Friday, April 29, 2005

Help, I need somebody

Having watched the Question time special last night, I am now in a bigger dilemma than previously over who to vote for!! I have three choices. A Prime Minister who was economical with the truth when presenting the legal case for going to war with his cabinet. A Liberal Democrat who thinks it's fair to pick on the 1% minority of people who earn over £100k so that everyone else benefits whilst not having to pay any more taxes themselves. Finally a Conservative leader who not only would have gone to war regardless of whether it was legal or not but also has no idea if 40% of gross national wealth being spent in the public sector is just right, not enough or too much. I am truly spoilt for choice.

Still, what the programme lacked in deep debate it made up for in entertainment value. From the booing as Tony Blair arrived to his increasing perspiration as he was tackled over GPs massaging appointments to the audience focus on Michael Howard's immigration policy and whether his policy would have let his forbears into the country or not. The only thing missing were the cries, "Jerry, Jerry".

To take Michael Howard's footballing analogy from the other day, they may be 2-0 down at half time but whilst there is an open goal at the moment, Michael and Tony just squabble in the centre over the ball's design whilst Charlie wanders around asking why they can't play another game instead.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Funding the NHS

It is generally accepted that the NHS should be free at the point of use in the UK otherwise the poor suffer disproportionately through a lack of healthcare. Should the NHS always be free at the point of use or should patients partially fund certain treatments beyond what they already pay in taxes? Current NHS funding seems to be a classic example of moral hazard. If individuals smoke or drink alcohol excessively for example, all treatments to cure their conditions are free on the NHS. Would it help to concentrate their minds before abusing such substances that they would have to pay 40% or 50% of the cost of the treatments in addition to any excise taxes they may already have paid on using the products? Many would say that this is a radical funding policy for the NHS and yes, it is, but would the nation as a whole be healthier if individuals were more responsible for their own lifestyles and were effectively rewarded or penalised accordingly?

Beyond Government funding, the existing method of funding the NHS could never exist. No one proposes that car drivers should pay for their car insurance on the basis of how much they earn whilst totally ignoring the driver's individual risk of having a crash or previous claims history. A driver has a vested interest in driving carefully and avoiding accidents otherwise their premiums rapidly increase. Why can't this be applied to a limited extent within the NHS? Without the "goal" of driving safely to keep your premiums down, I suggest driving would become a lot more dangerous as people no longer worried about their claims history or driving record but just the inconvenience of getting the car repaired after each accident.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Sylvia's school classes (2)

I have just watched a programme on Channel 5 entitled "Classroom Chaos" that I briefly referred to a couple of days ago. Sadly, I could not imagine a better advertisement for having your children educated privately than this.

If they are typical state schools (and the programme seemed to be fair, but does not reflect my own experiences at a state school), then I pity the poor children and the future of this country. No wonder social mobility is decreasing, it has nothing to do with grammar schools but everything to do with a complete breakdown of discipline at school, a lack of academic ambition and an establishment not prepared to support it's teachers at the chalkface.

No amount of additional funding could ever help correct the problems highlighted in this programme. The real losers are the children featured whose only chance at a proper education seems to have failed completely. Without radical change, such children can truly be called Generation X.

Spanish amnesty

Who is responsible for determining the immigration policy of this country? Britain? Or Spain? British politicians have made many claims over how to control illegal immigration into the UK. One solution that I hadn't heard until this evening is what the Spanish are doing. They have a very neat solution, make it legal!!

Spain is currently having an amnesty for illegal immigrants who have been resident and worked there since August 2004. By obtaining Spanish residence permits, illegal immigrants become "legal" and so they can remain in Spain or travel freely throughout the rest of Europe, including Britain. Apparently, illegal immigrants are travelling from France, Germany and Italy to obtain these valuable permits!!

I don't know if the Spanish policy has been agreed with the rest of Europe or not, but it does seem to be a significant loophole in controlling Europe's borders that one nation has the power to grant an amnesty thereby circumventing all normal border controls in other countries.

Chuck's Euphoria

Charles Kennedy says the mood of the Liberal Democrat campaign is the best since the "heady days of 1983". With that sort of clear insight, he needs to have a good single malt as the results come in next Thursday. The 1983 General Election returned Margaret Thatcher for the first time with a 144 seat majority and the Lib-SDP alliance stormed into third place with 23 seats. Heady days indeed but not for the Liberals.

PS Chuck adds: "I think they [The Conservatives] are the losing team in this election while we are looking increasingly the team which is winning." How does he support this statement when their support bounces around the 20% mark in the polls whilst the Conservatives average 33% and Labour average 37% (depending on the poll)?

Jailhouse vote

John Hirst, a prisoner serving a "Discretionary life imprisonment" for manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility in 1980 seems to be keeping himself busy by pursuing a legal case against the Government in the British and European courts. He claims that his rights to "free elections", "free expression" and "prohibition of discrimination" have been breached.

I wonder what his victim would have thought of John's lack of rights?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Cut flowers

According to Medway Council, daffodils are no longer welcome on council property in the run up to the election as they are "politically biased" - being the Liberal Democrats' favourite colour. What nonsense. They are just flowers. Anyone who can make the leap from Daffodils to subliminal support for the Liberal Democrats needs to get out more.

Daffodils are also a Welsh national emblem, maybe they should have been banned for St. Georges day for fear that they would upset English residents of Medway.

Mucky pots and kettles

Vote Labour and end Tory sleaze. That was the sentiment with which Tony Blair was swept to power in 1997. The sleaze wasn't about John Major but some of his Conservative MPs who had received brown envelopes stuffed with cash and the sexual adventures of others. Whilst John Major tried to avert attention back to the substance of his party, Labour and the media did everything they could to keep such distractions in the public eye, sell newspapers and cast doubt on the integrity of a Conservative Government.

Jump forward eight years later and the boot is very much on the other foot, Tony Blair pleads that his integrity should not become THE issue to determine the outcome of the election and focus should remain on Labour's policies. He is quite right of course, but he was quite happy to ignore this when it was expedient to do so in the past.

Weak on crime, weak on the causes of crime

Under "harsh" new sentencing guidelines, many burglars and thieves could be released early and will now be "supervised" for the remainder of their sentence according to a report in The Times . Where do they find such people so out of touch with the realities of modern life? If supervision really is as tough as they claim, why not close prisons down altogether and supervise the criminals for their entire sentence!?!

In the case of more dangerous sexual or violent crimes with a maximum penalty of ten years or more, the offender will be given an “indeterminate sentence for public protection". This means that a parole board will decide "on behalf of the public" before release is recommended. I struggle to balance this desire to protect the public with the knowledge that a group of civil servants can continue to incarcerate those who have already served their tariff in full.

Real Bravery

Is climbing on to the roof of one of John Prescott's houses such as these Greenpeace protestors have done and risk the wrath of "Two jabs". Will they be allowed to stay indefinitely if they claim to be gypsies!?!

Update A Labour Party spokesman seems to blame it on John's busy schedule, "These protesters would have known he was on the road and his wife alone in the house." and "John Prescott is one of the most accessible politicians in Britain." I doubt Mark Choueke of the South Wales Argus thinks John is very accessible.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Conservative Election Broadcast that never was

Channel 4 news showcased a spoof Party Election Broadcast for the Conservatives this evening that I found creative and hard hitting. It's a shame the real Conservative Party can't use it as it would do their campaign no end of good. You can see it here although I would recommend you have broadband connection as it is 5.2Mb. It was made by Lee Ford and Dan Brooks, creators of 2005's most forwarded viral email, the spoof TV commercial where a suicide bomber blows himself up in a VW Polo.

A Return to Thatcherism?

Well, you have to hand it to the BBC, only they could possibly run a headline "Labour invoke Thatcher memories" with it's negative connotations of poll tax riots only for Gordon Brown to suggest that she would be "appalled" by the Conservatives current economic pledges. It can only be a couple of weeks since Tony Blair said Howard Flight's comments showed the Tories had a hidden agenda to return to Thatcherism. So are they or aren't they?

I suggest that this is another dog-whistle policy. It appeals to wavering Conservatives who look on Mrs. Thatcher's period in office with affection whilst demonstrating that Labour know good economic management when they see it!!

How Labour keeps its core voters core

Am I the only one not to be shocked by a report published yesterday explaining that the abolition of "elitist" Grammar schools across the country has resulted in reduced social mobility? Congratulations to Labour and the left-wing educational establishment for reducing social mobility and ensuring that their core voters remain their core voters in the future.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Up the creek and the paddle's sinking fast

Reading Alistair Campbell's memo in the Sunday Times on his view of the election campaign so far, it would appear that both the Tories and Liberal Democrats are up the creek without a paddle. I really can't understand this as Labour simply do not deserve nearly as great a majority as they achieved in either 1997 or 2001. Having said that, I don't believe the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats deserve to win either as the manifestos have been cleansed of real radicalism and reforming zeal before presentation to the electorate.

The most that I can now hope for is that turnout is at a new historic low despite the postal fraud so that the next Labour Government does not a have a strong mandate to carry out it's policies. That they will continue their policies regardless and forget the electorate for another four years is unfortunate.

It is interesting that the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives to a lesser extent are now trying to turn the election into a referendum on the Iraqi war whilst Labour seeks to play down such a vote. Before the war started, I trusted Tony Blair to be privy to intelligence information that could not be disclosed to the public and therefore act responsibly based upon this information and therefore supported the invasion. That the most basic checks on this intelligence appear not to have happened or that Intelligence caveats were ignored or played down seems quite wrong. I cannot trust the Liberal Democrat's position as the information Tony Blair was acting on at the time apparently showed a credible threat that they were prepared to ignore. The Conservatives supported Tony Blair prior to the invasion for the reasons given above yet continue to be "reasonably" enthusiastic supporters of the invasion now despite the intelligence to the contrary. What a choice!!

Hide and seek

Where are all the Conservative supporters? Walking to the shops and driving to work, I have only seen one Conservative poster displayed outside a house and yet 33% of the electorate apparently support them!! I have seen a number of the Liberal Democrat's "Not winning here" posters and two labour ones but that's it. I can only assume that it is not "socially acceptable" to admit that you vote Conservative!! Liberal Democrats can have the warm ready-brek like glow that they are socially responsible without running a serious risk of ever seeing their policies implemented whilst Labour at least can claim to be "socially responsible" and implement their policies.

European Union 1 World Poverty 0

It seems ironic that on "World Poverty Day" the European Union (EU) is warning China to limit its textile exports to Europe as their exports have surged 500% since an international quota system came to an end in January. This is because France is concerned that 7,000 French textile jobs are at risk if action is not taken. France's concern demonstrates a problem that the first world will increasingly face in the future and will need to resolve. Should the First World protect it's own workers from third world competition or condemn the Third World to continuing poverty?

By warning China, the EU is doing two things. Firstly, it is deciding that European consumers are to be prevented from buying too many cheap imported T-shirts and pullovers but must buy more expensive domestically produced clothes instead. Secondly, by limiting these clothing imports, they help to slow growth and further development in China's textile industry. As Africa tries to emerge from poverty by exporting to the European Union, will the EU defend it's workers too or ignore it's workers and help to reduce African poverty?

Saturday, April 23, 2005

"If you value it, vote for it"

This, believe it or not, is Labour's latest "catchy" phrase to get it's electoral message across to the electorate. I suggest they should have used a similarly catchy one instead, "If you're happy and you know it, vote for us!!"

If you don't value it, don't vote for it, just pay for it.

Sylvia's school classes

The problems surrounding school dinners were recently highlighted and "addressed" thanks to public concerns raised following the screening of "Jamie's schools dinners". Hopefully attention will now turn to the behaviour of children at secondary schools thanks to "Classroom Chaos". Over a period of about six months, "Sylvia Thomas", a supply teacher worked at eighteen schools in London and the north of England and secretly filmed classes in six of them. The picture she paints is one of near anarchy, chairs being smashed, pupils fighting in class, being sworn at by pupils and falsely accused of touching them, verbal abuse, general rowdiness and the use of mobile phones or CD players.

How can children possibly be educated in such an environment? I can only assume that she did not work in any private schools as I do not believe that such indiscipline would be tolerated there.

Naturally, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) does not condemn this anarchy outright or acknowledge that such classes are out of control, they condemn it because it was not right to film the children in secret. Would their behaviour have been better or worse if they hade known!?! Personally, I would prefer to condemn the educational establishment that tolerates such indiscipline within schools. Without a proper education, how can anyone possibly achieve their potential in life? How can Ruth Kelly's noble goal of increased social mobility be achieved within such an educational environment? At least the NUT can celebrate the childrens' ability to express themselves...

Classroom Chaos will be broadcast on Five on Wednesday 27 April at 8pm

Friday, April 22, 2005

To vote or not to vote? That is the question

It's apparently a two horse race between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives (according to the Liberal Democrat flyer I have received, no flyers from Labour or the Conservatives yet!!) in my constituency. How should I vote? I definitely won't be voting Liberal Democrat(!!) but should I vote Conservative? I can't bring myself to endorse the Conservative manifesto as it is too timid but then I don't want to risk a Liberal Demorcat victory either as I fundamentally disagree with too much of their manifesto. Answers on a postcard please...

PS Am I the only person still waiting to see a genuine Tory poster? I have seen some amusing mock ups on Blimpish whilst Toryscum shows various defaced posters showing the creative genius of at least some members of the community in which we find ourselves!!

Feed the goose

Labour seem destined to return to historic form on economic management over the next couple of years. The strong economy that they acknowledge inheriting from the Conservatives (the longest period of sustained economic growth since the 18th Century started in 1992) seems to be slowing, down to 2.8% in the first quarter of 2005 whilst retail sales continue their decline, down 0.1% on the month in March. Recently the Financial Times worryingly showed that British competitiveness had actually declined since 1997. Meanwhile, demands for increased state spending apparently have no limit with the result that public sector borrowing for the year would be £34.5bn. Is this economic record really how Labour wish to be remembered in the history books? At this rate, the economy the Conservatives inherit in 2009 could be strikingly similar to the one they inherited in 1979.

Labour would do well to remember that the goose of private sector wealth creation needs to be properly fed if it is to continue laying ever increasing golden eggs.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Scottish and Welsh, but we don't do English

Just to rub salt in the wounds, the Conservatives have manifestos for both Wales and Scotland. Where is the English one? Mind you, quickly scanning the Welsh manifesto, I didn't see any significant changes!!

Operation Black Vote

Is Operation Black Vote (OBV) a racist organisation campaigning against free speech? It is if I understand their demands correctly. They want to have black only shortlists in some areas and ban the BNP and National Front!! Why does the BBC feature them but not the BNP? I have already commented that regardless of their views, they should be allowed to express them in a free society. I suggest the same also applies to the OBV.

"Doing a Gordon"

Perhaps as I feared, the Conservatives have made a right pig's ear of their tax cuts. Rather than returning the money to the people who pay all these taxes to spend as they see fit, they have done what can only be described as "Doing a Gordon". They have decided to redistribute their tax cuts to those who they judge to be the "needy". Unlike the "hard working families" beloved by Gordon, the Conservatives have chosen house buyers and people saving for their retirement rather than Jo Public as those in need of special attention. They therefore want to scrap stamp duty for properties costing under £250k. Unfortunately, as most people only tend to move house once every seven years, it's hardly a reason to apply for that postal vote now is it!?!

It's a crime!!

If you ask three economists about their views on the economy, you will get three different answers. This seems to apply to crime too!! If you think crime is getting worse, Police recorded crime figures will support you. There was a 9% increase in recorder violent crime in the last three months of 2004. However, if you want violent crime to reduce over the same period, use Labour's preferred method and use the British Crime Survey that shows violent crime reducing by 10%!! Will Sheward at the 80/20rule explains that the British Crime Survey is just that, it asks 40,000 people for their experiences of crime and then it extrapolate for the whole of the UK. Bizarrely, this survey only records offences carried out on people in private households, therefore it excludes a large number of people renting for whatever reason!!

The Sun shines on Labour

Tabloid newspaper The Sun has decided to support Tony Blair and give him "One last chance" which is just as well as he is stepping down sometime in the next Parliament so it is his last chance anyway. However, as you read the article, it's hardly a ringing endorsement, as far as I can tell, had the Conservatives had a more aggressive manifesto of reform, the Sun would have supported them instead!!

"When the Tories start acting like Conservatives, they might deserve our support. The Tories talk about “small government” then offer a manifesto that would spend just about as much as Labour. They boast about tax cuts, then promise a pathetic £4billion out of a £630billion total tax haul. On health and education, they offer nothing much more than misty promises."

It would be good to know what Daily Mirror and Guardian readers think of their "arch-enemy" Rupert Murdoch supporting their party!!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Smile, you're on a speed camera (2)

A speed camera set up at temporary traffic lights on the A27 at Falmer, East Sussex has led to motorists being fined £750,000 in just two months!! The government-funded organisation earned just under £1.5m profit (Does it consider fines to be sales?) for the year, half of which came from this one camera. A spokesman for the partnership said it was "disappointing" that thousands of people were speeding in the county. I bet he wasn't nearly as disappointed as the drivers getting fined and three points on their licences.

Do they hope "sales" go down or should they invest for the future and buy some more cameras? Mind you, it does seem odd that they publicise where their mobile speed cameras will be over the next few days. I have always assumed that if you want to reduce a driver's average speed, it's best not to tell them in advance where the mobile cameras will be hidden...

PS Why isn't the Officer busier on Friday? Is it a half day!?!

Not apathetic, just not voting

For those of you struggling to overcome the dilemma of whether to vote for the best of a poor crop of party policies or not vote at all, fear not, help is at hand. The Notapathetic website now allows you to explain why you don't want to vote rather than just not showing up at the polling booth or letting someone else use your postal vote.

How can focus groups possibly capture some of the comments below?
"i would be a fairer leader of a party than blair, i am not as big a fool as howard, and i could drink kennedy under the planet"
"I'm a white, middle aged professional male who isn't gay, blind, deaf, disabled, unemployed, rich or a criminal. None of the parties want to do a damn thing for me, so why should I bother voting for them. I sincerely wish there was a 'none of those w*nkers' box on the voting slip so that I could register my disgust with politicains, in general."
"Voting does crap all. it only lets us choose our masters. masters who lie, cheat, steal and murder their way through life. Don't vote and work towards Anarchy, it makes sense to me anyway."

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Deutsch uber alles

The new German Pope is a former Hitler Youth member from Bavaria!! Sources close to the Pope say he is yet to finalise his initial travel plans. However, he did express his hope to visit Poland in September before touring Western Europe sometime early next year.

Poor Ethiopia?

I was wrong!! I had been under the impression that the Ethiopia suffered terrible poverty and needed our help. But no, politicans in Ethiopia have chosen to let the Italians spend $7.7m on the return of an Obelisk they looted following their invasion of Abyssinia in 1936. Would it not have been better for the Ethiopian Government to let the Italians keep the Obelisk and just take their money to help their struggling country? Axum airport was upgraded, radar installed and I'm sure the Government ministers and VIPS are all particularly chuffed with the return. However, it doesn't put any food on the places of the starving.

Navel gazers

If the Guardian and the BBC are to be believed (and what a reliable combination that is!!), then the Conservative party are currently doing a little bit of navel gazing. Should they continue to focus on immigration as the leadership want and run the risk of becoming a single issue party or promote their other policies? If the "dog whistle policy" idea is correct, they should move on from immigration as that part of the electorate who are attuned to such a policy should already have made a mental note of this. A few gentle reminders throughout the remainder of the campaign would be useful to reinforce this message but they do need to move on from immigration. What should they now focus on? There is only one answer, taxation.

In a survey for the Financial Times this morning 67%, disturbingly, believe a Conservative government would raise taxes whilst 80% believe a Labour Government would raise taxes if re-elected. If this is true, then frankly, what a choice for the electorate, more tax or more tax!! It will simply not be worth bothering to vote as taxes will go up regardless! The Conservatives only possible chance of winning now is surely to explicitly state they will cut taxes significantly and detail how this would be done so people know how it will impact them. If Labour cannot be trusted to tell the truth about their own taxation and spending agenda, why should so much faith be placed in their claims that Conservative spending and tax plans don't add up? If Labour is right, the Conservatives can always do what Labour do now, borrow.

PS It is reasonable to expect that all parties do some navel gazing to review the impact of their respective campaigns before it's too late.

Monday, April 18, 2005

A collective raspberry

The financial markets are giving one of their customary raspberries to Gordon "No return to Conservative boom and bust" Brown. Stocks in the UK are down 2% today as global financial markets wobble on fears of weaker global economic growth. Vote Labour and you will banish these economic demons!!

It all seems to reinforce my view that 2006 could be quite a troublesome year for the UK economy regardless of who has the reins. If the Conservatives do win the election - a longshot I know - it could easily become a pyrrhic victory as they are given the poisonend chalice of increased government spending, a slowing economy and falling tax revenues with a faltering world economy too. How Labour will gloat that within months of a Tory victory, the economy hit the buffers just as they said it would, conveniently ignoring the failings of their own economic policies and the two year lag before such policies impact the real economy.

Meanwhile, I thought I had heard all possible explanations for a slowing housing market, but clearly not. The latest reason is doubt over the results of the General Election!! How can that be? I don't recall any house price jitters in 1997 or 2001 caused by the election. Perhaps it masks a more valid reason, house prices are incredibly overvalued and buyers are starting to wake up to this.

Election manifesto (2)

As threatened, some more elements of my election manifesto:
  • Increase punishment for driving without insurance to £1,000, ie the same as not having a TV licence fee. No reduction for people with limited means. The punishment should be at least double the annual car insurance cost otherwise it is rational for some people to drive without insurance as it's cheaper!!

  • Review the legal aid bill and identify means to reduce costs. I do not believe that people should be subsidised with legal aid for getting divorced. It's a private transaction between a couple. Legal aid should be cut back to encourage competition between lawyers and drive fees down. No other professional group could ever dream of being subsidised by the state to such an extent with the possible exception of medics!!!

  • The TV Licence fee to be scrapped and the BBC funded out of general taxation. It is far cheaper to fund and administer it centrally, would stop free-riding and free court time to prosecute "more deserving crimes". Before I get too many comments about this, I do believe the long term solution is to make the BBC a commercial enterprise with no state funding. This is a stop gap solution!!

  • Inheritance and capital gains tax to be removed as they both discourage savings and creating / holding wealth. If they are to be retained, farms should no longer be exempt from inheritance tax, whilst the inheritance tax limit should be raised to £400k. 10% tax rate applied thereafter rather than the 40% rate currently applied.

  • Savings should not be taxed as it discourages saving and personal responsibility.
  • Don't worry, it was only £850,000.

    £850,000 of your money has been stolen from under John Prescott's nose at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (OPDM)!! Why doesn't the BBC report this in their "Election 2005" site? Does that mean that there are public savings to be had of at least £850,000? It appears to be one of the oldest frauds in the book, a married couple colluding to overcome internal accounting controls and setting up a false company to invoice them. I guess I should also be shocked that any civil servant would want to enrich themselves at the expense of the taxpayer!!

    If you were wondering if any good has resulted from the fraud, policies delayed, programmes disrupted, an OPDM spokesman confirms our worst fears, "None of our programmes of work has been compromised". That's a real shame. However, if the spokesman is correct, are there further savings that could be made without compromising the programmes? At least they didn't miss the £850k!!

    Sunday, April 17, 2005

    Don't speed, unless you are late for a Police meeting..

    How often have business people been late for meetings and been tempted to speed to make up for some lost time? They may go a couple of miles over the speed limit, but 42mph over the recognised speed limit in central London is surely taking the michael!! What do you think Chief Superintendent Les Owen?

    He is head of the Metropolitan Police's traffic division now facing misconduct proceedings after the marked car he was a passenger in drove at 82mph in a 40mph zone as he was reportedly running late for a meeting.

    "Having witnessed first hand the suffering of families whose loved ones have been seriously injured or tragically killed, I would strongly urge all motorists not to speed." - Chief Superintendent Les Owen, February 2003

    I'm sure the driving conditions were excellent that day, the meeting was an emergency and Chief Super. Les will be cleared. One law for the police, another one for everyone else?

    Tory tax snips

    The Conservatives seem to be having a fairly good electoral campaign so far, Howard Flight and doctored photos aside. Today, they played their ace (Joker would be more appropriate) about tax cuts. It's the one subject they seem bashful about, "everyone" wants more spending on the NHS and education according to the pollsters, but then want everyone else to pay more tax as they already pay too much!! The Conservatives have been able to tease us by saying they will give £4bn of our money back to us as we know how to spend our money best. Why have they then totally spoiled their vote winning claim by saying that we will only get our money back if we have a pension? Yes, I know there is a pensions crisis. Means tested benefits and a marginal rate of tax of 40% on savings is a far greater reason not to save than being given an extra £10 back for every £100 put in a pension fund is a reason to save. It would be far better to say that personal allowances will be increased and they want us to save more rather than only giving tax cuts to those who have a personal pension.

    I recognise that the Conservatives, like Labour, can never say that taxes will not rise in the future, but unlike Labour I would like to think that they could make a pledge that as far as is possible, taxes will not rise on their watch.

    I am slowly coming to the conclusion that the best thing for the Conservatives is to narrowly lose the election to Labour, taxes will inevitably rise, people will become more and more incensed about this. The Conservatives will then sweep to power in a landslide victory in 2009.

    Vote "None of the Above"

    I propose to found a new apolitical party called "None of the above". It would hopefully have a broad appeal to the left and the right of the political spectrum as it's only policy would be to ask the the main political parties to go back to the drawing board and think up some radical policies that would appeal to their core voters. Too often I find myself unable to distinguish between Conservative and Labour policies. Even Richard Branson believes the impact on business of a Labour or Conservative Government would be "negligible"

    Unselfish students

    The much maligned undergraduate and postgraduate students are not nearly as selfish as you may have imagined. Why else would they apparently be supporting the Liberal Democrats in such large numbers? They pay minimal income tax each year until they get proper jobs, they are exempt from council tax and Labour had expected them to pay up to £3,000 from next year to help cover the costs of their degree courses. Far better for other people to pay for their student years than themselves. How selfish are these rich people!?! No doubt they will be just as happy to fund everyone else when they are earning a decent wage!!

    Government Rescue package for Index?

    In more news to show how strong the economy is under Labour and how bad it could be under the Tories, Littlewoods has now announced that up to 3,200 jobs are to be cut as they close 126 of their Index stores around the country. It's a real shame that they are not all being lost in one area with a large number of Labour marginal constituencies. Otherwise Tony and Gordon would have been there to help the families out in such troubling times with £75m to help them all retrain.

    Friday, April 15, 2005

    Government loan to help Rover (4)

    It's not often that I agree with Gordon Brown or Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary. However, according to today's Financial Times, they both said in private at the weekend that a £100m bailout of Rover was not a "prudent and proper" way of spending taxpayers money. Still, they were overruled by Tony Blair before negotiations with SAIC collapsed. Thanks should go to both Gordon and Patricia for remembering the taxpayer for once. Remember us a few more times and I suspect many more people would vote Labour!!

    Update If they thought £100m was not prudent or proper, what do they think of Tony giving, not even loaning, £150m!?! Still, there is an election on and every vote counts in the West Midlands.

    Thursday, April 14, 2005

    Guess the Party

    Just looking at the credentials of a prospective local MP.

    Eleanor Blagbrough. Born 13.06.1976, Chertsey. Single. Educated at St Hilda's (all women) College, Oxford University and Harvard Business School. Currently a strategy consultant for a management consulting firm.

    What do you think? Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Veritas? Nope, all wrong. She is a Labour candidate in the election who has a special interest in the NHS and affordable housing!! I assume she went to a private school where fees are over £3,000 per term as there is no mention of her secondary education on her profile. She went to the "elitist" Oxford University and the even more elitist Harvard. A true representative of Labour's core working class values I think.

    The only non-genuine asylum case?

    The BBC reports that a failed asylum seeker, Kamel Bourgass, was jailed for 17 years for plotting to spread ricin and other poisons. He also happened to murder a policeman but that does not seem to have increased his prison sentence to life. He destroyed his travel documentation before arrival in January 2000, used four false identities (who could have guessed that he might try to confuse the authorities!!). His story seems to be one of a littany of failures to protect the public all because he said the magic word on arrival, "Asylum". He applied for asylum in February 2000. A year and a half later he was interviewed by the Immigration in August 2001. What was he doing in the meantime? He may have had four false identities but he apparently gave the authorities his real address as his rejection letter arrived in the post!! He then used the same envelope to keep £4,100 in cash (where did this come from?) and the recipes for his poisons and explosives. Bourgass' appeal against the asylum decision was dismissed in October 2001, when he became liable to be arrested and deported. However, he wasn't, he did claim asylum afterall, so he remained in the UK where he was arrested for shop lifting in July 2002. He was either particularly cunning or particularly stupid as he gave Police his real name, thus avoding detection as he was now an illegal immigrant.

    The BBC report then fails to point out the next part of the story, so thanks to The Times for filling in the rest. Having been arrested for shop lifting, magistrates could have deported or detained him but fined him £70 and freed him. Why wasn't he deported? He was in the hands of the authorities, having been convicted of committing a crime. In January 2003, while on the run after the discovery of a safe house where he was trying to make ricin and cyanide, Bourgass murdered Detective Constable Stephen Oake and wounded three other officers. The Times also points out that his four co-defendants were released as evidence against them was insufficient and his links to the Finsbury Park Mosque!!

    Wednesday, April 13, 2005

    Teacher jailed for firing air gun (2)

    I recently had a post on the disgraceful case of a teacher imprisoned for six months for firing an airgun at yobs who had terrorised her family. However, the story just seems to get worse!! She has now been refused bail and has gone on hunger strike!! Mr Justice Royce said he recognised her case was "unusual" and that she had a "great deal of public sympathy" but this was "not a case for bail", he said. Well, what is a case for bail? Does this seems a reasonable case for granting bail? "Paedophile on bail groomed girl". I know who I would have chosen to be granted bail!

    DIY Conservative posters

    Thanks to EU Serf for this link to Cruella where you can create your very own Conservative poster!!

    Soaking the rich

    Village Hampden has an excellent post on the drawbacks of taxing the well-off too much. Eventually as tax rates increase, tax revenues start to decline as well-off people work less or emigrate. This is an economics lesson that all parties should remember when looking to hit the wealthiest with higher taxes. Beyond that, who aspires to become comfortably off when so much is taken back by the state?

    Labours Key election pledges

    The BBC has highlighted Labour's key election pledges and what a pitiful list they are too. Hardly a reason to go out and vote!! Pledges in bold, my thoughts aren't!!

  • No increase in basic or top rate income tax. But we will not increase personal tax allowances and we reserve the right to increase National Insurance or any other tax as we choose

  • Minimum wage to rise to £5.35 from October 2006. That should start increasing the number of unemployed people in the UK

  • Increase home ownership by two million. How will they achieve this? Build more homes? Ban Landlords? Sell off more council houses and close down Housing Associations? Great idea, make the UK workforce less flexible so that they are unable to move to areas of high employment. I'm sure Rover workers are pleased they can't just move area.

  • Inflation target of 2%. So what? It's out of your control. The Bank of England is responsible for that these days. What about asset price inflation?

  • No-one will have to wait more than 18 weeks to see a specialist from date of referral. That is still nearly a five month wait. Hardly responsive is it?

  • Rebuild or refurbish every secondary school. Does every secondary school need to be rebuilt or refurbished?I must buy some shares in Jarvis and the other large builders.

  • Education or training for every 16 to 18-year-old. Why? Nearly 20% are illiterate at 11, will an extra two years help them?

  • Publicly-owned Royal Mail fully restored to "good health". Since when has the post office been one of the most important issues facing the electorate? The only thing most people want is a decent and reliable first post in the morning, it's not important if it is publicly or privately owned.

  • Action to tackle guns and knives. Some more legislation will sort this pesky problem out!! Offcut or Offshoot may be suitable Quango names!!

  • Further Lords reform. All power to Tony and his successor!!

  • Point system for immigrants.

  • What about clean hospitals!?!

  • Tax cuts!?!
  • Labouring Doctors

    I can't decide if the news that so many doctors who supported Labour in the 1997 landslide have now deserted the party is good or bad news. As a rule of thumb, if unions or interested parties complain about Government reforms, I usually find that the reforms will improve the service to the ultimate customer, us, at the expense of the unions whose sole responsibility is to their members. I therefore welcome the news on the basis that the Government is moving in the right direction!!

    Tuesday, April 12, 2005

    Every little helped

    Congratulations to the management and staff of Tescos. A truly amazing result producing a profit of £2bn last year!! That is what happens when you deliver what customers want. Success has come from offering a good range of products at very competivtive prices in locations convenient for their customers. Naturally the BBC are bemused by such customer focused success, claiming that Tescos stifle competition. They may well do, but customers voluntarily go to Tescos and spend their cash, unlike paying for the BBC.

    Could Government ever run a supermarket as successfully as Tesco or would it have to stifle all competition? If Tesco allocated food and services to their customers without the benefit of customer choice, would they still be the number one retailer?

    Smile, you're on a speed camera.

    I struggle to understand how the news that the M4 from J14 Newbury to J19 Bristol will have a number of mobile speed cameras catching anyone doing 79mph or more can be for any reason other than raising revenue from the much persecuted motorist. It is accepted that motorway traffic cruises at 80mph, even the Police must surely acknowledge this!! When a Police car cruises down a motorway at 70mph, they must surely see the traffic dangerously bunching up behind them whilst the road ahead is clear!!

    Yes, there have been deaths on the motorway that could possibly justify it, but when you could consider the number of journeys made on the M4 each day. I am sure that the risk of a serious accident is remote, at the very leadt, motorways are safer places to be than "A" and "B" roads. Are the accidents caused by fast driving or by dangerous driving in inappropriate conditions that cameras couldn't possibly capture?

    I always find it particularly galling that the 10% of uninsured, untaxed or unregistered drivers on the roads will have the last laugh once again as they cannot be traced by these mobile units. They are surely the real menace on Britain's roads.

    Mick Howard

    Would Michael Howard be more popular if he was known as Mike Howard? Is it too informal for a Conservative? Is it disrespectful? Anthony Blair seems to revel in the more populist moniker Tony.

    Charles Kennedy's son

    Congratulations to Charles and his wife on the birth of their first child, Donald James. I assume the names Anthony, Gordon and Michael were off the list of possible names!!

    Monday, April 11, 2005

    Bad news for Scotland, good news for England

    A BBC Scotland poll has shown that most people in Scotland want higher spending on schools, hospitals and pensions and would pay more tax to finance it. Apart from teh fact most voters are typically happy for others to pay more tax, but never themselves (they pay enough already don't you know!!) I have to welcome this news as it seems that the Barnett formula (Allocates Government spending to the four countries of the United Kingdom) may be changed if Labour are returned to power and the "favourable spending outcome for Scotland" that the formula currently generates may be reduced. I'm sure the Scots will welcome paying that little bit more. I'm surprised that Labour isn't highlighting this "good news" south of the border!!

    Conservatives "Best for Business"

    The Financial Times carried an interesting survey today of 200 Finance Directors from small, medium and large firms. The majority of them will be voting Conservative. However, whilst 58%believe that Gordon is the most capable Finance Minister in the UK, they do not believe that Labour's policies will not improve the economy in the long run. This is actually quite worrying if businesses are to grow and invest for the future.

    Holy spook

    "Well meaning" council tax funded officials working in Norwich have decided that the "Holy Ghost" should no longer be used in school as it could confuse children in Religious Education.

    Ms Agombar, said: "We've heard stories of children taking these stories home and becoming confused, particularly the little ones." Yes, maybe, but then they get older and are taught the error of their ways. That is surely the whole point of an education. Does Norfolk County Council propose changing the name Great Yarmouth to just Yarmouth? It's a nice enough place but I don't consider it to be all that Great!! Before I'm spammed by a whole load of people in Yarmouth, I'm just making a point!! The New Forest is also pretty old now, should that now be called Forest?

    Frankly, would Norfolk Council taxpayers welcome a reduced council tax bill this year if such "well meaning" work no longer happened? Would they even notice!?!

    Cleaner hospitals

    I'm still struggling with "cleaner hospitals" as being a major election issue that could win the Conservatives many votes. I'm not saying that clean hospitals are not important, they need to be to prevent infections. However, are the conservatives really saying that a vote for Labour or the Liberal Democrats will mean dirty hospitals? Will it sway any votes? You've got to be a pretty shallow voter to be persuaded to vote Tory on the basis that hospitals will be cleaner!!


    Funny how the Archbishop of Canterbury is urging better parenting skills on the same day that the Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly wants parents to have more control over schools.

    Sunday, April 10, 2005

    Election Manifesto

    In the weeks leading up to the General Election, I am going to try and create an election manifesto that attempts to resolve some of the problems that seem to be facing the UK. Walking the Streets is in the process of creating a similar one over the next few weeks. The policies will be in no particular ranking of importance, just as I think of them!!

  • Withdraw from the European Union, a policy that Tony Blair agreed with at the 1983 General Election, when European influence in the UK was far less than it is now. I fail to understand why any politician wants to give power away to a third party. It is said that we need to be in Europe to influence it, but there is no call to become the 51st state of the US to influence US foreign policy.

  • Ensure that NHS dentists are available for everyone in the UK. Everyone pays tax so you should expect something in return.

  • Scrap means tested benefits. Benefits should be available to everyone regardless of the level of personal savings. It's wholly unfair and unreasonable that there should ever be a perverse incentive that not saving for a rainy day is ever better than saving.

  • Housing benefit should be reviewed with a view to scrapping it. I cannot think of many benefits that encourage you to try and find the most expensive house that you can find to live in as all the rent is paid for by the state. If it is to be retained, it should be a fixed amount per week regardless of the size of the house. That way, people can choose whether to live in a larger house that cost more or a smaller one where they can use the money for other purposes

  • People should always be better off by working than by remaining on benefits. I propose that total household benefits should be capped at 60% of the annual average income of £24,000. I fail to see why anyone should ever be better off by not working.

  • National Insurance should be scrapped and absorbed into income tax. There is no reason to have two state tax collectors with different rules for employers and employees. This will reduce the burden on employers and reduce the number of civil servants required to manage it. It is just another tax at the end of the day. Scrapping NI would also save the 2003/4 £315.3m cost of administering it (Hansard,22 March 2005,vol 432, no 59, col 709w).

  • Aim to reduce the subsidies to train companies to zero over the next ten years. I fail to understand why subsidies to train operators have increased so much since 2000. Far more people use the roads than ever use the railways, improvements to the road infrastructure would be a far better use of the subsidy.

  • Reintroduce Grammar schools. It seems to be the best way to improve standards in school on the basis that not all children are identical, some are academic, others are not, trying to find a comprehensive solution for all children seems to be quite wrong

  • Scrap the higher tax rate and move towards a flat tax rate. It's only purpose seems to be to punish personal success

  • Raise the personal tax allowance to £10,000 and scrap many of the tax credits that target "specific needy groups". The reduction in administration costs would be worthwhile whilst trying to simplify the overall tax code. The total cost of income tax administration in 2004/4 was £1,671.4m (Hansard,22 March 2005,vol 432, no 59, col 709w)
  • Who do you want to run the economy?

    You may have had the pleasure of seeing Labour's election posters. "Who do you want to run the country?" showing a grinless Tony Blair and a similar poster "Who do you want running the economy?", again, you have the option of Gordon Brown or Oliver Letwin, apologies to Vince Cable of the Liberal Democrats but even Labour think the Liberal Democrats haven't a chance!!

    However, what strikes me is that they have the wrong faces on the posters. There should be no faces on the posters as the real power is starting to move to the faceless wonders in the EU. For example, in UK tax law, a company can offset losses from one subsidiary against the profits of another - but only if both are inside the UK. Following a challenge by Marks & Spencers (M&S), the EU Advocate General, Miguel Poiares Maduro, announced on Thursday that M&S should be allowed to offset losses of foreign subsidiaries against the parent company's profit. This is totally contrary to UK tax law. If the opinion is approved by the European Court, and they normally follow the Advocate General's decision, then it could cost the UK Treasury (and other EU governments) billions in taxes. Naturally, such shortfalls would be made good by you and me!! At least you now know who is running the economy!!

    For completeness, I tried to find a photo of Miguel, but was unsuccessful!!

    Saturday, April 09, 2005

    Defecting candidates

    It sometimes seems like musical chairs as various prospective MPs change allegiances on the road to Westminster rather than Damascus. It's interesting to see how the BBC report them though!!

    Conservative MP defects to Labour. "He is the third Conservative MP to defect to Labour since 1997."

    MP Marsden defects back to Labour. Marsden was a Liberal Democrat MP if the headline doesn't make it clear!! No count to say how many others have defected from the Liberal Democrats, nor any explanation as to why he now feels obliged to leave the Liberal Democrats except saying "A Tory government would impose savage cuts" on public services, but he was never a Conservative. Still, always best to take a swipe at the Tories!!

    Finally, "Defection boosts Liberal Democrat Campaign", go on, guess, who is defecting? Yep, a prospective Labour candidate has switched to the Liberal Democrats in the Ribble Valley on the day the election was called. It is the only report that could be described as fair!!

    "No tax rise promise" impossible

    Can Labour be accused of a secret agenda to rise taxes, but only after they have secured power? That could be the conclusion when reading this article quoting Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary. She is correct to say that no politician could ever give a cast iron guarantee as no one knows the future, however, I am sure that it is a racing certainty that taxes will increase under Labour following a historic third term victory. It is only really a question of which taxes and by how much?

    I also would like to know when the Culture Secretary became the Chancellor? I have always understood that only the Chancellor is allowed to comment on fiscal policy. Has Gordon now changed his own policy? He announces all the good news and a cabinet colleague announces all the bad news.

    The Candidate Speaks

    Like many other bloggesrs, I had enjoyed reading "The Candidate Speaks", a blog written by a prospective Conservative MP. It mysteriously disappeared a couple of weeks ago, ironically just after I linked to it!! I had hoped that it would resurface so kept it in my list blogs that I enjoy reading. However, it hasn't reappeared and it is therefore with regret that I remove it from my list.

    To fill the void, I am including a new link to the Guardian newsblog and theGuardian newspaper. They should provide a constant stream of articles showing how misguided I am!!

    Friday, April 08, 2005

    Eric the Unred's dilemma

    Eric the Unred is currently facing a fascinating dilemma on a topic that as far I'm aware was not reported in the UK media. Tens of thousands of French high school students and their teachers marched through Paris on March 8th protesting (as only the French know how) about educational reforms. Nothing unusual there, however, these demonstrators were then attacked by about one thousand black and arab youths. The motive according to the left-leaning Le Monde was "racism". Eric continues " I don't know, this is so difficult. Should I condemn the Francophobia, or is that pandering to another phobia? How about condemning those beating up peaceful protestors? Is that an acceptable progressive position to hold these days? Or should they to be excused because they are oppressed?"

    As far as I can tell, such a story runs totally contrary to how Eric perceives the world around him and may also help to explain why it was not reported in the UK.

    Government Loan to Help Rover (3)

    I had been expecting to eat humble pie this morning as I assumed the Government did not offer a £100m bridging loan to Rover. However, listening to the Trade and Industry Secretary, Patricia Hewitt this morning on the Today programme confirmed my worst fears. £100m of taxpayers money had been on the table for Rover if they needed, the deal only collapsed when the Chinese realised Rover was unlikely to be solvent over the next two years.

    Not content to offer £100m of your money to Rover, she announced another £40m of your money to help Rover component suppliers diversify their customer base. Why? These component suppliers should already be motivated to find other customers or they will eventually suffer the same fate as Rover. Spending £40m on them is frankly a waste of public money. Besides, how did they arrive at such a figure? Would £20m or £30m have been enough to keep the press hounds at bay?

    Freedom of Expression?

    You may recall that the BBC Board of Governors recently defended their broadcasting of "Jerry Springer - The Opera" on the basis of "Freedom of Expression" and how important it is. Do the BBC Board of Governors believe that the BNP should be allowed this same "Freedom of Expression" to express their views or do they welcome the news that several leading members could be imprisoned for seven years for "thought crime"? The whole point of living in a genuine democracy is that people should be allowed to express, no matter how abhorrent, their views to a wider public if they so wish. The BBC Board of Governors are not the guardians of free speech.

    You will note that the BBC doesn't have a web link to the BNP in the article unlike their link to the "Gypsy Council" when reporting on gypsies.

    A sliver of good news for Rover workers

    Amongst the maelstrom of bad news currently afflicting Rover workers, I would like to highlight one positive news story. Whilst doubts over the Rover pension fund contributed to sinking the SAIC rescue boat, workers pensions should be safe due to the Pension Protection Fund that was officially launched on Wednesday and protects members of pension schemes wound up after 6 April. If nothing else, it will test the fund to destruction.

    Thursday, April 07, 2005

    Government Loan to help Rover (2)

    It looks like the screws continue to be tightened at Rover, yesterday it was announced that Rover car sales were down 17% on a year ago compared to a 5% overall reduction in car sales in general. Today, "not-so-loyal local" component suppliers are doing what all properly managed companies would do on such news, they are reducing their credit exposure to Rover by presumably asking for cash on delivery. As a result, Rover car production has now ceased. It is always ironic that when a company needs credit most, such as Rover needs now, it becomes more expensive and more difficult to arrange.

    Banks earn money by making good credit decisions, if they are not prepared to lend their money, why should you or me through the Government? The Government is said to be the lender of last resort, but that's for systemic bank failure, not for bad credit risks. If Rover is going to fail, it should be allowed to, the Government should not intervene. It is not God.

    Tony Blair has announced that he will do "All he can" to save Rover. Frankly, his announcements are starting to remind me of John Majors' announcements. When John publicly supported a member of his cabinet in one of the many crises that afflicted his premiership, you knew it was really the death knell.

    Like most other problems, Tony washes his hands of the real problem, in this case a lack of consumer demand for Rover cars and concludes that the solution, once again, is to throw (your) taxpayers money at the problem to keep away those nasty headlines (until after the election, if I'm feeling particularly cynical). Will he be legislate to prevent companies limiting credit lines to Rover? Will he announce that consumers have to buy Rover cars rather than other makes? Will Government departments now have to buy Rover cars? Will he set up a quango, OffCar, to offer "expert" management advice? If Rover doesn't pay back the £100m, what happens? How do we know that £100m is all that is needed? Will another £10m be forwarded if negotiations aren't concluded satisfactorily?

    Unions can already scent the smell of dollops of taxpayers money in the air and are already starting to ask for similar assistance at Peugeot in Coventry.

    School menus

    Following on from the £280m of new funding to improve school meals, thanks to Jamie Oliver, I think I have discovered why children aren't eating more healthily at school. They can't read the menus, apparently 17% of eleven year olds fail reading tests despite a National Literacy Strategy introduced in 1998. Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary recently wondered why social mobility was worse now than in the 1960s. Apart from the demise of selective education, I suggest an inability to read is a significant factor. I doubt many "middle class" parents would tolerate their eleven year old children being unable to read or write. Would the 17% figure be even higher if such parents left all tuition to teachers?

    A Right Herbert

    If nothing else, the announcement that Nick Herbert is replacing Howard Flight MP should lead to some amusing headlines. So what if Labour think that the Tories have a secret agenda for cutting public services, I wish they did as I would be far likelier to vote for them than is currently possible. The whole point of the election is to give the electorate a choice, if you want tax rises, more money poured down the drain, higher benefits then vote Labour. It's pretty much public knowledge that Labour will be increasing taxes after the election but have not made any firm commitments about where these rises will be made. If Labour do not announce their plans in their manifesto, have they also got a secret agenda? I would believe that Labour had some genuine hackles about Nick Herbert if was a prospective Labour MP, but he's not.

    You only need to read the "Welfare State We're in" or visit the website of the same name to see that taxes can be cut whilst maintaining public services, the balance could easily be found by reducing benefit fraud and making work pay.

    Personally, it looks like it's a real shame that the Tory Party were not able to give both Howard Flight and Nick Herbert a chance to become MPs at the same time.

    A Car sticker

    Driving to work this morning in my usual semi-vegetative state (I do the same journey every morning so could practically drive with my eyes closed!!), I saw a simple car sticker that lifted my spirits and make me realise I'm not alone. It was stuck to the back window of a small white van overloaded with tools and a ladder and in big white letters on a red background said "Bollocks to Blair". Now, I must confess that I have no idea what had upset this particular driver, what had motivated him to do this although doubtless the list could be quite long!! I also have no idea how he came by the the sticker. Whatever the source, I would like to thank him as it brought a smile to my face and made the rest of the journey that little bit more bearable.

    Tuesday, April 05, 2005

    Potential for Electoral Fraud

    This morning, the BBC Today programme again raised the issue of electoral fraud at the forthcoming General Election following comments made by a judge that the postal voting system "That would disgrace a banana republic". Naturally, Labour were not prepared to discuss the issue so were unable to provide a spokesman to defend the current situation. More disturbingly, the Electoral Commission, whose only role is to ensure fairness at British General Elections, was also unable to provide a spokesman. The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives were at pains to state that the elections are likely to be fair and that Labour aren't trying to circumvent the rules. Alongside the magic boundary rules that give Labour an extra sixty seats across the UK if their share of the vote was identical to the Conservatives, I can't help but think that paying less attention to postal voting fraud than is necessary can do nothing but help the "right" party to win those tough marginal seats. They are the good guys afterall!!

    At this rate, we may need to ask Robert Mugabe to provide monitors to prove to the world that our elections are fair!!

    Binge Drinking

    MPs want local councils to be given the power to set minimum bar prices to prevent binge drinking. Beyond my initial thoughts that local councils should not get involved in the actual pricing decisions of private companies, I can't help but think that the so called "experts" are moving in totally the wrong direction. As my friends will confirm, I have been known to enjoy my beer and so would like to think I'm a bit of an *expert* on the subject!! Economists will tell you the solution to a problem such as binge drinking is to raise the price through taxation and the problem is solved and that is clearly what the councils are doing. However, I believe that by increasing the price, the problem will only get worse.

    Drinks in the UK are traditionally bought in rounds. This works fine when there are two or three people in a round, but it can potentially be unfair if five or six people are in a round. The first two or three drinkers reaching the bar could easily pay £15 for a round of drinks. If the drinkers finish the night having had "just" three rounds, there is a potential free-rider problem as some of the group will not have bought a round that evening. To stop such "freeriding", the other drinkers will normally be obliged to buy a round too, even though three to four drinks could be their respective limits. As a result, it's not difficult to see that everyone in the round can easilty end up drinking five or six drinks, even if they only wanted three or four to get their money's worth. If drinks were cheaper, "free-riding" would not be such an issue. For example, a friend's girlfriend recently bought two glasses of wine for the price of one at a bar. As we were about to leave the premises, my friend asked if she was going to drink the second glass of wine, as she declined, he drank it, not because he wanted the wine (he wqas drinking beer) but because the wine was "worth" £3 and so he couldn't possibly leave it behind!! Had the wine been worth 50p, it would not have been an issue.

    Monday, April 04, 2005

    Call to give prisoners the vote

    The latest wheeze to reduce voter apathy is to try and overturn the current law that prisoners are unable to vote in elections. Allowing them to vote will apparently help to increase their sense of civic pride!! What a load of rubbish!! I would have thought that they will vote for the party that gives them the most luxurious prisons and campaigns for early release, Liberal Democrats perhaps!?!

    What's more, Unlock chief executive Bobby Cummines who is heading the call along with the Prison Reform Trust says, "If prisoners are excluded from voting then we don't have a democratic society, we are just paying lip service to one." So we don't live in a democratic society? I know that Bob but giving prisoners the vote won't help overcome that!!

    What Labour's done for you

    I've just visited the Labour Party website following a link from the BBC (where else!!) and found two interesting websites. One is an attack on the Michael Howard called the "Michael Howard Bandwagon Watch" which is fairgame as it's a Labour website of course. However, my eyes were diverted to an enticing link called "What Labour's done for you". You will notice it's not a question (as I would have expected) but a statement of fact. Great I thought, let's find out what Labour has done for me, with a growing sense of nervous anticipation, I clicked on the link and selected my area in the South East. It gives local contact information and then the tab "What Labour's done for you". Clicking on this tab, as far as I can tell for any area in the South East gives this message.

    The page cannot be found
    The page you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable.


    Please try the following:

    • If you typed the page address in the Address bar, make sure that it is spelled correctly.
    • Open the home page, and then look for links to the information you want.
    • Click the Back button to try another link.
    • Click Search to look for information on the Internet.

    HTTP 404 - File not found
    Internet Explorer

    So it's official, Labour has done nothing for me!! I tried various other locations in the South East but the results were always the same. If you find a link in the South East that works, please tell me as I want to know what Labour's done for me!!

    Media coverage of the Pope's death

    Media coverage of the death of the Pope seemed to reach a new low this morning on the BBC Breakfast News when they covered the memories of a family blessed by the Pope on his visit to Wimbledon, South London in 1982. He blessed them even though they were Anglican. What a guy!!

    Coverage of the death seems to be going the same way as that of Princess Diana, wallowing in a global grief as the world seems to stop rotating for a couple of days. The announcement of the General Election is apparently delayed 24 hours, there is a truce in political campaigning, no other news stories have broken. Is it a good day to break bad news!?! Even Prince Charles' wedding plans are in doubt!!

    I have found TV coverage leading up to the death almost voyeuristic, "The Pope's breathing is becoming shallower, his blood pressure is dropping rapidly, the Last Rites have been given, he has a high fever". For something as intimate and personal as death, I would have preferred his last moments to have been far more private and away from the speculations of a voracious press pack.

    NB I did struggle with the idea of posting on such a sensitive issue in the first place in case I offend any readers particularly as I have not seen many other blogs passing comment, but felt that if I didn't publish, then I'd be censoring myself and decided that was even worse!! The intention of this blog is not to offend people but to "have my say" on current affairs and hopefully be heard sometimes. That is why I created this blog in the first place and presumably what motivates other bloggers too. I'm not even sure I should have published this caveat!!

    Sunday, April 03, 2005

    Selective Education

    James Batholomew at "The Welfare State We're in" drew my attention to a recent speech by the Privately Educated Secretary of State for Education, Ruth Kelly extolling the virtues of the Comprehensive education system to the Fabian society. "The comprehensive ideal remains powerful" since it's introduction in the 1960s but then goes on to say that, "The facts on social mobility are depressing. As the middle classes expanded after the war, there was considerable movement. But since the early 60s academic surveys tell us that mobility has declined. Studies show that for people in their 30s, the social class of their parents matters more than it did in the past."

    I suggest that comprehensives caused the latter but the failure of this social experiment can and never will be admitted. When Grammar schools were available, as I'm sure many Labour MPs would attest (having attended them), a good education was not dependent upon the income of your parents but only on the academic ability of the child. The introduction of comprehensives effectively meant that wealthier parents had an added incentive to either send their children to private schools or "middle class comprehensives". As such options were beyond the incomes of poorer parents, Labour ironically managed to stifle the social mobility of their very own people!!

    Labour Home Ownership plan

    Labour has announced plans to increase the level of property ownership in the UK from 70% to 75%. I can't help but think to myself that Gordon only wants a "home-owning, wealth owning, asset-owning democracy" so that he can tax it. Owning your own house may be a pleasure, but as The Economist pointed out recently (Subscribers only), for the average First Time Buyer (FTB), it is now cheaper to rent than to buy, particularly as the average FTB moves after seven years. Wanting to increase homw ownership can also act as a brake on economic growth as it reduces workforce mobility.

    Saturday, April 02, 2005

    Health Tourism from England to Wales

    The Welsh First Minister, Rhodri Morgan has announced plans to discriminate against the English "Health Tourists" who will be flooding across the border to take advantage of cheaper prescriptions in Wales. Wales-only, bilingual prescriptions will be introduced to stop people coming to Wales to obtain cheaper medication. Good legislation Rhodri, trumpet your own policy and take a swipe at the English too. Doesn't get much better than that.

    PS I did wonder if this was an April Fool joke but it does seem genuine!!

    Government loan to help Rover?

    Once in a while, you see how old "New Labour" really is. The Government is looking at providing a bridging loan of £100m to help MG Rover secure a deal with its Chinese partner, Shanghai Automotive Industrial Corporation (SAIC) and safeguard 6,000 jobs in the West Midlands (excluding suppliers). Why aren't banks prepared to provide this bridging loan? Do they consider the chances of getting their money back too remote? If they do, why should the taxpayer lose out instead? Fear not, the DTI have our best interests at heart and have asked the directors of the company who, since buying the company for £10 and having made £40m, to contribute a couple of million pounds in order to share the risk with the taxpayer. Why don't they risk the £40m? I'm sure they would be delighted to!! Naturally, the BBC doesn't even report this risk to the taxpayers' £100m.

    Can we look forward to a renationalistion of MG Rover in the future and look forward to more consumer focused cars like the Allegro, Metro and Maxi? The fact that sales have plummeted in the last eighteen months should show even a Minister what's really wrong at MG Rover. They just can't help interfering in a business producing rubbish cars.

    Frankly, SAIC are playing their cards really well, playing hardball in their negotiations as a general election is on the way and Labour cannot afford to lose seats in the West Midlands.

    Friday, April 01, 2005

    Ability to Pay

    Why do the Liberal Democrats believe that a local income tax based on ability to pay is a fundamentally fairer system than the one currently in place? If I go to Tescos, the price is set by the market and that's the price I pay. They don't ever say, "Snafu, you have a greater ability to pay than that pensioner over there, you should pay more". So why should the charging of council services be so very different?

    Taking the analogy further, as the pensioner doesn't have to pay for her own food, no income you understand, she could quite easily spend all careering around Tescos loading her trolley with plenty of everything. Poor old Snafu then comes along for a loaf of bread and a tin of beans and the price is £1,000. A double whammy of ability to pay and that trolley that did the rounds earlier in the day. Yep, a far fairer system!!

    Vote Liberal Democrat

    Let's go forward together.

    Update In case any of my more regular readers are disturbed by this apparent volte-face, it is April Fools' Day (All fools' day) and the above phrase should read:

    Let's get stuffed together.