insiders and minister agree that the Civil Service get in the way and have power without accountability, mainly because they can’t be sacked. In opposition I believe that Francis Maude had plans to put permanent secretaries on short term contracts to resolve this, but I understand this has met Civil Service resistance (anyone really surprised by that) and been quietly dropped, along with other proposed Civil Service reforms.

Bootnote: I think we can guess that the leaked budget that Balls held up in the Commons yesterday was from a disgruntled Civil Servant who didn't like the idea of being pulled up on his performance by the government.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Our debt interest in perspective

As regular readers know I love a good visualisation, and CCHQ have just come up with a great one showing just how much we spend as a government every day. Unsurprisingly at present our daily debt interest dwarfs anything else, including schools and defence.

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Why Combine Income Tax and NI?

At the beginning of last week the Office for Tax Simplification (another new body, with an un-sexy name, but an important job), released its interim report into how to simplify the tax system. The coverage at the time was minimal (what with Libya imploding and Japan’s nuclear reactor’s exploding it’s hardly surprising), but since then and with the budget looming the media has suddenly started to pick-up on their most radical proposal, Scrapping National insurance in favour of a tax which combines National Insurance and income tax into one.

Why is this a good idea? Well firstly national insurance is quite complicated and calculating income tax deductions and national insurance deductions and completing the correct returns for the PAYE system is a time consuming process for business (especially smaller ones). In fact I am almost certain that there is research out there somewhere which shows that being responsible for the tax affairs of employees is one of the things that stops sole traders and one man band businesses from expanding into employers.

Secondly National Insurance is a tax that has had its day. It’s designed to act as an insurance payment, you pay in and get access to benefits and the NHS if you need them, if you don’t then your payments are paying for someone else to get them. Except you also get access to benefits and the NHS if you’ve never paid any National Insurance, because as a society we also look after the poorest and those that can’t work.

At present National Insurance raises £98.5bn a year against an annual welfare bill of £180bn and an annual bill for the NHS of £xxbn. In reality taxation from NI isn’t ring-fenced to pay for benefits and the NHS and if it was it wouldn’t be anywhere near enough anyway. It’s all just money for government coffers, and is just another form of tax on income with complicated rules and rates.

Removing National Insurance actually goes hand in hand with the benefit reforms which Ian Duncan Smith is currently pushing through. His suggestion that everyone will be entitled to a flat rate £140 a week pension removes not just the link to NI contributions over time, but also the complicated mechanism for NI top-ups, that make sure that someone isn’t left in poverty in their old age. So combining NI and income tax not only simplifies things on the employee side, but could also help reduce the huge bureaucracy which is required to administer our benefits system.

Finally of course if we do this then it’s more difficult for a future Labour government to put up taxes by stealth by increasing NI, because it’s all in one single payment. In reality at present the 20% tax rate, including NI is actually 32%, and the 40% rate is actually 52%. So not only would it be more difficult to put up taxes when we’re in opposition, but it’s also easier to convince people that they should be reduced when we’re in government.

So really it’s a win-win all round and something of a no brainer. My prediction is that the Chancellor will announce some kind of commitment to set-up a commission or inquiry into how this can be done in the budget, although who knows he may go further.

Bootnote: This was originally written last week and I've only just got around to looking up the tax income figures.

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The Ed Balls Strategy

Last week’s opposition day debate was supposed to be on the Police. As Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Office, Yvette Cooper had put her motion to the Speaker, lined up her speakers and was putting the finishing touches to her speech when suddenly her husband Ed Balls popped up and changed everything.

You see “the Balls”, as I’m sure he dreams people called him, appears to be leading on Labour strategy, and as far as he’s concerned it’s “the economy stupid” that matters and nothing else. The Tory-led government are taking risks and cutting too far too fast and that’s affecting the man on the street and it’s the only message the public care about.

That he’s committing Labour to fight the government on the economy almost alone is clear from today’s Treasury OPQ order paper, which shows a clear whipping effort from Balls to get his questions in there.

For those that don’t know the order of who asks a question at OPQs is the result of a ballot. You can enter the ballot by tabling either a topical question (which just gives you the right to ask any current topical question) or tabling a pre-written oral question. These are then put into “the shuffle” which I’m pretty sure is just a computer programme which randomly selects who will get to ask a question.

If you’ve ever looked at an order paper and wondered why so many people are on the same wave length and have asked the same question or almost the same question, then here’s the secret. The Whips send round a set of questions and ask their MPs to pick one that they like and submit it. There’s no formal whipping of it, i.e. no one says you must submit a question, or that you can’t put in your own question (many do), or at least there isn’t normally one.

However for today’s Treasury questions three times as many Labour MPs put in questions as for yesterday’s Education questions, so you have to ask who has been putting the pressure on, and my answer is of course “The Balls”. As a result of this effort the order paper is stuffed with Labour MPs and of course if they all submitted one of “The Balls’ ” questions then you end up with the same question many times (although the MP obviously gets to ask a supplementary as well, although this is supposed to be supplementary to their initial question).

So out of 25 questions the Chancellor will actually only be asked 16, and the country and Parliament is missing out on the chance to get an answer to 9 different questions .

Today’s order paper (questions grouped):
1) What assessment he has made of the effects on the economy of the trade in mortgage-backed securities and collateralised debt obligations. – to be asked by Bill Esterson (Sefton Central)

2) If he will bring forward proposals for a scheme to provide looked-after children with a savings account or trust fund funded by contributions from the Exchequer; and if he will make a statement. – to be asked by Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East)

3) If he will estimate the revenue to the Exchequer attributable to receipts from the increase in the standard rate of value added tax on road fuel. – asked by Albert Owen (Ynys Môn), Vernon Coaker (Gedling), and Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central)

4) What assessment he has made of the effect on levels of employment of the increase in the standard rate of value added tax. – to be asked by Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes), and Mike Gapes (Ilford South)

5) What assessment he has made of the effect on consumer confidence of the increase in the standard rate of value added tax since his recent meeting with representatives of the retail industry. – to be asked by Eric Joyce (Falkirk)

6) What fiscal measures he has taken to support economic growth in the manufacturing sector. – to be asked by Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock), Andrew Stephenson (Pendle), and Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye)

7) If he will review the pace of proposed reductions in public expenditure to take into account gross domestic product figures for the fourth quarter of 2010. – to be asked by Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth), Graeme Morrice (Livingston), Barry Gardiner (Brent North), and Ian Mearns (Gateshead)

8) By what date he expects revenue to the Exchequer to match levels of public expenditure. – to be asked by Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

9) If he will (a) prepare and (b) publish an assessment of the relative effect of his forthcoming budget on women, families and ethnic minorities. – to be asked by Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland)

10) What recent representations he has received on measures to reduce the budget deficit. – to be asked by Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North)

11) What recent assessment he has made of the effect on economic growth of the spending reductions set out in the June 2010 Budget. – to be asked by Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham), and Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West):

12) What recent assessment he has made of trends in duty and value added tax on petrol. – to be asked by John Mann (Bassetlaw)

13) What steps he is taking to reduce the rate of inflation. – to be asked by Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton)

14) What assessment he has made of the contribution of HM Revenue and Customs to reducing the budget deficit. – to be asked by Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend)

15) If he will bring forward proposals for a further tax on bank bonuses. – to be asked by Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East)

16) What fiscal measures he has taken to support economic growth in Kent. – to be asked by Mrs Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald)

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Understatement of the Day

Ed Balls on Labour's handling of the economy:

“Did we spend every pound wisely? Of course we didn’t”

At least he's honest.

Hat-tip to Paul Waugh for spotting that gem.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Exclusive Video: David Cameron talks to West Midlands Party members

After attending the LEP summit at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, the Prime Minister attended a meet the members event with members from across the West Midlands. I was there and shot the video below of the PM strongly arguing for a no vote in the AV referndum, telling members to be proud of what's been achieved in government and catching someone out on the fact that the AV refendum means there are elections everywhere.

Shot and edited entirely on an iPhone 4, so sorry the sound is a little low

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Monday, March 7, 2011

IPSA spends £4,300 per member of staff on furniture

Fascinating news today that IPSA has spent £293,000 furnishing it's offices at an average of £4,300 per member of staff. IPSA bosses have apparently defended this by saying:

"IPSA is not part of the Parliamentary estate. Last year we walked into a shell of an office and needed to equip it - there is a cost associated in doing so. We followed the proper procedures - we held a competition through the Office of Government Commerce, where the Government has approved suppliers and rates,”

Now strangely enough our constituency office isn't part of the Parliamentary Estate either, and therefore doesn't get any furniture. It was in fact when we moved in, an empty shell of an office. However was there any budget from IPSA to get furniture or set-up the office? Perhaps something that IPSA would describe in terms of their own expenditure as "...a one off expenditure which we will not be repeating." Short answer, no. MPs are given a roughly £10,000 annual budget for anything they purchase for their offices that isn't rent, utility bills etc, from that as a new MP we had to buy some special software for tracking constituent contacts a one off cost of a few thousand pounds, letterheads and stationary, and have enough left over to pay ongoing running costs (such as toner for the Parliament supplied printers, a complete set of which costs about £500).

In reality our office is furnished with furniture from my own home office, and some items kindly leant to us from the office next door, who probably expected to get them back at some point and are slowly realising they won't. I would love to be able to have spent £465 for a relaxer lounger, or £262 for visitor chairs. I would more realistically love to be able to buy a sofa and stools for visitors to be able to have informal meetings sat on rather than having meetings formally across a desk but it's never going to happen because:
1) It will be published and misrepresented by a newspaper who will think it's appalling we've brought a £100 sofa from Ikea, and should instead be sitting on bare concrete floors;
2) IPSA haven't given us any money to do it.

Yes some MPs milked their personal expenses for profit and gain, but it is as much staff who are suffering now as the MPs, whilst IPSA continues to live in its own world.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Brown and Balls' gold sale has now cost country £9bn

Everyone knows that Gordon Brown sold off 400 tonnes of the government’s gold at the absolute bottom of the market in 1999. It is a fact so well known that gold traders even call it the “Brown Bottom” and of course this Conservative campaign poster helped as well.

However with gold reaching $1,437.20 an ounce yesterday, it’s becoming apparent just what that “mistake”, to which no Labour politician has ever apologised for, cost the country.

Then Chancellor Gordon Brown, and his advisors at the time, Ed Balls and Ed Milliband, who were copied into all correspondence relating to the sale, sold off our country’s Gold reserves at between $256 and $296 an ounce, raising £2.343 billion. If it was sold at today’s prices it would raise £11.2bn, an incredible £8.8bn difference.

To put that into perspective, a 1p reduction in fuel duty would cost the exchequer £500m, so this is enough to pay for a one year 18p reduction in fuel duty. Or to reverse the coming fuel duty rises scheduled by the last Labour government, and a few of those from the past for several years.

Before anyone says, ahhh but what about inflation, according to the inflation calculator at total inflation since 1999 has been 30%. So the value in today’s money of the £2.34bn would actually be £3.042bn (still a massive difference of £5.75bn)

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Monday, February 28, 2011

Damp squib of a bonfire

Andrew Sparrow of the Guardian is reporting that the Public Bodies Bill is seeing a significant government u-turn in the Lords, with the powers of Quango abolition being stripped out with government approval.

I always thought that the primary purpose of the Bill was to provide Ministers with the power to abolish 150 specific quangos without needing specific primary legislation for each one. Apparently though Lord Taylor has said "The government has accepted the argument that bodies or offices should only be listed in the schedules of this bill where parliament has given its consent in primary legislation,"

Presumably this means that for a Quango to be abolished it must either have an existing clause in the bill which created it allowing a Secretary of State to abolish it, or primary legislation must be passed for each Quango. If this is the case I can't see us abolishing more than a handful as there's simply no room for 150 pieces of primary legislation, and surely if the Bill had passed that would have been primary legislation, fully debated through the process (possibly unless the bill started in the Lords, which could be the issue).

I suspect this has come about due to the continued threat of legal action and judicial review over every ministerial decision. With Gove and Pickles both getting slapped wrists from the judiciary for overstepping their powers as Secretaries of State the government seems to be shifting to a position of wanting everything bullet proof (just look at how long it's taking to get a judicial review proof gypsy circular out). It's a commendable position but is making it almost impossible to follow a rapid and radical agenda, simply because there are only so many hours in the Parliamentary day, and in my opinion these decisions should be within the powers of a Secretary of State anyway.

Regardless of the reasoning though I worry that this decision makes the bonfire of the quangos less of a bonfire and more of a damp squib.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

From the Archives: January borrowing

I thought given the fact that we have seen a £3.6bn surplus this January, that it would be useful to revist my comments from this time last year in a post entitled Double dip recession, or did it never end?

"Perhaps the most worrying economic indicator towards a double dip though is the record government borrowing in January. I say record, but for the first time since records began the UK government have had to borrow money in January which is a terrible sign. Traditionally January is a very good income month for the government with VAT from increased Christmas sales, and income tax from the self employed. In total tax receipts were down 11.8% compared to last year meaning that the self employed and businesses have been hit hard. Either they haven’t made as much money in the past year as they did the previous year or in a potentially even worse situation they can’t afford to pay the tax they already owe. Neither situation is good news"

At the time I was clearly wrong, we didn't thankfully double dip and we were out of recession. I also wrote "Brown continues to tell us that we are best placed to come out of recession and that the recovery is fragile and any spending cuts will destroy it." . Now I know technically spending cuts haven't hit yet, but clearly in annnouncing them and announcing some policies for growth what we've created is confidence for business, which is generating growth. With growth we can therefore cut government spending without fear of a collapse in GDP. Basically Brown was wrong.

The media is saying today that this is the first surplus in January for 2 years, but last year they were reporting that it was the first time we'd ever had to borrow money in January, so I'm not sure if I was wrong then, or the media is wrong now. I'm sure I could go look it up, but I've got a real job to do too!

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

How AV works

Lately quite a few people have been asking me to explain how AV works.

So for anyone who is struggling with understanding this oh so "simple" system I thought I'd share the excellent Daily Mash's explanation:

Under the AV system, voters rank candidates in order of height before ranking them again in order of stench.

The candidate with the most points goes through to round three where he must beat a pair of local schoolchildren in a Blockbusters-style quiz.

If he fails then the second-placed candidate takes on the children and if successful then goes on to wrestle a kangaroo.

The fifth round involves defusing a live feminist before the clock reaches zero and in the sixth and final round they have to sing a song in front of an audience of easily unimpressed Glaswegians.

Whoever makes it through all six rounds then gets to treat you like a child while stealing your money.

Of course you could alternatively read the No to AV campaign's explanation, or for fairness the Yes campaign's explanation, although I'm not sure either is any clearer.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

David Gauke: Inflating our way out of financial crisis is nonsense

I had the pleasure yesterday of attending part of Conservative Intelligence's Going for Growth conference.

I just caught the end of John Redwood (who to the disappointment of the man from Gatwick airport failed to mention air transport in his talk on transport infrastructure, although he was apparently talking about his journey from Woking to London), but managed to catch the entire of David Gauke's speech and Q&A session.

With inflation figures announced today and the view from many (including Douglas Carswell, the Spectator and Daniel Hannan) that the Bank of England's plan is to inflate our way out of debt, his comments on this were interesting. Especially as many people seem to think that this secret strategy of Meryn King's has the approval of the Treasury.

So what was David Gauke's view when asked about inflation. "The idea we can inflate our way out of the financial crisis is frankly nonsense" was his response

Does that put this idea to bed then?

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Prisoner Votes - The problem with coalition

Prisoner votes should be an easy win for the Prime Minister. He's against them, and his Conservative Cabinet Ministers (minus Ken Clarke) are against them, but the issue is the ECHR. The solution which has been much mooted is to withdraw from the ECHR and replace it at the same time with a British Bill of Rights (which presumably by some clever wording would make sure prisoners couldn't get voting rights).

This is a fantastic solution, which also delivers a Conservative manifesto pledge, that would also appease the eurosceptics amongst the base and the backbenchers. It may not be an in out referendum on the EU that they all want so much but it would stick two fingers up at the EU for meddling in British affairs, plus resolve the issue of prisoners being given votes which is far from popular with the electorate.

Except we're in coalition and our Liberal partners rather like the EU. The question therefore becomes could the Coalition survive the PM ramming this through (and to complicate matters too, would his Justice Secretary survive) and could we get enough Labour MPs to support a British Bill of Rights (a Conservative Manifesto pledge) to make up for pro ECHR and abstaining Liberal MPs.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bureau for Investigative Journalism founded by Labour donor, no one really surprised

Data is a wonderful thing, you can cut and slice it pretty much however you want, in order to give you the spin you want, which is what the grandly titled Bureau for Investigative Journalism have done with the freely available data on political donations.

Not a lot of investigative journalism (Step one: go to electoral commission website, step two: download political donors list, step three: Google names) has shown that 50% of Tory donors, since David Cameron became leader, work in the city. Cue headlines and the BBC talking about how this explains why the government has been “soft on banks”, seemingly forgetting that just yesterday we increased taxes on them. Strangely neither the Bureau, or any non Conservative friendly media outlet, have ever said anything about the 75% of Labour donations that come from the Unions and how that may have influenced policy during their 13 years in government.

Breaking this down, firstly you can find patterns in data pretty easily and draw wild conclusions with even less effort. For example I’m sure if I was to look at where Tory donors lived they would overwhelmingly be in and around London and the South East. However this doesn’t square with an established narrative, as of course we’re pushing spending away from the South East and actively trying to promote growth in the rest of the country instead.

But who is the Bureau for Investigative Journalism I hear you ask. Well funny that you, a mere blog reader, and not a news producer or newspaper editor should be interested in that. They were set up In April 2010 by Psion founder Dr David Potter to encourage independent serious investigations and encourage a new generation of reporters? Are they independent? Well I’m sure they’ll say they are, but at the end of the day all media outlets, be they a newspaper, or a “collection of journalists” have some ethos and political leaning, normally taken from their founder, owner or whoever pays the bills. I am sure for example that Sky news will say it is independent but the anti-Murdoch brigade would say otherwise wouldn’t they.

So which way does Dr Potter vote? I’m sure you won’t be at all surprised that he’s a Labour Party donor, having given £90,000 to the party as at March 2010, and of course the Bureau has some form on publishing stories that hit the conservatives rather than Labour, what with their election expenses investigation. An investigation which strangely only found issue with one Labour MP (now disgraced Phil Woolas), and focused predominantly on Zac Goldsmith’s expenses, claiming he had breached the law, something the electoral commission later said was untrue. In fact all MPs were cleared by the electoral commission of any wrong-doing and a simple call to them in the first place (Call it an investigation) would have cleared up the legal position of the alleged “discrepancies”.

As I said you can slice and dice data however you want, Guido has pointed out that if you take David Rowland, who isn’t actually a city financier but a property developer out of the figures then suddenly the city is only 9% not 58%. I guess it’s how you define that flexible term “The City”, and why let the facts get in the way of a great anti Tory story.

And as to the independence of the Bureau and its journalists he points out that one of the journalists behind the piece is well known Labour party loyalist Yuba Bessaoud.

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Media shocked that ex-Labour councillor criticises government.

Yesterday the papers and Television news was full of the enws that independent head of Community Service Volunteers, Dame Elisabeth Hoodless had criticised the government's cuts and said that the Big Society won't get volunteers becuase of them.

Except Dame Elisabeth Hoodless isn't quite as independent as she was made out to be. Why? because she was a Labour Councillor in Islington and is apparently married to a former Labour leader of Islington Council.

In May last year she was careful to distance herself from the labour Party claiming she quit shortly before Tony Blair stood down in 2007 and saying "The Labour government scrapped the 10p tax band and cut benefits for single mothers, and I had to ask myself why I was paying money to a party that behaved in that way," she says. "So I quit. I'm not a member of any party any more."

Although in May 2008 she was happy for the Islington Tribune to refer to her as a former Labour Councilor without the claim she had left the party in disgust.

Either way, I think we can stop claiming that she is some kind of independent charity figure concerned about the actual effects of policy and not just ideologically opposed to cuts.

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cutting 10,000 police officers simply isn’t possible.

Today Labour have said that the 10,000 police jobs predicted to be cut as a result of a reduction in police funding (to levels of roughly a few years ago) are just the start.

The impression given by the Labour party and indeed from Police Authorities and of course ACPO and the Police Federation is that Police Forces across the country will be wielding the axe and thousands of Police Officers will be made compulsorily redundant.Except they won’t, because you can’t make a Police Officer redundant. Why? because they aren’t actually employed by anyone. Past their 2 year probation period, and unless they carry out gross misconduct, an officer’s career will simply continue until they retire which is roughly 30 years later.

The only option left open to Police Forces is regulation that enables them to compulsory retire individuals who have 30 years service, to ask people to take voluntary retirement (often on full pension as a sweetener) or to force individuals who have become disabled in the line of duty to retire. Making redundancies simply isn’t an option.

Now I may be wrong, and I’m not sure about the demographics of the Police Force, but something tells me that there aren’t going to be 10,000 of them who are already working past retirement age and so can be compulsorily retired, let alone more than 10,000.

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Good MPs have nothing to fear from NHS Reforms

Benedict Brogan has posted a piece to his blog reminding us of one parliament Labour MP David Lock. Mr Lock, Brogan reminds us, was elected in the Labour landslide of 1997 and after supporting changes to Accident and Emergency services at his local hospital in Kidderminster found that he lost the next election to a local GP stood who won 60% of the vote.

Brogan suggests that many Tory MPs who have been around since the heady days of ‘97 are eyeing the Health reforms with concern and worrying that they’ll be in his words “Kidderminstered”.

Personally I think that’s rubbish. The only MPs who have anything to fear from any controversial proposal are those that are lazy and no good at the job of being a modern MP. Oh and those that are more interested in protecting their jobs by opportunism than doing what is right.

For a start the situation isn’t the same. Mr Lock was defeated by a GP, seeing as we’re putting GPs in charge of the health budgets and it will be their decision whether to use a hospital or not, I’d like to see one stand on a platform of this hospital closed because you put the likes of me in charge. If anything Lock’s experience proves why we are right to put GPs in charge of commissioning, the public believes that they know what they are doing (despite the attempted lobbying of the press of NHS managers and unions to the contrary) and trusts GPs more than it trusts either politicians or faceless NHS managers.

Also this argument that Brogan puts forward that price competition will definitely squeeze out smaller hospitals simply isn’t true. If they’re well run and concentrate on specific areas then local hospitals won’t be squeezed out. As an example locally we have a super hospital in Coventry (UHCW) which is under an enormous PFI contract, and a smaller hospital at Warwick, then there are tiny local hospitals like the Ellen Badger in Shipston. UHCW has been squeezing the PCT for every penny it’s got to cover its costs, whilst Warwick offers A&E and general surgery as well as concentrating on some specific areas and is seen as one of the best in certain areas such as ophthalmology and cancer treatment. If anything I’d put my money on Warwick offering better prices than UCHW as it doesn’t have the same ridiculous overheads. In fact as most mega hospitals were built under PFI, if anything, price competition will risk the under utilisation of larger hospitals not smaller ones. Whilst at the smallest local level GP consortium are desperate to take over the running of smaller local hospitals like the Ellen Badger as they feel they can manage them more effectively and understand their place in the community.

Then there’s the issue with lazy MPs and their attitude to issues in their constituencies. If there’s a perception that something is going wrong in your constituency then it’s your job as the MP to find out about, react to it, and try to influence people to resolve it. This could be either way, if the public are misinformed or confused about government policy and the reasons behind it, then it’s your job to help inform them and change their mind, if the organisation in question (in this case the GPs) seem to be making the wrong decision then within the realms of letting them get on with their jobs, it’s your job to make sure they know. If you wait until an election time to go and try to convince them your party’s views are right then you’re toast.

Unfortunately I think too few MPs see this as their job. MPs of the old school, who have been around for a long time seem significantly less likely to have a constituency office to keep them in touch with what’s going on back where they were elected, and less likely to deal with local issues. I’m also constantly shocked by how few staff older MPs have. I constantly meet MPs who have been around for ages who have one member of staff. By comparison we have 3 and take in work experience students as well, but despite this barely keep on top of our member’s workload and particularly their correspondence from constituents. To only need one member of staff, your constituents have clearly given up trying to communicate with you and know it’s just not worth it. Now if there’s something controversial in your constituency, how likely do you think they’ll be to re-elect you on the basis of all the other good work you’ve done for them?

Then there are those MPs who are more worried about getting re-elected, or thanks to the boundary changes re-selected, than working for the good of their constituents or their country and so target their efforts at easy win opportunism rather than helping to explain government policy to the electorate. HS2 is a good example of that, it’s not going anywhere near my constituency, but I’ll oppose it because I’m getting letters on it and it might help my re-election or selection chances. The forestry consultation is an even worse examples with MPs playing both sides. Yesterday I watched Conservative MPs carefully craft lines in their speeches to fire “warning shots” at the government about a consultation that hasn’t even completed yet, that will play well in the local papers, whilst their overall speech and their final vote supported the government’s position.

So back to my point on NHS reforms, personally I think good MPs should have nothing to worry about, if they explain the reforms properly, the reasoning behind them and if they monitor what’s going on in their constituency and react to it then it shouldn’t be a problem. However if they’re lazy and more interested in looking out for themselves than their constituent and the country then they’re in trouble.

As an aside Brogan’s piece highlights the exact problem with the Comms of the NHS reforms, it’s become way too much of a process story. Every time it’s mentioned you get the process background i.e Lansley had a free reign for being quiet in the campaign, the PM wasn’t sure about his reforms, Oliver Letwin had to look at it, medical practioners aren’t sure, now MPs aren’t sure, instead of it being stories about the substance of the proposals.

It’s said that Coulson had become obsessed with the communication strategy of these reforms just before his departure, hence getting the communications maestro of the PM involved, and it’s no doubt at the top of the list for his replacement Craig Oliver. For what it’s worth my opinion is that we need to start talking about the largesse of PCTs again and the layers of management and staff within them to win the public over to the need for reform.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

The government's economic plan

"An economy based not on consumption and debt but on savings and investment."

Simple when you think about it.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Double dip?

Do today's GDP growth figures tell us that we're on our way to a double dip recession (read as a Labour dream scenario)?Personally I would like to see John Rentoyl nominate this for his Questions to which the answer is no series although something tells me he isn't likely to agree it should make the list.

Today's figures of a 0.5% contraction are disappointing, have given us a day of concealed Labour gloating and certainly not what we really wanted to see at this point, but...

And There is a but here although some people see it as just an excuse (on Twitter someone described it as the British Rail excuse) but you may have noticed we had a spot or two of bad weather in the last quarter.

This is what the Chancellor has been pointing to today ending with the fantastic line (I'd love to know who came up with it because it's genius) of "we won't let bad weather blow us off course", which has begun to stick.

By comparison Ed Balls, who has probably done better than Alan Johnson would have done today, pointed to Bobert Barro and Ricardian equivalence as to blame, throwing in a bit of stagflation for good measure, proving he still knows how to communicate in catchy voter friendly soundbites. In voter speak though he basically pinned the blame on a fall in confidence.

In reality it's probably a bit of both, but to suggest there's a fall in confidence to blame alone, and that this is a result of government cuts which have been announced but not yet taken effect (public spending is up on this time last year by something like 5%, not cut yet) is rubbish when business confidence surveys all say otherwise.

The ONS, who say their data is iffy at best this quarter, and likely to be significantly revised later (this is the first of three estimates they will produce), have said that discounting for the snow, growth would have been flattish (so somewhere around zero but maybe a little higher).

So, conclusion. Does this mean double dip? No in my humble opinion, because of the weather, other indeterminable factors and the fact we expect growth to slow during a climb out of recession. The weather depressed sectors such as construction significantly and on top of that confidence is just not taking the beating that Labour would have you believe these figures suggest. Basically this is the equivalent of a rogue poll, the numbers alone don't capture what's really going on out there. Businesses I talk to, particularly smaller ones who will be the real driver for growth, are feeling positive, a little nervous perhaps, but generally they feel like things are on the up and are seeing then as such. I suspect that the ONS early estimates collect data from big businesses first, as they have better data collection and feedback processes, and that these are most affected by working for the public sector and a fall in potential future revenues hence the low figures, which were then compounded by the snow.

Basically though we'll just have to wait and see what the next quarter brings us and of course hope that the weather stays warm.

Bootnote: I think Osborne won the communications battle today with a catchier line and a message people can understand and relate to. For most people they can think yes, the snow got in the way of me getting out and spending, whilst far less will be thinking, well I spent less because I'm concerned about future cuts in my income.

What is concerning in the ongoing Comms battle though is how the message that there's no plan for growth is sticking. There's a lot of policies out there, but no document or plan with a catchy name bringing them together or a Comms strategy for telling people about it. This has to change, especially as even out own side had started jumping on the bandwagon.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Clegg – You shouldn’t believe what the Lib Dems promise

Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg was on Marr this weekend and talked very openly about the Lib Dem tuition fee promises and why they couldn’t be delivered.

Clegg responded to Marr’s question on the backlash on tuition fees by saying:

“Firstly, of course when you say you want to do something in politics, particularly during an election campaign you do it on the assumption you can get elected in office in your own right.”

To which Marr replied rather brilliantly, saying exactly what everyone was thinking:

“Doesn’t that mean almost anything you say in an election campaign doesn’t count... because you’re never going to be in charge”

At the end of the day the electoral math currently makes it practically impossible for a Lib Dem majority unless the leaders of the Conservatives and Labour are found out to eat babies the week before an election. So therefore you can assume that everything in the Lib Dem manifesto is just an idea to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Or maybe there’s an alternative, perhaps in 2015 their manifesto pledges and promises could be colour coded, with little red and blue dots next to them. Red for those that will survive a Labour coalition and Blue for those that would survive a revival of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition. Anything without a dot (as the Tuition fee promise would have had) you would know is just a hollow electioneering stunt.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

On Coulson

Busy day Friday, and weekends are family time which means no blogging so I haven't had a chance to write anything on the Coulson resignation until now. Personally I was surprised to see that he's offered his resignation and that the PM has (this time if you believe the papers) accepted it.

Why? because Coulson was a vital member of the no 10 team, not as many people think in terms of keeping Steve Hilton and his "crazy" ideas in check but in terms of the dynamic equilibrium that is a vital part of being a modern vote winning political party.

And by dynamic equilibrium I don't mean as David Davis has apparently just pointed out that he was the one from the poor background who could understand poor people as a result. Frankly that's an offensive argument that suggests you can only empathise with people and their issues if you are the same as them. Utter rubbish.

In my mind the dynamic equilibrium at the heart of no 10 was this 1) Steve Hilton came up with the ideas that can get the Conservative Party elected again. By this I mean the ideas that appeal to the floating voters and ex Labour / Lib Dem voters. As most readers will no I really don't believe that a swing to the right would have won us a majority. It was Hilton's detoxification strategy which meant people felt comfortable voting blue again. The problem was not enough of them felt comfortable.

So what's the equilibrium then you say? Well 2) Coulson was the one who knew what would get the media onside and not piss off the traditional voter. Every Hilton strategy from the original Husky trip, back in those early days of Team Cameron, through to the Big Society was and generally is ridiculed by the papers, even if the voters like it. Coulson was there to make sure they were fed traditional red meat Tory fodder, because without that dynamic equilibrium between the two we can't win an election. You can't get the media to take you seriously, you can't mobilise the base and you can't win the floating voters.

The issue at the election wasn't that we needed to go one way or the other more, it's that we didn't get the equilibrium right, and haven't quite got it right since May. Was that Coulson's or Hilton's fault? If they hadn't been fighting (allegedly) would it have been better? Probably not, because every dynamic equilibrium needs both co-operation and competition, without both you've got no equilibrium.

So replacing Coulson will be tough, not because he provided a council estate counter balance to the Eton playground but because he provided that competition and co-operation we need.

A final thought on whether this will damage the PM. Personally I don't think so, the Left are trying to spin this as bad judgement on Cameron's part. This story just won't stick with the public though. They don't care (unless they already hate Tories or News International). They didn't care that Ed Milliband showed spectacularly bad judgement by putting Phil Woolas in his Shadow Cabinet, when remember, there was a pending court case that he subsequently lost and they won't care or remember about this. To date Coulson hasn't even been charged with anything, so really who's showed the worst judgement?

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

NHS hypocrisy

Speaking on Sky News today Ed Milliband said
"The health service has a very low settlement in term of its financial position"

Suggesting that the government's plans to increase health spending in real terms (not just cash terms) year on year just don't go far enough for the opposition.

Which is odd considering in June Andy Burnham said "It is irresponsible to increase NHS spending in real terms" whilst in the same month now ex Shadow Chancellor Alan Johnson said "There is no logic, sense or rationality to it at all in the current economic climate, and it will do great damage to other parts of the public sector. You can make savings in the NHS and you can ensure those savings go into frontline care."

So does Ed Milliband want to lead a Labour party that is pro NHS cuts or has he decided to join the pro NHS Coalition government?

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Inflation hits 3.7% - King changes his tune

Today's inflation figures show that CPI has hit 3.7%,  1.7% above the Bank of England's target rate of 2% and since January an increase of nearly one percenatge point.

What's interesting is that back in January, when I was clearly wrongly saying that an interest rate of 2.9%, (The result of the biggest single one month rise in history of one percentage point) was bad news for Labour's re-election, Meryn King was saying that interest rates would almost certainly have to rise to control it. Not only that but that the patience of Britons would be "sorely tried" as a result of stagnant pay and a real terms decline in living standards.

Fast forward to today and with interest rates at an even higher level is he saying the same thing? No he's silent and the MPC have again voted to keep interest rates where they are. In fact he has been arguing that the current level of inflation is a blip despite evidence showing it clearly isn't (Thanks to Spectator Coffee House for the graph).

The big question though is why is there no government reaction to the continued failure of the MPC to hit their legally mandated  2% target. In fact the PM's spokesman this morning said that he had complete confidence in the MPC. There are two ways you can look at the government's silence on this issues either:
1) They support the MPC's position to keep interest rates low and agree to risk inflation running away in order to prop up the housing market and give the economy a false boost (a dangerous game)
2) They really believe that interest rates should be the domain of the Bank of England and not politicians so believe that they must support them and trust their judgement on the matter.

Of these I think option two is the least worst of two evils, but it's hardly a poplicy for a stable economy.

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Fili-what? The Filibuster hits our shores

There's suddenly a new word in British politics, a word which is normally only heard on the other side of the Atlantic.

1. U.S. Politics .
a. the use of irregular or obstructive tactics by a member of a legislative assembly to prevent the adoption of a measure generally favored or to force a decision against the will of the majority.
b. an exceptionally long speech, as one lasting for a day or days, or a series of such speeches to accomplish this purpose.
c. a member of a legislature who makes such a speech. 
For many people their only knowledge of Filibusters is from The West Wing Episode - The Stackhouse Filibuster, which shows an elderly senator giving an extended length speech in order to stall a vote on a Family Wellness bill on which his autism centre ammendment had been defeated. It turns out that his grandson has autism (hence why he is so determined) and of course after the Whitehouse realise this they support him and his fillbuster and the bill is (we presume) ammended. The episode leaves you with a feel good that the system works and that the right things was done.

Of course as we watch fillibusters appearing in the British political process for the first time you look at that episode in a slightly different light. Was it right for Senator Stackhouse to hold up an otherwise acceptable bill for what was effectively personal gain?

If looked at in that way then someone in the Labour top tiers did indeed get The West Wing for Christmas as I previously suggested (It's series 2 episode 17 so they clearly haven't had time to get far through it), as this is exactly what Labour Peers have been doing in the House of Lords.

The idea appears to be to talk for as long as possible in order to draw out the length of time of the debate whilst claiming that all you are doing is properly scrutinising the bill and offering helpful (read as 200 plus) ammendments. In reality peers are just waffling, as this well reported example from Lord Harris of Harringey at 1:45am this morning:

“So what were the reasons for choosing 600 (MPs) as opposed to 650, 630, 575 or 585? I was tempted to say that there was some sort of arcane numerology about this. Noble Lords will be aware that 650 is the product of three prime numbers: two, five squared and 13; 630 is of course the product of four prime numbers: two, three squared, five and seven. I defy anyone to find a similar formulation or number that involves five prime numbers. Maybe my noble friend Lord Winston, or some such person could come up with something.”

Labour claim that their issue is the bundling of the AV referendum with the redrawing of constiuency boundaries and the loss of 50 MPs as a result, and have previously tried to block this by making out that it was hybrid legislation. An initial challenge that was defeated. In reality it makes sense for the two aspects (both of which will come into affect at the next general election) to be in the same bill as they both relate to the reform of our electoral system.

In reality they're playing the numbers hoping that in the end the government will given in and split the bill on the basis that failing to deliver an AV referendum in May will cause unrest on the Liberal benches and amongst their activitsts. If this happens they then hope to be able to delay the boundary changes, possibly indefinitely but definitely too late to be implemented for the next election. Why? Because as everyone knows the current boundaries are uneven and favour Labour. It is after all the current system that means that the Conservatives could get a national vote share that means they fail to win a majority but which would result in a Labour majority if the situation were reveresed.

So the Filibuster continues, unhindered by the guillotine and business order motions that mean we never see these in the House of Commons. The Lords are certainly earning their money at the moment, or they would be if they were paid.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

What does the Old & Sad result mean for the coalition

With the Tories pushed to a distant third place and a massive Labour majority of 3,500 delivered in Thursday's by-election in Oldham and Saddleworth does this result really have any bearing on the future of the coalition?

I'm coming a bit late to this, with pretty much every politico under the sun having passed their judgement already, but for what it's worth here's my two cents.

The Oldham result strengthens the Coalition and increases the chance of it surviving for two reasons:
1) The Lib Dems actually increased their vote share, proving that being in coalition with the Conservatives hasn't actually damaged them electorally. Quite a lot has been written about whether these were traditional Lib Dem voters or tactically voting Tories, but from an electoral point of view who cares. When you're expecting you vote to collapse (as national opinion polls suggest) because of who you've been associating with then an increase in your vote share can only show your your worries were unfounded.

This increase will stop back benchers from grumbling (well Lib Dem ones anyway!) and reduce the risk that they'll stop supporting the government on the grounds they want to protect themselves at the next election.

2) Overall more people voted for the Coalition than Labour, by a long way. If there had been a coalition candidate (and I'm not suggesting there should have been) then they would have walked it. This proves that voters overall like what the coalition are doing, it's just that the vote in favour is split two ways.

So in my view the Oldham vote only strengthens the Coalition, and reduces the chances of a Lib Dem back bench revolt which brings down the government. The only danger is that with such a fall in the Conservative vote share we risk giving the grumblers in blue yet more to grumble about. The so called "mainstream" Conservatives (a phrase I think couldn't describe the grouping less) will just add this to their long list of reasons why the PM and the party should swing further right. Sadly they're wrong but it won't stop them trying.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Oldham East & Saddleworth - Undecided voter experiment

So it’s election day in Oldham East and Saddleworth so let’s play a game and pretend I’m an undecided voter sat at work trying to work out who to vote for, so what do I do? Of course I Google the candidates and take a look at their websites to see what they stand for.

Debbie Abrahams - Labour
First up Labour Candidate Debbie Abrahams. Well I struggle to find her website as searching for "Labour candidate Oldham East" just comes up with loads of news stories about Debbie Abrahams being selected, not her site. After a bit of work I find her site and look for an about me page to read all about her, except there isn’t one. So then I look for her priorities or policies page, except there isn’t one. So I read the text on her home page which says:

“The LibDem-Tory Government is making the wrong cuts, at the wrong time.

In Oldham East and Saddleworth they’ve let down local people. The axing of nearly 1,400 police officers, the increase in tuition fees and the VAT rise are just three of the Lib Dem broken promises we need to expose.

It doesn’t have to be like this. There is an alternative. This by-election is your chance to send a message to the Lib Dems and to Nick Clegg."

It doesn’t say a lot so I watch her video and it says the same thing.

Conclusion: Vote for me because I’m not a Lib Dem. My priorities are exposing broken promises, but I don’t have any policies or local priorities and not just because my party’s policy book is a blank sheet of paper.

Elwyn Watkins – Lib Dem
Next up Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins. Good start for Elwyn when his website appears as the first hit on Googling for Lib Dem candidate Oldham East. Then it all goes a bit wrong again as like with Debbie Abraham’s there’s no obvious about me page (it’s tucked away under contact Elwyn & the Team for some reason) or a policies or priorities page.

So I’m left reading the home page text which says:

“Elwyn is well known locally as a straight talker. He has proven he will fight for what is right for local people. He lives locally in Delph.

As our new local MP, Elwyn's priorities will including fighting for more jobs, better health services and to keep our streets safe.

The by-election looks set to be a photo finish between Elwyn Watkins and Labour. There were just 103 votes in it last time!”

Conclusion: Vote for me because I’m local. I’ll focus on jobs, the health service and crime. Don’t vote conservative because otherwise you’ll get Labour.

Kashif Ali – Conservative
It doesn’t start well for Kashif after Googling "Conservative Oldham east candidate", as the first two hits are all about how low key the Conservative campaign has been in Oldham followed by an article on Labour Uncut about how David Cameron forgot his name. His website comes in at number 6 on the Google, but at least I don’t have to know his name as I do with Debbie Abrahams.

At last I cry an about page, where I learn that Kashif is local, and is a barrister, first candidate who is happy to clearly say what they are doing at the moment (Elwyn turns factories around apparently, and who knows what Debbie does, I’m guessing she works for a Union). No priorities page but the about page points out :

“Kashif's key priority is the economic regeneration of the constituency. "Jobs, businesses, and better public transport are the key to prosperity and the key to a better future for residents."

Having benefitted from a good education himself, Kashif realises that good schools and educational opportunities are essential to unlocking the talent in our communities and families.

Tackling drug crime and guns in many parts of Oldham needs a concerted effort. Where drug dealing is concerned Kashif wants zero tolerance policing as well as a renewed focus on re-cooperating the proceeds of crime, a much greater police presence on the streets, harsher sentences for those convicted and for communities to start reporting suspected dealers.”

Conclusion: Vote for me because I’m local. I will focus on improving the economy through improved public transport. I will also focus on education as well as tackling drug and gun crime through zero tolerance policing and a greater police presence. I also want harsher sentences for criminals.

Overall Conclusion
The websites of all three candidates are rubbish, none of them give that election day floating voter the information they need to make their mind up. Particularly poor is that of Debbie Abrahams which fails to tell you who she is or give you a positive reason to vote for her. Elwyn Watkins’ is a little better but fails to give any meat to how he will achieve his priorities. Of the three Kashif Ali’s is the best of a bad bunch as he actually lays his cards on the table and tells you who he is and what he believes in.

In the end though  if I was an undecided in Oldham today that exercise wouldn’t have helped me one bit.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Only 15% of students make the academic grade

For years we've been hearing of the success of our education system. Standards have been going up year on year with the league table pass rates (5 A*-C grades which must include English and maths) at their highest ever level. It's evidence of the success of our education policies said Labour over 13 years.

Except it's not, it's simply evidence of the dumbing down of education that has left us in the shocking state we're in today. You see Michael Gove has just introduced a new league table measure, which show's things rather differently. This new measure, the English Baccalaureate, is the percentage of pupils attaining 5 A*-C grade GCSEs to include maths, English, science, a humanities and a foreign language. A measure of a rounded education you could say. What's shocking is that only 15.6% (1 in 6 pupils) in the UK managed to achieve that. Compared to 53.4% under the old system.

Of course Head Teachers are complaining. This is an unfair measure, they say, our students (read as the Head Teachers) didn't know that this measure would be used 3 years ago when they picked their options. The previous government pushed our pupils towards vocational courses in other subjects yet more grumble. What about diplomas a small minority call. Won't somebody think of the children a Head from an inner city school screams from the back.

At the end of the day though head teachers and teachers have participated in this deceit. None of them questioned the league table measures and whether they measured real attainment, or indeed were useful for employers, colleges and universities. None of them complained when languages were dropped as compulsory GCSEs. As a result of this (and it not being in the league table) One of our local schools has all but dropped languages from the curriculum. Pre GCSE you'll do one term of French, with one one hour lesson a week, then switch to German for the next term. In the final term you'll do no languages. Last year less than 20 pupils took the French GCSE, those that did unsurprisingly obtained less than stellar results. I haven't even looked up the school's baccalaureate score, I know it will just be depressing. I'm willing to bet languages will get a bit more focus now though.

What these figures show is that school's haven't just been teaching to the test, they've been teaching to the league table. I don't think anyone could argue that pupils shouldn't leave school with GCSEs in the core subjects of English, maths, science, a humanity and a foreign language so this new measure is certainly a valid one regardless of what the Head Teachers may be claiming.

These figures also banish another great myth which falls alongside the abolishment of boom & bust. That Labour spent 13 years improving education for the better, in fact they spent 13 years destroying it.

Bootnote: One has to wonder if all these failing schools that have been turned around have done so purely by changing the curriculum mix. If you were making everyone do real GCSEs in the core subjects and then you swap that to softer subjects and GCSE equivalents, your league table scores would improve immeasurably. Something to look into I think.

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Quote of the Day

"We've ended up with a Shadow Chancellor who can't count and a Labour Leader who doesn't count"
  - The Prime Minister, PMQs

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Is Steven Gerrard really worth more than Bob Diamond?

Bankers bonuses are in the news again as banks start to announce their bonus pools and the general public fails to understand why they’re so big.

First up to announce bonuses appears to be Barclays, a bank which remember, didn’t take a government bailout. To thunderous condemnation from the left their Chief Executive Bob Diamond will apparently receive a bonus of approximately £8m on top of his £1.35m annual salary and the overall bonus pool for all staff will be £2.5bn.

By comparison it’s estimated that Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard earns a weekly salary of £120,000, equating to £6.24m a year. So what you say, Bob earned more than that in bonus alone this year.

But let’s look at it another way. In theory the highest paid person in an organisation is the one that should be most responsible for the performance of that organisation so how have Barclays and Liverpool, or Bob and Steven performed?

In 2009 Barclays made a pre tax profit of £11.6bn, much of this was due to selling off Barclays Global though, so if you discount that then pre-tax profits were actually £5.3bn. Full 2010 figures aren’t available but the first half of 2010 saw pre tax profits of £3.95bn so as a guess let’s double that to reveal profits of £7.9bn. As a reward for creating those profits Bob Diamond (who earned no bonus last year or the year before) has earned a total of £9.35m which is 0.1% of the profit.

By comparison Liverpool made a profit in 2008 of £8.3m on a turnover of £159.1m (This is the only year I can find figures for although 2009 turnover was apparently up to £184.8m). Presuming 09 profits went up in line with turnover to £9.6m and generously 2010 profits went up by the same percentage again to £11.15m (unlikely), then Steven Gerrard was rewarded for creating those profits with 55.9% of them. (I know he wasn’t technically because his salary was in the costs, but go with it)

So Bob Diamond who created £7.9 billion pounds worth of profit was rewarded with 0.1% of it, whilst Steven Gerrard who was responsible for just £9.6m was rewarded with 55%. Even if you say he was responsible for turnover (given that profitability was not his responsibility but management’s) then he was still paid 3.4% of turnover (30 times what Bob earned as a percentage of profits) .

I know the comparisons aren’t really direct but you don’t see everyone in the country, and especially the media screaming in the same way that footballers shouldn’t be rewarded the sums they are. Despite the fact that they produce significantly less economically than bankers and are rewarded significantly higher percentages.

Bootnote: Harriet Baldwin MP just tweeted a reminder that for every pound of bonus paid the revenue will get 62.8p in income tax and employer’s National Insurance contributions so those £2.5bn of bonuses will net the exchequer £1.7bn of cash to play with.

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