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Jun 282014

Given all the fuss over David Cameron’s hissy fit over the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker (henceforth “JCJ” as it is easier to type when I’m not entirely sober) as the European Union’s president, it may come as no surprise that something has been lost in the noise. And that is that JCJ has been appointed as the European Union’s president because he has effectively been elected by the European Parliament.

Most pan-European political parties campaigned with the intention that their leaders would be appointed European President … or at least that the European Parliament would ask that they would be appointed European President. And the European People’s Party‘s candidate was JCJ.

I would say in exactly the same way as David Cameron became Prime Minister except that didn’t happen as David Cameron did not have an overall majority.

To oppose JCJ’s appointment is anti-democratic. It is to oppose the will of the people. We should be celebrating the election of a president by the will of the people rather than being an appointment made by back-room deals as has always been previously the case. The acid test for the acceptance of democracy is to accept democratic decisions even when you disagree with them.

So Mr David Cameron, whilst you think you are protecting Britain’s interests, you are also opposing the will of the people – which is beyond contempt and exactly the sort of thing we expect from Britain’s politicians (said in exactly the same tone of voice I would use for the phrase paedophile).

Dec 102012

In the last week, we have seen two example of the arrogance of leadership; on both occasions David Cameron has unilaterally decided that the considered opinion of a group of experts is wrong and his snap judgement is right. Of course he is not the only example of this sort of thinking – most Prime Ministers of the past have committed the same sort of error of judgement.

The two decisions in question were the response to the Leveson report, and today’s report on the future of recreational drug legislation. In both cases, people have gone to a considerable effort to consider what to do about certain issues. And of course have spent a lot of my money on doing so.

I do not resent my money being spent on such things; what I do resent is that some puffed up politician is wasting my money by not spending an appropriate amount of time considering the report(s).

A snap decision is necessary in some circumstances, but not in these circumstances! There should be nothing wrong with a political leader saying that they would like to spend some time considering the report – rather than respond with gut instinct to the report’s headlines.

Ripping up a report within hours of it being released is contemptuous of the work that has gone into it, and wasteful of taxpayers’ money.

It may well be that ignoring the report’s recommendations is the right thing to do, but to do so too quickly is definitely the wrong thing to do.

Dec 012012

So Leveson has finally released his report on press regulation, and as quick as a flash the Tories and the chief Tory (David Cameron – the Prime Minister) have announced that they will have nothing to do with it. They prefer some form of self-regulation; in other words a toothless organisation which the press routinely ignores or sticks a middle finger up to (i.e. a modified version of the old Press Complaints Commission).

Nothing could demonstrate more clearly that the Tories will bend over backwards to support any kind of business (including the demonstrably corrupt), and ignore the needs of the public. Without reading the report, it is still possible to determine that the recommendations are sensible merely by looking at who opposes it – the Tories, and the press themselves. Just about every other politician is right behind Leveson.

The big trouble with self-regulation (at least of the press) is that it has been tried again, and again, and still fails. As Leveson himself reports, we have had 7 inquiries into press standards over the last 70 years. The press regularly acts “as if its own code, which it wrote, simply did not exist”.

Or in other words, when the press barons say that they will behave now, we know they are lying seeing as they have promised that before and have yet to live up to their fine words.

Interestingly the Tories seem most concerned about Leveson because they believe that the government and parliament should have no say  in the regulation of the press. Thus demonstrating that their reading comprehension is perhaps at the level of a 10 year old.

As Leveson himself says :-

Not a single witness has proposed that the Government or Parliament should themselves be involved in the regulation of the press. I have not contemplated and do not make any such proposal.

Personally I am not opposed to self-regulation in general; at least until that self-regulation has been demonstrated to be useless. But in practically every case where an industry or professional group has regulated itself, it has failed to do so properly. We have trusted the press to regulate itself and ultimately it has failed to do so.

Statutory regulation of the press is very definitely something to be wary of – let the politicians have a say in how the press is run and we would never have heard of the MPs expenses scandal! But this is not what Leveson is suggesting; he is suggesting that an independent body regulates the press with statutory authority.

Frankly if a regulatory authority wants to punish a rogue editor – perhaps with a thousand lashes of the cat – it needs statutory authority or the rogue editor is likely to raise the finger and walk out.

Finally, and the main reason for this post; time to give the Tories a bloody nose by telling them that we want the Leveson recommendations implemented. Visit the petition site and tell them so!


Oct 292011

Yesterday we learned that UK company directors managed to screw the public, the shareholders, and the people working in the companies they direct by getting awarded pay rises amounting to 50%. Chief executives (who do a little bit more work) managed to grow their pay by 43%.

Of course the unions were up in arms, but this is bad enough that even the Tories are a little uncomfortable with the repugnant greed, and David Cameron has called for “transparency” in the boardroom. Whatever that means – after all we know that these guys are greedy pigs, what do they need to be more transparent about?

The likelihood of any company board paying the least bit of attention to a polite request to act with restraint is about the same as the chance of a snowball in hell lasting more than a minute. After all these people are quite happy to be known as greedy pigs … they have spent years and sometimes decades working themselves into a position where they can make themselves repeatedly sick eating from the trough of the economy.

The CBI on the other hand has trotted out the tired old excuse of having to pay salaries sufficient to attract the best in the world.

Which is true to a certain extent (although I doubt that every company director – many of whom do not work full time – deserves quite as much as they get), but is not quite the whole story.

Every year it seems that the top-level executives see at least double-digit income growth, whilst people who actually do real work see far less than that. Over time it leads to an increasing gap between the income of the richest and the rest of us. This is normally phrased as a gap between rich and poor, but that is just as wrong as ridiculously high salaries. It isn’t a gap between rich and poor, but a gap between the richest 1% and the rest of us.

Conventionally we accept these sort of things because superior company directors are supposed to ensure that companies become healthier and more profitable, causing the economy as a whole to become healthier with more resources to spread around. In other words the rich get richer, and so do the rest of us. But this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Sometimes we forget what an economy is for. It isn’t to make the rich richer, but to ensure that all the population get a share of the wealth so they have enough to eat, a place to live in, etc. If there are people who do not have enough to eat, have trouble affording energy bills to heat their homes, have inadequate homes, or lots of other “issues”, then the economy isn’t working properly.

I do not know of an easy fix for this, but we do need to start looking into fixing things so that we all benefit from the wealth created by the economy. And in such a way that the wealth isn’t frittered away. It doesn’t mean total equality – those who contribute more should get more out of the system, but we have a broken system at the moment that doesn’t actually reward those who contribute more properly – it only rewards the wealth creators.

Now genuine wealth creators do deserve to be rewarded more than those who do not contribute so much. But they should not be rewarded excessively when everyone else is suffering (to a greater or lesser extent).

One thing that might help is a way of taxing bonuses and golden parachutes in a way that takes away money from those who just manage to get good contracts, but leaves more money with those who really increase wealth. If for example, we start with a base rate of 50% tax on all bonuses and golden parachutes greater than the average yearly salary. That percentage goes up to penalise those who have not increased profits and have lost jobs, over the last 10 years, and the percentage goes down to those who have created jobs and increased profits over the last 10 years.

Oh! And one last thing. Not all rich people are greedy pigs. On a day when Jimmy Saville has died, it is well to remember that he gave away 9/10ths of his pretty large income.

Apr 282011

The funniest thing about David Cameron using the phrase “Calm down dear” in Prime Minister’s question time yesterday is that everyone seems to think there are just two possibilities – that he was being sexist, or he was trying to be funny. What everyone seems to have ignored was that he was being a complete idiot too.

Whether he was being sexist or being funny – and I’m on the side that thinks he was trying to be funny – he was being an idiot trying to use a phrase that could be interpreted as condescension to women (i.e. being sexist). Ok, perhaps everyone is allowed the occasional slip up – even the Prime Minister is human after all.

But if he keeps being idiotic, we need to worry – an idiotic Prime Minister is not a good thing!

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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