Nick Robinson writes:

The Tories are surprised by Labour’s electoral resilience and do not fancy getting to grips with the deficit whilst constantly looking over their shoulders at the electorate.

(via Giles)

Similarly the successors to Gordon in the labour party would probably rather spend the next 4 years re-thinking the future policy direction of the party in opposition, without the pressure of daily attacks from the Tory press, but with a decent base that offers the opportunity of winning the next election.

This is largely because the next 3-4 years are something of a poisoned challice, given the need for both revenue raising measures (the T word – taxes) and spending cuts that will inevitably lead to frontline services being reduced, and the inevitable subsequent Daily Mail headlines about patients dying on hospital trolleys due to staff shortages.

Furthermore, by only being able to govern with agreements with other parties, both Labour and the Conservatives are going to be resigned to not being able to do things that please their core supporters such as strengthening Trade Unions in the case of Labour (although the leadership probably wouldn’t want to do this anyway) or section 28 style homophobic policy in the case of the conservatives.

The conservatives will also face additional difficulties; they are essentially a minority opposition party in  Scotland and to a lesser extent in Wales – this makes a collision with the devolved governments likely, the possibility of a continued rise in energy prices provoking social unrest, and the loss of motivation of their activists (opposition is always sexier). Furthermore, Europe will also prove difficult as they’ll have the euro-sceptic backbenchers to deal with (no doubt egged on by UKIP) in the event of changes in the EU.

The lib dems also face the difficulty that, on the one hand a coalition with the conservatives will lose them anti-tory tactical votes, and on the other, a coalition with labour isn’t going to be able to secure a majority and will also be seen as lacking democratic legitimacy.

So who wants the prize?


Speed Cameras


I think I got caught this morning. Loss of concentration plus corner equals 35 in 30 zone right by a camera.

Now all I need is to get fired for saying something racist, skim- read a GCSE economics textbook, and develop tourettes’ syndrome and I can qualify as a member of the libertarian party.

Usually at this time we should be expecting a Tory Landslide. We have:

–          The worst recession the UK has experienced in living memory

–          One of the worst political campaigners ever leading the incumbent party.

–          The press largely supporting the conservative party, following a decade of hysteria and lies printed over New Labour’s record on issues the conservatives are perceived as strong on.

–          The allies of the conservative party in the city warning of financial meltdown in the event of a hung parliament.

That the conservatives are still polling in the low 30s is a pleasant surprise, and one that gives me optimism for the future. But one thing is now clear; the 2 party system has broken for good, and without electoral reform that recognises this reality, the UK faces a political crisis.

What needs to happen is, following the election, the more honest members of all 3 parties (maybe add the nationalists and UKIP/Greens as well) need to sit down and design a system more appropriate for a multi-party system, where no party has an obvious advantage.

Anything less, and we should riot.

Get a hair cut


Lord Digby Jones, or diggers as Boris Johnson calls him, was once again making a fool of himself last night on Panorama with his advice to two young unemployed  men to “get your hair cut”. As if a pair of scissors was going to solve the mental health issues and apathy in the young men concerned.

It never ceases to amaze me how businessmen still, in this day and age, place the willingness to conform to bland fashion and looks  above qualifications and experience.  If Diggers was advising young ladies to wear makeup, or disabled people to get out their wheelchairs, there would be a justified outcry, but when it comes to Men with long hair, or people with tattoos and piercings, it is still regarded as acceptable to discriminate.

Lets be clear, it wasn’t long hair that was keeping these chaps unemployed, it was the apathy and depression associated with long-term unemployment combined with lack of experience that was the problem.  The solution in these situations is usually obvious, instead of trying to make these people get jobs by assuming they could if we just starved them (cutting benefits), experience suggests jobs need to be found specifically for them, and support given whilst they enter the workplace and build up confidence and self-esteem.

On the other hand Diggers, your hair is a joke. Get a hair cut.

Imagine you are skint.

Imagine you have also run up some debt on your credit card.

You open up a spreadsheet on your laptop, and calculate your monthly income and outgoings. You notice that you are spending more money than you receive. Clearly you can’t carry on like this.

So you decide to change your spending habits so that you are earning more than you spend. At first this involves making cuts; you forgo the pub lunches and make sandwiches, you get pissed once a week instead of twice, and you buy clothes from a charity shop instead of brand new.

In the longer term you think about how you raise your income, perhaps you look for a better paid job, and maybe you think about paying your debts down by selling some old junk you don’t need.

Of course this process is easier said than done, there will be days when you can’t be bothered to make sandwiches, and sometimes you may face unexpected costs such as repairing your car. Similarly your old junk might not raise as much money as you think.

But on the whole the process is pretty logical. You look at the areas where you are spending money, and work out what you don’t need.

Government finances are not like this. Cutting spending in one area can lead to an increase in other areas. Cutting out the pub lunches saves you money, and won’t lead you to spend more money on clothes. On the other hand, in government, cutting money that is spent on one area always has effects on the spending on other areas. Cut civil service jobs in one department, and you increase the spending of social security. Cut a programme aimed at preventing young people turning to crime, and in future years you spend more money on putting the young people in prison. Cut a programme that increases physical fitness in deprived communities and you spend the money on healthcare later on (assuming a mixed economy with some government funding of healthcare costs).

The point is that looking for cheap cuts and savings now can incur long term spending in other areas.

Another side of the debate regarding reducing the deficit is revenue raising. This is a side of the debate seldom aired because the UK electorate is not yet sufficiently mature enough to understand that government services have to be paid for in some manner. However, again, increasing the income of government isn’t the same as an individual increasing his own income – the government can hardly go and get a better paid job. It is however tempting to make a joke about the UK starting to charge the US for sexual favours.

There are two ways in which the government can raise money – taxation and selling assets. The later can be a useful way of providing one time bonuses to the exchequer, but can’t really be regarded as a sustainable way of financing services. Similarly a person spending more money than they earn can’t continually make up the difference by selling junk on ebay.

This leaves taxation. But the problem with taxation is that raising/introducing taxes in some areas also effects other areas. The laffer curve is a well documented concept that explains how raising income tax can – depending upon which side of the curve you are on – be counter-productive and actually lead to less revenue being generated. Furthermore rises in direct taxation can harm consumption and thus reduce revenue raised elsewhere (such as with VAT).  When it comes to indirect taxation, the elasticity of demand can also mean rises become counter-productive.

The point is that raising revenue is more complex than simply raising or introducing taxes.

In other words, balancing the budget is a far more difficult act than people realise. Libertarians frequently list projects they would scrap, but ignore the fact that some spending is designed to avoid the need to spend later. They also ignore the other side of the equation – balancing the budget through raising revenue. The socialists also do a similar thing when it comes to taxation (see robin hood tax….) and frequently only propose military spending as an area to cut – as if there really are no areas where the government wastes money. Outside of the blogs, commentary is even worse – with the 2 main parties pretending the finances will be magically saved via “efficiency savings”, and the tabloid newspapers acting in an even worse manner by pretending everything is the fault of immigrants.

The IPPR has published some new research that studied 150 local authority areas and examined what characteristics were related to different levels of support for the BNP. In particular they wanted to see whether high levels of immigration increased support for the BNP.  In fact they found the opposite. However they did find that: (1) Having a high level of qualifications reduces the likelihood that people will vote for the BNP, and (2) Social cohesion appears to matter – where people believe the population of their area tend to get along despite differing backgrounds, they are less likely to vote BNP.

In other words, areas containing comparatively more stupid and anti-social people are also areas likely to have high BNP support.

Also, as noted, the main finding was:

“Our findings suggest that areas that have higher levels of recent immigration than others are not more likely to vote for the BNP. In fact, the more immigration an area has experienced, the lower its support for the far right. It seems that direct contact with migrants dissuades people from supporting the BNP.”

So logically the way to fight the BNP is to flood areas that vote for it with immigrants. So I propose the following policy; every council ward that returns a BNP councilor gets an additional 1000 asylum seekers housed in UK border Agency accommodation.

(This is an original version of the post I made at liberal conspiracy last week. I decided to post the longer pre-edited version here, and at the same time decided I’d blog again.)

Over the past couple of months LC has carried a series of articles urging its readers to vote for a political party. Each particular party has had one of its supporters set out the case for voting for it, and its record then judged and debated in the comments.

But I can’t help feeling it’s been a waste of time.

The complete over-saturation of election coverage in the MSM , and to a lesser extent on the blogs promotes the idea that voting and elections matter far more than they do. It promotes the idea of voting as the most important act of civic participation, and privileges political parties as institutions through which people can participate in public life.

One of the more annoying aspects of the farce of party politics is the way in which each loyal party member has to publically pretend only their party can deliver the best future, only they have the correct policies to solve the problems,  and only they are deserving of your vote. Only a complete idiot would pretend that this was the case.

In reality every political party has some great ideas that need to be implemented, but each party also has some policies that are stupid, ridiculous and farcical. Similarly when it comes to character, each party has a mixture of crooks, cranks, and the genuinely informed and well-intentioned.

Furthermore the fact of the matter is that once in power manifestos are rarely implemented in full, and events and circumstances require governing parties to implement policies and laws that they wouldn’t have proposed at election time. Sometimes improvisation happens.  In addition to this the necessity of financing large scale political parties means the ones with realistic prospects of victory have to compromise their principles and do deals with wealthy and sometimes shady individuals. When you add lobbying, corporate PR campaigns and a dishonest media then relying on one particular political party to deliver the kinds of changes you would like to see is rather naive. You really don’t get what you vote for.

But on the other I am not one of those who believe that all parties are the same, or all politicians are necessarily crooks. Clearly some are better than others, and it’s therefore better for the principled, honourable people to be in positions of power than those in it for the money or the powertrip. But within the extremely limited scope for influencing matters that an election under a first post the post system offers it is difficult to ensure the right people in the right parties win. So how should the voter who wants principled, honourable people to run the country in a competent manner vote?

The answer depends on which constituency you live in.

If the current incumbent was one of those who fiddled expenses, or one who has frequently demonstrated scientific illiteracy, or one with a tendency to vote for ill conceived legislation aimed at pleasing the tabloids, then clearly you need to vote for the candidate most likely to unseat that person (unless that other person would do the same). On the other hand if your current MP has a track record of independent thinking, voting away from the party line, not submitting fraudulent claims, and a track record of genuinely helping the area which they represent, they are worth keeping. There are members of all political parties that fit into both the former and latter categories.

The above is frankly obvious.

But ultimately voting by itself really isn’t a big deal, particularly in safe seats. As a civic act that most people will only get the opportunity to do less than 20 times in their life (national elections anyway), it really isn’t as important as the MSM make out.

There are far more important things you can do that will make a bigger difference towards creating the kind of society you want to live in: don’t wait for your own team to win – get active, do voluntary work, give financial support to charities, and get informed and interested.

All of the above would be far more important than any vote for a party; the levels of knowledge regarding economics, sociology, political philosophy, science etc are shocking (if you think some of the comments on here are stupid and ill informed, just listen to the level of debate that occurs between the tabloid reading people who don’t read blogs or take an interest). The ignorance is also the reason why politicians who should know better make stupid statements and advocate stupid policies aimed at carrying favour with the Daily Mail rather than doing the right thing. It is the reason why the political culture in the UK remains unable to have an informed discussion about the prohibition of drugs, immigration policy, welfare reform, housing, foreign policy, reform of taxation, and virtually any issue of national importance. It is thus the reason why this election yet again arrives with no major party in a position to publically offer policies that would start to tackle these issues.

But while we wait for elections and the political system to become more mature, another far bigger civic act is to make a difference in your area by making a difference. There are numerous good causes that need time and money. So donate time and money, because putting a cross next to the lesser evil is just insignificant compared to what a good charity could do with even a fraction of the efforts that go into electioneering.