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May 192013

Probably not … this is hardly the first time that the Tories have had a spat over membership of Europe.

But when one of them grandly announces that they are all united over Europe, you know there’s trouble. You hardly need to announce that you’re united when there’s no trouble.

When you’ve got Lord Howe announcing that David Cameron is running scared over Europe, and rumours of someone close to the top using the phrase “swivel-eyed loons” in connection to grass-roots party activists, then you have a party with definite issues. In addition to the normal doubts over Europe, Tories have a streak of unrealistic traditionalists within their party – who could quite well qualify as “swivel-eyed loons”.

The loons want to hark back to a time when Britain had an empire, hung serious criminals, flogged less serious criminals, and a few other policies from the 19th century. And the thought of co-operating to any extent with the old enemies of France or Germany raises the hackles.

Well they are entitled to their views, and I’m entitled to borrow a phrase and call them “swivel-eyed loons”. And good luck to them; they will be the cause of the Tories becoming unelectable for another decade or so.

And of course there is the other half of the party – those with more than one brain cell – who realise that such archaic world views are really not helpful. Could the division cause the Tory party to splinter? Well there’s always wishful thinking.

But realistically there is already a place for disgruntled Tories to head off to: the UKIP party. You could almost say that the split has already occurred and that we’re watching the painfully slow death throws of the old Tories.


Feb 212010

Pssst … want to make a quick bundle ?

Just vote for the Tories and they will let you buy shares in the Banks we own for cheap. Sounds good doesn’t it ?

Sounds like a bloody stupid idea to me. To sell the shares cheaply, the government would have to make an enormous loss on the money it used to bail out the banks in the first place. Now saving the banks was probably the right thing to do, but so would be hanging onto those shares until they can be sold at a reasonable profit … or at least not a disastrous loss!

It’s all very well offering to throw money at the electorate to increase the chances of your party winning, but surely the government finances are in no state to start throwing money away like this ?

Perhaps when you are considering selling your soul … sorry I mean vote, for a handful of bank shares you should think a little more broadly than your wallet.

The funny thing is that the Tories seem to want to encourage the less well off (even students!) to invest in shares. I’m not sure what planet the Tories are from, but it probably isn’t the best idea to encourage these people to gamble with their money (which is what share investments are – a gamble) before they have a sensible amount of savings.

Feb 202010

I did sort of miss the opportunity to make a timely comment on the Conservatives monumental gaff in relation to figures they published regarding the number of teenage pregnancies amongst deprived communities. But it is such a good example of Tory stupidity that I am going to make a comment anyway.

Apparently the Tories claimed as an example of Labour failure that the percentage of teenagers who got pregnant before the age of 18 in the most deprived areas was 54%. The actual rate was 5.4% which itself was a decline since 1998 when the rate was 6%; or in other words the highest rate was during a year where Labour had little chance to correct the mistakes of the previous Tory government having only been in power for a year.

Now of course anybody can make a mistake, which is why in any circumstances where you need to avoid making mistakes you check and double-check your data. And when you have previously made yourself look a fool by making a mistake you triple-check things. And obviously an organisation would have these facts checked by someone other than the author.

So what does a mistake like turning 5.4% into 54% mean ? By itself, not a great deal but it indicates a certain lack of care about the details.

After all, 54% is a ridiculous enough figure that you would normally say to yourself “Eh?” and have another look. The Tories obviously came up with a figure that helped their claims and ran with it.

It’s the sort of carelessness that is not the sort of thing you would like to see the next government use.

May 102009

British MPs have managed to make themselves look corrupt in a spectacular way with the leaking of the details of purchases made on the second home allowance. It is particularly amusing that the biggest fuss is about somewhat trivial items such as loo brushes (that’s not a real example) and the like.

It is worth pointing out that the whole second homes allowance was introduced by the Tories in the 1980s to supplement MPs salaries during a time when Thatcher was grinding away at public sector salary increases. So this is not strictly speaking a Labour issue.

There have been a number of excuses floating around as to why MPs need a second homes allowance, and because MPs are so good at spinning rubbish it is easy to start to think that they may have a point. But lets compare things with not just the private sector but everyone else …

Normally when you take a job, you are expected to live within a reasonable distance of work. It’s not usually explicitly stated but you are expected to turn up to work every morning at a reasonable time, and stay for a reasonable length of time. Whilst you may get a more or less generous “bonus” to making moving easier, you don’t get money to pay for a home near work.

So MPs might have a point about a second home allowance but until such an allowance becomes common place outside of Westminster, they are going to look like pigs in the trough if they do have one. Under the existing system it does make sense to make some sort of arrangement for providing accommodation to MPs whose constituency is some distance from London.

But that can simply be provided by a block of flats close to Westminster – perhaps something on the river.

If MPs had sorted this all out before all this fuss, it would have been quite reasonable to abolish the second home allowance, spread the money used for it previously amongst the MPs as a salary increase. But because this was not sorted out previously the MPs should lose the money completely.

It would seem that many of the items coming to light are strictly speaking “within the rules”, but that is not good enough. We have to trust MPs to be honest and honourable as they make the rules that govern us. If they are apparently eager to exploit a system that is not quite as rigorous as it should be, what is to blame ? The MPs of course.

In any position of power, there are ways of abusing that power. It is the responsibility of those with power to not abuse that position. Can we trust MPs not to abuse their position ? Apparently not; at least not those MPs who have abused the system. Parliament needs to identify the 10 worst offenders and expel them for a minimum of 5 years.

Or if they do not have the courage to do this, perhaps we should identify the top 50 most serious offenders and refuse to re-elect them at the next election.

One of the dangers of so much concentration on the second homes allowance is that we are in danger of overlooking worse things. For instance, why are MPs allowed to take on jobs in addition to their job in Parliament?

In many situations (at least in the public sector), if you are in any sense in a senior position, you are effectively prohibited from taking additional jobs. At least without getting permission to do so. In the case of MPs, I see no reason why they should be allowed to have additional jobs – they already have an important and well paid job and any other job will take them away from what they are supposed to be doing.

There’s a tired out old excuse that MPs like to trot out whenever the second jobs question gets asked – that they need second jobs to keep in touch with the outside world. It is really an excuse to rake in fat cat salaries – after all how many MPs with second jobs work as nurses in hospitals ? Or anything that does not pay ridiculous amounts of money for trivial amounts of work.

Time to refuse to elect part-time MPs.

Jan 292009

When the economy is well, we constantly hear from businesses about how government should not interfere with business; that anything the private sector does is sacred, and the public sector is at best pathetic. They complain the most about regulation but government support for problematic businesses frequently comes up to. And of course whinge constantly about taxation on business.

Of course any business that needs support from the government to survive is pathetic and probably should fail.

But wait! Come this recession, we are seeing speaking heads from businesses in droves demanding that the government bail their business out. Somehow because there is a recession on, all the traditional rules can be ignored and businesses need support from government.

Sure perhaps we do need to use public money to help out businesses that would otherwise fail. After all reverting to 19th century economics like the Conservatives seems to have done is likely to be far worse. But that does not mean they should get a free ride – we should remind them that businesses usually ask to be left alone, and that goes two ways.

And of course put up taxes on businesses a tad, to pay back the money over the long term. And every time a business complains about high taxes, remind them of these times when government was spending money to help businesses out.

Nov 182008

Today the leader of the Conservative party David Cameron spoke on economic policy and went on again about the level of government debt in the Uk. He is quoted in a BBC article as saying Britain was different from other nations because public debt levels were already very high; in fact you can play the video and find that he believes that Britain already has “the biggest budget deficit in the modernised world”. Well perhaps, although it is clearly an attempt by the Conservatives to reclaim the “party of low taxation” banner and frighten the public with talk of a “borrowing binge”.

So shall we take a look at Britain’s public debt ? It is currently at the level of around £660 billion which sounds like a huge amount (and is). It is also around £11,000 per head of Britain’s population. Now lets look at Germany which has a debt level of around €1.5 trillion, or around €19,000 per head of Germany’s population. This comes out to £16,010 per head thanks to Google’s currency converter, or £1.27 trillion in total. I guess Germany is not part of the modernised world which might come as a surprise to the Germans!

Now the US; On 30 September 2008, the total U.S. federal debt passed the $10 trillion mark for the first time, with about $32,895 per capita (cut&paste from the Wikipedia article). This converts to about £6.66 trillion pounds in total and £21,900 per capita. It seems the Conservative party has trouble doing basic arithmetic with such large numbers.

Or perhaps they are being sensible and looking at public debt as a percentage of the size of the economy. Expecting an unsuccessful politician to be sensible is little unrealistic, but hey! I’ve been wrong before so I could be now. Looking at public debt as a percentage of GDP (a kind of measurement of the size of the economy) is a far better way of doing it, as we do not get distracted by all those zeros and is basically what the banks do when deciding how big a mortgage we can get (the old rule being up to three times the yearly income).

The CIA has an interesting table giving the level of public debt in terms of percentage of GDP for the year 2007. The UK is listed at position 50 with a level of 43% of GDP. Lets have a quick look at the big names above the UK in the list :-

  • Japan is listed at position 3 with 170%.
  • Italy is at number 7 with 104%
  • Germany is at number 20 with 64.9%
  • France is at number 22 with 63.9%
  • and the US is at number 27 with 60.8%

Does not seem quite so bad really does it ? Wait! The UK debt has risen considerably since 2007, so we should recalculate the level of debt for a later time. Fortunately the UK National Statistics department have an update for September 2008 showing public debt was at a level of 43.4% of GDP which would still leave us at position 50 in the CIA’s table. Even if we recalculate using the latest debt figure (given above as £660 billion) we get to around 44.4% of GDP which is a pretty big increase, but would still leave us at position 49 in the CIA’s table.

Interestingly the National Statistics page I referred to (here is the link) also gives us the highest percentage of GDP that the UK public debt level reached – 44.2% in 1997 when the last Conservative government was in control.

It seems to me that at best the Conservatives are scare-mongering with talk about huge tax rises to combat spiraling public debt at record levels. That is not to say that public debt is not a concern, but I think we have a fair way to go before we reach the levels of some other modern economies which are still reasonably successful. Of course public debt has to be repaid eventually, but some of that public debt will be repaid by the banks that have been bailed out and by eventually selling off Northern Rock (at a considerable profit I hope).

Of course I could be totally wrong about the level of UK government debt, and perhaps we do have the largest public debt in the Western world, but I cannot see the evidence for it myself. Perhaps someone could point me in the right direction?

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