Every opportunity that Labour spokespeople get these days they attack the Lib Dems. Not usually for any specific Lib Dem policy but for the fact that they were willing to go into coalition with the Conservatives. It often seems like Labour MPs feel like jilted lovers whose rightful and "natural" partners the Lib Dems have inexplicably spurned them for an ill-suited lover and that they will surely soon live to regret this folly.
Wednesday, 30 June 2010
Tuesday, 29 June 2010
Danny Finkelstein wrote a Times piece this morning where he suggested that David Cameron could use a change in the electoral system to AV to his advantage. Because of the paywall, there's little point in me linking to The Fink's piece directly but James Forsyth on the Spectator blog has summarised his idea:
So Danny Finkelstein’s blog this morning suggesting that ‘AV might provide the answer to the otherwise impossible question - if the parties stay together, how can they fight the election apart?’ has caused quite a stir.The argument is that the Tories would urge their voters to put the Lib Dems as second choice and vice-versa. If this ploy worked — and the Australian evidence Danny cites suggests it would — then AV would hurt Labour not the Tories.
I have just read this post by Jules Mattsson, a student who is a freelance photographer in his spare time. In it he describes how he was detained and questioned by police officers when he was trying to take photographs of an Armed Forces Day parade in Romford on Saturday.
There is a YouTube here which contains some of the pictures taken and an audio recording of much of the incident:
The cabinet have decamped today to Bradford to hold the cabinet meeting. This is the sort of thing that started to happen under the previous government. I thought it was a gimmicky waste of time and money then and I think the same now. Indeed many Tory MPs used to think so too (as does Iain Dale today). Apparently once the cost of security etc. is added in, previous trips like this have cost up to £200,000 a time. This won't even factor in the loss of productivity in having ministers unneccessarily travelling for several hours (apparently most of them arrived by coach).
I suspect the counter arguments will be that they get the chance to see what is happening in other parts of the country but ministers already travel all over the place as part of their duties. Having them all descend on one particular place like this is surely not necessary for this purpose? Indeed this particular trip seems to be in response to a difficult question Cameron was asked during the election campaign in Bradford and to get out of it he promised to bring the cabinet up to the city. This is surely overkill.
I am sympathetic to the idea of moving government departments out of London and perhaps even parliament, e.g. to Birmingham or Manchester. Moves like this would help reduce the London-centric focus we so often see and could actually save money given how expensive London is. But the fact is our parliament is in London and sending the entire cabinet on awaydays like this seems pretty hard to justify, particularly in our current financial circumstances.
David Cameron should make this the last day trip like this for him and his colleagues.
Monday, 28 June 2010
Just one tonight:
- If you played games on a ZX Spectrum in the 1980s then you almost certainly played at least one written by Jonathan "Joffa" Smith. His titles included Cobra, Green Beret and one of my all time favourites Hyper Sports. He frequented an online forum where I am also a regular and I got to know him a little through that in the last few years. Sadly Jonathan died a couple of days ago. Matty on Games has a fitting tribute to him here.
England got thrashed 4-1 by Germany in the World Cup second round yesterday. We deserved it too. We were by far the weaker side on the day. The defensive problems that had been apparent throughout the group stage were present in abundance. The final German goal tally of 4 could easily have been more like 6 or 7.
So Germany certainly deserved to win and are looking like they might be contenders for the title. Even if we had somehow managed to scrape through by luck yesterday do we honestly think we could have beaten for example Argentina given their masterful performance yesterday?
Friday, 25 June 2010
Here are the five most popular posts on this blog from the last week in case you missed them:
- John Redwood's comments are being taken totally out of context
- The hypocrisy of Simon Heffer
- The Sheffield Forgemasters "cut" is no such thing
- Raising the income tax threshold - great news!
- Labour is increasingly resembling the Tories in the late 1990s
And you should have been reading this: Transform reveal the real reason why the Home Office held up an FOI request for information about research for the government's drugs policy.
There's a fascinating blogpost on the BBC website today from Martin Rosenbaum.
It describes how the Home Office postponed the release of research from a Freedom of Information request from Transform Drugs Policy Foundation and then when they did finally release it, some annotations that were clearly never meant for external eyes had accidentally been left in that showed the real reason for the delay.
Here are the snippets:
The polling reaction to the new government and the budget has been fairly positive (link opens PDF) with the previous government being blamed by half of all people surveyed for the difficult measures in the budget and a majority saying that they think the cuts are good for the economy.
Thursday, 24 June 2010
Join us below from 10:30pm:
Tory MP John Redwood wrote a blogpost earlier this week where he drew a parallel between how a middle class family who finds their income cut by 10% can make adjustments and used the analogy to describe how the UK state could also make adjustments.
Tomorrow’s budget will probably be proposing cuts of less than 10% over the lifetime of this Parliament. Sensibly managed, this need not entail cutting anything that really matters.The UK state has been living a middle class lifestyle. If you are living on a low income then of course cutting spending is difficult or impossible. If you are living a middle class lifestyle and your income goes down by 10% you have plenty of options. You can holiday nearer at home and cut out the foreign trip. You can eat in more than in the local restaurants. You can trade down for a cheaper car. You can draw some money out of the savings account to tide you over until your income goes up again. You can buy more of the value items at the supermarket, and put more vegetarian dishes into the home menus. You can discover home entertainment to keep the leisure bills down. You can turn down the thermostat a little and put on a jumper.The UK state finds itself in that position today. It has plenty of assets. Some can be sold to help out. It has been dining out on consultants and temporary labour. It needs to do more in house. It has been appointing all too many to exotic job titles which we could manage without, and sending many of them on expensive overseas fact finding trips and seminars. It has indulged in a mind blowing array of politically correct regulations which often fail to tackle the underlying problem they wanted to address. It has been a master at buying the “nice to have” or the “why do we need this?” instead of concentrating on doing the basics well.
There's some rather specious reasoning going on over on the Spectator blog today. Fraser Nelson has posted a piece where he refers to an article by James Forsyth in the paper version of the magazine entitled "The true meaning of Osborne's budget".
"During the election campaign, nearly every Tory candidate despaired at how so many families on £50,000 a year were voting Labour to protect their £545 child tax credit — despite the overall cost of a Labour government to them being far higher than that. Osborne’s Budget dealt with this directly. Within two years, no family earning £30,000 a year or more and with one child will receive tax credits. That class of wavering Labour voters, so irritatingly prevalent in marginal seats, will be no more."
Is there something I am not spotting here?
There are reports this morning that the government is looking to move the age at which state pensions are paid to 70. There were previously plans in place that would have made the age at which this happens 68 by 2046 but the government wants to go further sooner than this.
I was born in 1974 so any change to the retirement age for men to 70 assuming it kicks in before 2044 (and looking at the outline of the proposals it almost certainly will) will affect me. I am fine with not receiving a state pension until I am 70 though. To be honest having been familiar with the figures for a number of years I was expecting this to happen. If anything the age may be even higher than 70 by the time we get to 2044 after all 34 years is a long time in terms of medical advancements.
One final point. I am very pleased to see Steve Webb as one of the ministers involved in this policy area and the announcements. He is an expert in this and if anyone can negotiate their way through the minefield of pensions policy it is him!
Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Something keeps happening regarding the political discourse in this country since the election. Both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems keep being accused of having "broken" their pledges.
We saw it again yesterday. The compromises that were reached by both sides regarding the budget in the coalition government are described as "U-turns" or abandonment of pre-election pledges etc.
I saw Bob Russell, the Lib Dem MP being interviewed talking about how he had been elected on a platform that was in some ways quite different from what had been announced yesterday. I also heard a Tory MP on the radio bemoaning the fact that he had campaigned promising not to raise Capital Gains Tax.
The problem is that the way all the parties campaigned before the election was under the assumption that they would have an overall majority after the election. Yes, even the Lib Dems. The political dynamics that have evolved around the First Past the Post system essentially require each party to talk as if they will have all the power. In the last few decades that has actually not been an unreasonable position for either of the two main parties to take. However this year has of course now proved them wrong.
Perhaps we will see a change in the dynamics of the way the next general election campaign is fought. Perhaps the parties will talk more about what they will fight for and their specific priorities on these fronts than talking as if they will be able to decide everything without having to compromise. Then again maybe we won't. Old campaigning will likely die hard.
I have always been in favour of a more proportional system and therefore I actively welcome the sort of politics where compromise needs to be reached on issues as we are seeing now. Yesterday's budget would not have been the same if the Conservatives had had an overall majority. I do not think the income tax starting point would have been raised by anything like £1,000 nor do I think that Capital Gains Tax would have increased to 28% for higher earners. There are other areas too which have a distinctly Lib Dem flavour. However there is no denying that there are things in the budget that we would not have had were there a Lib Dem majority. That is not a "betrayal". It is a simple reflection of the fact that we did not get enough votes/seats to form that majority.
Also, those opposition politicians screaming "betrayal" at the Lib Dems should reflect on how unwilling their leadership was to engage in meaningful coalition talks and also how the electorate had dealt a hand that made such a route fragile at best.
There will have to be more compromise over the coming years. That's how coalition government works. Everyone needs to recognise this new reality.
Tuesday, 22 June 2010
So we now know following George Osborne's first budget today what measures are going to be taken over the next few years to get the deficit under control.
- VAT up to 20%. As I have repeatedly stated on here I would have preferred income tax to go up rather than VAT as at least that is clear and based on ability to pay. VAT is a stealth tax and by some measures is regressive. But governments hate putting up income tax (because the public hates it whatever they might say to pollsters, punishes politicians that do it and we do live in a democracy). The £13 billion it raises is necessary unless the cuts were to go even deeper which would surely have been politically impossible and caused even greater howls from the opposition.
- Income tax allowance threshold to increase by £1,000. I am very much in favour of this and it moves us towards the Lib Dem policy of having everyone who earns under £10,000 taken out of income tax altogether. I have had arguments with numerous left wingers on Twitter about this who keep saying that it does nothing to help the poorest in society. I know. It's not designed to. It's an income tax measure and the poorest in society do not pay income tax. What it does do it allow the lowest earners to keep more of their own money which I see as a very good thing.
- Capital Gains tax threshold up to 28% for higher rate tax payers, kept at 18% for lower rate tax payers. I would have preferred to see this go closer to 40% to completely close the gap with the higher rate of tax but I understand that this is a compromise.
- Corporation tax for large companies to come down from 28% to 24% in 1% decrements over the next 4 years. Corporation tax for small companies to come down from 21% to 20% next year with no further reductions scheduled. First, declaration of interest, I own and run a small business. Whilst I am pleased to see corporation tax coming down (this will encourage growth which will help us get out of the fiscal problems faster) I think the balance should have been reversed with the small companies rate coming down more quickly. This is not from a self-motivated perspective but because small companies are the engine of the economy and the less tax they pay, the more likely they are to grow and ultimately also become the large companies that pay the higher tax ultimately anyway.
- Levy of £2 billion on banks. I would have liked this to be higher.
- Accelerating the change in retirement age to 66. A necessary move. The sooner politicians are honest about this the better. We cannot continue to subsidise retirements of 20 or more years as the norm. Pensions were never intended to do this and the next generation cannot afford to do it.
- Child benefit frozen for 3 years. I would much rather have seen it means tested although some say it would have been expensive to administer this. I am not convinced this would make it unworkable though. I expect Labour to go for the government's throat on this and it is harder to justify than means testing.
- Tax credits reduced for families earning over £40K per year. I have no problem with this. The money needs to come from somewhere and this is one example of where those earning a bit more have to contribute.
From 12:00 noon today I am participating in a Budget Live Chat coordinated by Left Foot Forward across a number of other blogs.
According to reports, George Osborne is likely to raise the threshold at which people start to pay income by £1000 to £7,475. This is apparently to be paid for by clawing it back from top-rate taxpayers. I am am not clear on exactly how this second part will work but if this is correct then I think it is excellent news.
Monday, 21 June 2010
Mr Brokenshire said: "During the festival season we know that people may be tempted to try potentially dangerous new drugs, particularly when they are advertised as 'legal' or 'herbal'."That is why we are asking festival organisers and police to work with us to send out the message that these substances may not be safe..."
He also said drug laws would be changed so temporary bans could be introduced on "emerging substances" while scientific advice is sought.
Sunday, 20 June 2010
- Is around 170 times faster and has almost 350,000 times the storage space than my ZX Spectrum did (indeed there are games available for the iPhone that would have been amazing as arcade games just 20 years ago) whilst being less than a tenth of the volume and a quarter of the weight.
- That I can use as a much better version of a Sony Walkman which can store hundreds of hours of audio.
- On which I can watch many hours of video either downloaded or even streamed from e.g. the iPlayer.
- That I can use to take photographs.
- That I can store digital photographs taken on this and other devices for viewing any time I want.
- That I can use to take live film including audio.
- That I can use as a dictaphone.
- That has GPS built in and a mapping application that will show me precisely where I am at any time just by tapping the screen a couple of times.
- That has a built in compass.
- That I can use to keep track of multiple electronic correspondence through e-mail, contact details for everyone I know and that I can use as a calendar/diary. All of these automatically sync up with accounts that are on my home and work PCs too.
- That is always connected to the internet and that can rapidly look up any of hundreds of millions of pages including almost all print publications instantaneously.
- That I can run applications on to do almost anything that you can think of including games, TV Guides, "What is near me" type apps, train timetable search apps, weather apps, etc. etc. etc. with thousands of new ones appearing every day.
- Oh, and of course I nearly forgot that it can be used as a telephone!
- I think by then we will have devices that are augmented with the human body. Perhaps even linked into the brain. At the very least I expect them to link in with our vision system somehow to allow a fully immersive augmented reality experience to be readily available. AR is already here in some forms.
- Communication technology will have advanced so far that Gigabytes or even Terabytes worth of data will be transmitted over the air in seconds. This will mean that massively high resolution images and videos will be able to be sent to these devices remotely in effectively real time on demand. How this will affect the structure of our media provider companies is unclear but the landscape will surely be utterly different to what it is now.
- The technology to allow whole life recorders will be widely available within the next few years. That would put an end to arguments about who said what when but of course would have huge implications for civil liberties which might make their adoption problematic.
- I expect within 27 years for the problem of Artificial Intelligence to either have been cracked or for the power of the processors and storage available to allow a close enough approximation of AI to be widely available.
- I also expect voice recognition and synthesis to have evolved to the point where input devices such as keyboards are largely obsolete. I would still expect mice and touchscreens to be used though as there are some things that voice recognition will not be able to replace. However linked in with an earlier point, depending on how far the devices can be augmented with the human body they may be able to be controlled with the power of the mind alone. Scary but also very exciting.
- We will have hover cars, pill meals and will all be living on the moon. In spangly jump suits.
Simon Heffer had a thought provoking column in The Telegraph yesterday entitled "Beer should be the lifeblood of any village". In it he argues that the drink driving limits should not be reduced any further and that the smoking ban has damaged local pubs especially in rural communities.
We fell, in one of the recesses, to discussing the drugs problem. "You know," he said, "a few years ago they had a serious drugs problem in China. So they rounded up 6,000 drugs dealers and shot them in the back of the head. Result: they don't have a drugs problem." He said this without a trace of humour, and without a trace of disapproval. It is a remark on which, in the intervening years, I have often pondered.
Drugs use is against the law because of its appalling social consequences. The law should be enforced in an exemplary way. If that means nice middle-class people – possibly like some of those in the shadow cabinet – going to jail, so much the better. It was scandalous, but typical, that Kate Moss was not punished for her recent promiscuous cocaine use, because it indicated that the trade is acceptable too, with heaven knows what results for those who idolise her. If drugs use is made more difficult, there will be fewer pushers. If there are fewer pushers then life will become harder for those further up the food chain.Punishing drugs users would also be likely to give the police more information about their suppliers. The prisons cannot be too full for such people, who are the most destructive in society. Can we not see this blindingly obvious truth? Of course, even if drugs use were eliminated, there would still be tarts, and there would still be people who kill tarts. There would probably, though, be gratifyingly fewer of both.
I make no apology for being so uncharitable towards the drugs culture, or for hectoring a government that refuses to deal seriously with it. It causes, on a conservative estimate, 70 per cent of the crime in our country. Mugging, burglary, prostitution and most other forms of vice are linked to it. It provokes violence and murder. Poverty, misery and broken families are its result. So, too, as this report shows, are numerous health problems, notably mental illness. The drain this puts on our public resources, whether in the NHS or the social security bill, runs into billions of pounds that could be spent on useful causes - education, care of the elderly, or more police and better hospitals. That toll of money and human misery is what our rulers choose to pay for the drugs menace in this country: or, rather, they choose to have us pay it.
The evil that drug dealers do cannot be adequately punished under our present law; I would take a leaf out of China's book, and have them taken out and shot in the back of the head.
Saturday, 19 June 2010
Friday, 18 June 2010
Here are the five most popular posts on this blog from the last week in case you missed them:
My friend Ewan, the founder and head of Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform has put together a motion for Autumn conference in which he calls for an impact assessment of current drug policy including all alternatives.
Conference notes:A) The state of Britain's finances requires urgent consideration of policies which might significantly reduce state spending but which at the same time could help create a healthier society.B) Despite many billions of pounds of drug-related spending each year nationally and internationally, there has been a clear long term pattern of increasing drug availability, increasing use of drugs that cause the most harm, increasing health harms, and increasing levels of crime.C) Illicit drug profits are fuelling crime, corruption and conflict across the globe and undermining security and development in a growing number of producer and transit countries, with the gravest impacts falling on the poor and marginalised. Up to 50% of Taleban income comes from the opium trade.D) Prior to coming before Parliament all new legislation is now required to have an Impact Assessment completed comparing the costs and benefits of the proposed approach with all the main alternatives to ensure the best option is being taken. This was not the case in 1971, and no Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) has been carried out.E) A comprehensive survey by the World Health Organisation has demonstrated that there is no association between more stringent prohibition and lower levels of drug use. Heroin maintenance treatment trials have yielded consistently positive results. Wider adoption of this practice in Switzerland has extended these excellent results and has broad public support. Decriminalisation of personal possession and use of drugs in Portugal has also yielded many benefits and is now supported by all the main political parties in the country.Conference believes:i) We have a duty to assess all possible approaches to drugs to ascertain the best way to:a. Minimise deaths, injuries and illness brought about by overdose, contaminants, blood-borne infection, and the mental health implications of drug use.b. Ensure dependent drug users are not compelled to harm themselves or others by funding their drug use through street prostitution, acquisitive crime or drug dealingc. Increase respect for and co-operation with the police, ensure drug dealing is no longer an attractive career path for young people, minimise gang violence and prevent prison overcrowding.d. Spare the Treasury billions of pounds in criminal justice costs, raise tax income, and reduce the costs of drug-related crime to businesses and individuals.e. Ensure producer and transit countries are not being destabilised and constrained in their development potential by the activity of drug cartels and the resulting resource expenditure required to combat them.f. Reduce the exposure of children to drugs and promote safe and stable family and social environments for their healthy development.ii) The Liberal Democrats are a party committed to evidence-based policy formation. A drugs policy impact assessment can allow Britain to lead the world in subjecting this politically controversial subject to the kind of independent, expert scrutiny that could finally break the taboo on public political engagement with drugs policy issues.Conference therefore calls for the Government to:1) Recognise the extensive evidence supporting heroin maintenance treatment as an effective treatment option for dependent users, make funds available for the setting up of heroin maintenance treatment programmes throughout the UK, and set ambitious targets for the reduction of indicators such as street prostitution, acquisitive crime and drug-related death to encourage provision of effective health and social services for dependent drug users.2) i) Immediately initiate an Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) and related legislation and policy comparing the current approach to drugs with all the alternatives including stepping up prohibition, Portuguese-style decriminalisation of personal possession and use and strict legal regulation of drug production and supply by the government. This process must be developed in cooperation with key stakeholders and be open to rigorous independent scrutiny.ii) Call on the EC and UN to undertake an Impact Assessment internationally to incorporate impacts on producer and transit countries, and ensure drug policy reflects the “three pillars of the UN” in supporting development, human rights, and peace and security across the globe.
There are rumblings afoot that indicate the government may reduce the alcohol drink-drive limit from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml of blood. A review by Peter North has just reported and has recommended the change.
In the last Parliament I seemed to be fighting a losing battle with Labour ministers and Select Committee members seemingly happy with the status quo. In the end the review by Peter North was set up and I am delighted that it recommends that we reduce the drink drive limit from 80 to 50mg.A reduction in the limit is estimated to save more than 150 lives each year on our roads and will bring us in line with most of Western Europe.
Thursday, 17 June 2010
It's #bbcqt day again and the Live Chat starts on this blog from 10:30pm as normal.
Join us below from 10:30pm:
Listening to the news tonight on Radio 4, I heard the report about the cuts announced by the Danny Alexander on behalf of the government today that total about £2 billion of spending. There are various things included in the mix but I want to focus on the one that seems to have yielded the strongest political reaction. That is the withdrawal of the loan for Sheffield Forgemasters.
One of the things that I keep coming back to when I hear Labour politicians talking about cuts is the fact that Labour very deliberately did not have a public spending review earlier this year. This meant that they did not have to spell out exactly what spending cuts they would implement over the next few years.
Some Tory and right-wing bloggers are getting very excited about the possibility that Sarah Palin, the former GOP VP candidate may visit the UK later this year. Apparently she is keen to meet Margaret Thatcher who is one of her political heroines.
Wednesday, 16 June 2010
- The Fink singles out Dawn Primarolo as a candidate for Labour's worst minister. I can think of a few contenders for that title. Maybe we should have a vote...
- Alex Massie on how Obama's pragmatism is his strength and also his weakness.
- Emma Burnell writes about what socialism means to her.
- John Stossell suggests that despite claims to the contrary, "The War on Drugs" is far from over. In fact if anything the latest "crackdowns" by the Obama administration show the "War" is very much alive and kicking.
Fair play to Theresa May. I had my doubts when she was initially appointed as Home Secretary but she has wasted little time in starting to address one of the most egregious pieces of legislation brought in by the previous government, that of the Vetting and Barring scheme.