Friday, March 19, 2004

I read the news today oh boy..

Actually, I didn't read the news. Sans newspapers, sans internet, I watched BBC News 24 and Sky News for an hour, from which I learnt precisely none of the following things.

Lords reform has been delayed again. This is a victory for the Noble Lord Strathclyde, who, if you remember these things, resigned as Tory leader in the House of Lords after agreeing to the deal that kept 92 hereditary peers in the Lords. Interim measure it may have been, but they'll be there until someone finally grasps the nettle and pushes through reform. Since everyone disagrees about how it should be reformed, this might be some time yet.

Iain Duncan Smith (remember him?) did use government funding to pay his wife for not very much work. End the Welfare state says I.

Douglas Alexander revealed to MEP's that he is not an idiot.

Specifically, If MEP's are surprised by the shock news that they may not win as many seats as they did 5 years ago when there are less seats to be contested and Labour has been in power for 7 years, they have once again lived up to their reputation as the most politically unastute (or whatever the correct antonym for astute is) elected representatives in the Labour party.

Oh yes. I can see the headlines now."Labour win June elections by landslide- "it's a triumph for the European Social Model" say jubilant MEP's."

Personally, I'm more on the Philip Gould scale of projections.

As an aside, can I get in another dig at former Labour Euro leader Glyn Ford, who has produced another puff piece for Kim Il Jong in this weeks Tribune (sadly I can find no link)- this article is actually less objectionable than past efforts, but it still rankles that he can talk about North Korea in a semi-positive way without once mentioning the Slave labour camps, the police state and the fate of dissidents.

(Someone reminds me that I promised a piece on Gordon Brown and the leadership. I did indeed, and as soon as i can think of anyhting to say apart from "The Budget further strengthened Gordon Brown's position as heir apparent" I will. However, I am considering whether that short statement is the truth and the whole truth and nothing more can usefully be said)

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Thursday, March 18, 2004

The Budget

Personally, I found it quite dull, but then I suffer from financial ennui. In other words, money bores me. This is probably why I am poor.

Have you ever held a budget in your hands? It's a huge thing. It's basically a coffee table book filled with statistics, data, impenetrable text and those incredibly detailed, very small graphs that economists love (you know, the ones that look more like the results of a lie detector test than any graph you ever drew at school). As soon as I saw that, I had the sudden realisation that no-one who comments on the Budget has read it.

So everyone you see on TV is operating on only a little more information than you are. If you actually read a briefing note, or read the speech, you're probably ahead of the game, because virtually no-one else has, they've just ripped the summary sheets they get handed by press officers, boiled it down to a few points and hoped to wing it. At the same time, they're half listening to the speech while trying to work out what to say about it.

All of which means that the actual real financial implications of the Budget are only going to be understood by some accountant sitting in a darkened room three weeks later. All anyone else can do is make some rough guesses on impact. For example, every newspaper reports that sacking 45,000 civil servants will pay for the increased investment in education. I'm sure it does, I just don't believe anyone who wrote that has asked about the redundancy costs, how the savings can be regarded as permanent and so on.

So let's concentrate on the politics.

First of all, it's put the Tories in a very uncomfortable position. They can't really rage about Whitehall red tape while the media is full of complaining benefit clerks. Second, it limits Conservative room for manoeuvre to the point where Tory spokesmen are touring the TV studios saying "There will be tax rises under a third term Labour government". Not so hot on the old self confidence then.

There is a substantive criticism here, but the trouble is, I can't see how the Tories are able to make it. They are in effect saying that the budget deficit is so big, so frightening and so heavy a burden on the British economy that cuts in Public services have to be made now top eliminate that deficit. Trouble is, in percentage terms, it's not that big a deficit. It's smaller than most other Western countries and it fits within economic cycles. Finally, if markets aren't panicking about unsustainable spending, why should voters? The Tories are in effect going to campaign on a "the sky is going to fall in" platform. Unless people can see the cracks when they look up, I don't see that as a winner.

Even assuming that the public agrees with the Tory "imminent economic collapse thesis" then what will the Tories propose doing? This is what their cuts plan/Spending freeze plan is all about.

Except that of course, they can't propose cutting schoolsnhospitals, as that would be electoral suicide. They ring-fence that, So it has to be Defence, Overseas aid, Home office, Trade and Industry, Pensions. And so on. Which means Tory MP's have to sit their and sit on their hands while a Labour Government taunts them by funding defence more than the Tories would.

So what is the Tory platform going to be? They can still talk about crime and asylum, which takes them back to the glory years of William Hague. Otherwise, they need a recession, or total disenchantment with public services. The latter is their best hope, but it isn't enough.

NEXT: Gordon lays claim.. again.

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The Budget post is coming..

but god, I'm finding a lot of reasons to write about almost anything else. I don't know, It's almost as if I don't want to tell you all the blindingly obvious facts that

a) Gordon Brown has really screwed the Tory election campaign.


b) Gordon Brown has even further established himself as the heir-apparent, presumptive and crown prince (insert own inheritance based phrase here).

Frankly, politically speaking, everything else about the budget is just blather.

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Obey, cringing minions.

Some new Blogs on the Blogroll. I command all my readers to read them all and fall deeper into the pit of never doing any work and eventually being fired from your job.

Chris Brooke's excellent Virtual Stoa. See, a Stoa is where ye olde worlde brainboxes gathered for a natter and a gossip. Academics were wasters and parasites back then too. Bring back the hemlock incentive system says I.

Socialism in an age of waiting is a Blog from the Marxist left which is both erudite and informative.

Finally, after much gentle reminding by Norman Geras the link to his blog now actually works.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2004

4 good reasons to join the Labour party on Budget day.

Stable economic growth.

Lowest Unemployment in two decades.

Lowest Inflation for a generation.

Increased investment in Health and Education

So, Join the Labour Party today.

PS: I had to invent my own Join Labour button (it should be to your right) and it's not very good. Anyone want to make a better button?

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Polly Toynbee on why Blair deserves your support.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

What is Peter Hain talking about?

So Peter Hain wants to introduce the Alternative Vote for Westminster? Well fair enough, but his reasoning is nonsensical.

His reasons are:

1. Political Expediency: " At the next election, tactical voting by the progressive vote may actually hand seats to the Tories"

2. Turnout and political involvement "A new system like AV will, I believe, improve the incentives to vote and remove many of the barriers that are inherent in our current system. Crucially, AV will give voters a greater sense of influence and ownership over the political process" He also point out that turnout was higher in more marginal seats.

3. The need for more changes to MP's: "The vast majority of voters are in seats where a change of MP is unlikely and are increasingly realising that their vote will make very little difference to the outcome of a general election. So they are simply not bothering."

There are good reasons to support propotional representation, but Hain's are not amongst them. In fact, AV isn't really a proportional representation system.

How can Hain logically claim that a) introducing AV will protect Labour MP's and at the same time assert b) AV will knock out more current MP's?

In addition, there's no real evidence that Proportional representation increases turn-out. AV will likely increase turn-out is if it increases more close races, which means more hard fought races, which kind of ruins the theory that it would protect Labour seats.

Ahh, Hain might say, Labour will disproptionately win the LibDems second prefernce vote, thus squaring the circle. This might have been true in 1997, but as this Charter 88 study shows, AV just benefits the winning party. If Labour were to become unpopular, Labour MP's would get a slaughtering. It's scale, not fairness.

In any case, there's no chance of AV being adopted, as it would be rejected by the Liberal Democrats on principle (and expediency) and the Tories on expediency (and principle). They'd be able to do so, becasue the Jenkins commission on Proportional representation totally blew AV out of the water.

In fact, one of their particular reasons for rejecting AV is a direct assault on Hain. Jenkins says that under AV, "In particular, there would still be large tracts of the country which would be electoral deserts for major parties" while Hain is reported as saying "that there are large parts of the country where voters do not contribute to the outcome of an election, citing Surrey, where there are no Labour seats despite more than 20 per cent of its citizens voting for its candidates." Would Labour gain a seat in Surrey under AV?

I very much doubt it.

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There's one born every minute..

This Independent profile made me laugh out loud. Shahid Malik's brave stand against the government on Iraq has aparently made him persona non grata with the leadership.

...and I have a bridge Paul Vallely might want to buy.

PS. I actually don't have the dislike for Shahid that some people do- his point that he's no more of a carpetbagger than many before him is absolutely true. Mark Seddon's put in as many seats as Shahid. But the idea that Shaihid Malik is some kind of rebel is so ludicrous it's comical.

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Monday, March 15, 2004

On Spain…

I just want to say a few things about Spain. I'm no expert, but some of the things being said on blogs and in the media seem so over the top and unsupported by evidence that some caution is required in reaching judgement.

For example, take the leader of the Blog world, Andrew Sullivan. In his post on the Spanish election results he says "in yesterday's election victory for the socialists, al Qaeda got even more than it could have dreamed of. It has removed a government intent on fighting terrorism and installed another intent on appeasing it. For good measure, they murdered a couple of hundred infidels." I doubt he'll be alone in the sentiment.

Well, where to start? We should perhaps point out that it was the voters of Spain who "installed" the Spanish socialists in office, and that they might resent being called agents of Al Qaeda. We might continue by saying that in his first speech after the election, socialist leader Zapatero said that his first priority would be to combat terrorism. He just draws a distinction between combatting terrorism and invading Iraq. (also, note that the "withdrawal" he proposes is dependent on the UN refusing to ratify the new Iraqi regime by June 30th, a deadline set by Bush).

Finally we might add that when an administration says that a terrorist attack is carried out by one group, despite evidence that it was carried out by another, it's legitimate for voters to question whether they are the right people to tackle a serious threat.

For example, If Bush had claimed that the September 11th attack had been carried out by the Saddam Hussein, a claim that would serve his own political ends, he might have some severe credibility questions to face. Umm. OK. Better not dwell on the point.

Give the new Socialist leadership a chance. they've inherited a country in grief. They have to find a way to channel that anger into action. I've little doubt thay will want to tackle terrorism, their election has been predicated on doing so, against the right target.

There one other psephelogical point to make. It is that it is entirely possible the Spanish election results had much less to do with the politics of the Madrid bombing than many are saying. Early campaign opinion polls indicated that the Popular party might win c168-72 seats, while the socialists would win c140-45. In the end, the Socialists got 164, the PP 148.

Crucially, turnout leapt from 69% to 77%. The reason for this could simply be a sense of civic responsibility in the wake of disaster. That alone could account for much of the socialist victory, as voters who don't usually vote trend to the left (they are usually younger and poorer) . That is, if they do vote, they're more likely to vote socialist. The bombings may simply have brought thousands more socialist voters to the polls.

In which case, this is not a victory for terrorism, but a victory for democracy.

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