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Dec 182011

Now as you may have guessed by now, I’m hardly the Tories biggest fan; on hearing the news this morning of a Tory getting caught doing something embarrassing, I couldn’t help but give a nasty smirk. It is always a bright start to the day when the Tory party is caught out demonstrating beyond any shadow of a doubt that they are the party of the über-rich which only gives lip-service to the middle-classes and has nothing but contempt for the working-class.

And running around dressed up as a member of the Nazi party is no joke – which is why certain foolish young people do it of course. Running around offending the sensibilities of their parent’s and grandparent’s generations is one of the all but irresistible pleasures of youth. These things go too far sometimes – it’s all very well running through the centre of a town naked, but dressing up as a member of the Nazi party is a step too far.

But Aidan was merely at a party where the offensive actions took place – he didn’t himself dress up as a Nazi, and it is not claimed that he did anything offensive himself. If you lined up all of the people who have ever been at a party where someone has done something incredibly foolish and offensive, then not many of us would not be lined up – and one suspects that most MPs would be in the queue trying to look inconspicuous.


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.

Oct 202010

Today we had a long announcement about the spending cuts the Tories are eagerly making to government services. Nobody is doubting that some spending cuts were necessary but some of the Tories greeted the announcements with a tasteless lack of compassion for those effected.

The age at which the pension age is paid increases from 65 to 66.

And the Tories cheered.

They announced time limits on “incapacity benefit” in the belief that problems stopping people from working will magically go away after a year. Yes there are undoubtedly some on incapacity benefit who could well work, but there are many more who cannot and who are now worried that their income will be cut.

And the Tories cheered.

Overall there was a massive cut in welfare support for the poorest in our society. What a surprise – the Tories want to punish the poor.

And the Tories cheered.

It is estimated that the cuts will lead to something like 490,000 job cuts … perhaps up to 8% of the total jobs in the public sector. There are a lot of people working in the public sector worried about whether they will have a job in a year’s time.

And the Tories cheered.

On top of a public sector pay freeze lasting for four years, today it was announced that pension contributions would increase. Perhaps both are necessary, but it also means that the public sector workers who still have a job will be looking at getting poorer.

And the Tories cheered.

I have only touched on a small amount of what the cuts will effect – partially because the full details are not known yet. But the details do not matter. We all knew that cuts were coming, but what was not expected was the callous attitude of the Tory MPs to those who will suffer because of these cuts. Cheering when the government was announcing cuts that will cause hardship for millions of people is tasteless in the extreme.

Anyone would think the Tories enjoy causing pain to those who are not lucky enough to enjoy a well paid job, and to those who work in the public sector making society a better place rather than working to make fat cats richer.

When it comes to the next election, remember that the Tories cheered when they announced the measures that caused misery for millions.

Sep 262010

Yesterday we heard the news that the new leader of the Labour party is Ed Millband – and congratulations to him. Ever since then we have had the media rambling on with the same old theme – more or less “but … but … it was the undemocratic unions who voted him in”.

So? It is not as if the Labour party has some sort of secret democratic process that changes every five minutes; the union vote was known well in advance, yet we heard no complaints before the result. Sometimes it feels as if the media look for any possible note of negativity in any news. Why not portray the news for once, and look at what difference Ed may make ?

There are undoubtedly Labour party members a bit suspicious of the influence of the Unions – after all it is hardly every party that allows people outside the membership of the party to vote. But why not ? The Labour party is supposed to reflect the interests of the working man and woman, so shouldn’t their representatives have an influence on the leadership ?

Sometimes the media gives us the impression that political parties need to have free and fair elections to select their leaders. Nothing could be further from the truth. A political party is effectively a private members club who put up their members for election whenever the opportunity presents itself (if funds and inclination are available).

Excluding the Liberal Democrats who have had a more chaotic life over the last 50 years, the Tories had their first leadership election in 1965 (over 100 years after their first government), and the Labour party had their first leadership election in 1922 some time after their formation. Indeed the only voters at those elections were the MPs of the respective parties!

The Labour party is unusual in allowing the unions to vote … or more accurately, the members of those unions. If they choose to do so, who are we (as non-members) to say it is wrong ? If you feel it is wrong, join the party and campaign for change.

And lets have a few less curmudgeons in the media please!

May 112010

There are those who claim that the possibility of the Tories and the Liberals combining into a coalition, or worse Labour and the Liberals combining into a coalition is undemocratic because it would not be what the public has voted for.

Perhaps, but it is no less democratic than a parliament with a clear majority. We do not have right to select the Prime Minister, just our representative in parliament. We expect our representative to vote for (actually technically it’s not vote against) the leader of his or her party. It is interesting to note that there is nothing in our system that allows for MPs changing parties – if you voted for a Labour party candidate, he gets elected and then immediately joins the Tory party, there is nothing to be done – your representative has been chosen even if you do not agree with his defection!

In reality, it is the elected MPs who decide who the Prime Minister is to be. What effectively happens is that the Queen (or King) selects a candidate Prime Minister. Although the Queen could pick whatever MP she wants as Prime Minister, in practice she selects the obvious choice – basically the leader of the majority party (or coalition). The Prime Minister then takes a “Queen’s Speech” to parliament and the MPs either vote in favour, or against – in which case the Prime Minister basically isn’t accepted by parliament so has to resign and force another election.

The key worry of those who claim that we could end up with an undemocratic result is with the possibility of a Labour-Liberal coalition – a “coalition of the defeated” – forming the next government. Is this fair ?

If you put add together the Labour, Liberal and nationalist MPs, they more than outnumber the Tory MPs, so even under our current electoral system, the hypothetical Labour-Liberal coalition is actually more representative of the will of the people than a Tory government.

After all, all the major parties have lost this election – Labour, Liberals, and Tories. The Tories have the largest number of MPs but not a majority. They cannot claim to have won this election any more than Labour can, because under our system “winning” is effectively having more than 326 MPs. And they do not.

If we end up with any coalition, it will be a coalition of the defeated. And yes the possible Tory-Liberal coalition is just as much a coalition of the defeated as a Labour-Liberal coalition would be.

Apr 262010

Under our current voting system, voting for the candidate who represents the party you wan in government is not necessarily a smart way to vote. In some cases, choosing the party you want in government is throwing you vote away on a party that is very unlikely to win in your constituency. For instance in the constituency that I live in – Portsmouth South – anyone who votes Labour is pretty much throwing their vote away. The effective choices are between Liberal, or Conservative candidates.

With a transferable vote system (which of course we do not have), a Labour supporter (which isn’t me!) may well vote Labour as their first choice, and Liberal as their second choice to reduce the possibility that the Conservative candidate would win. Similarly, a Tory supporter in Scotland may choose Liberal as their second choice to reduce the chance of a Labour candidate winning.

Under our current system, it is probably better to choose between the two (or rarely three) leading candidates, picking the one that you least dislike the least. Whilst it may go against the grain to vote for somebody other than your preferred candidate, it does mean that your vote against the candidate you dislike the least is more effective.

Smart tactical voting is more complex than this of course – it involves checking the details of your constituency (you may also want to check the Voting Power details for your constituency, and the relevant Wikipedia article), and working out from the previous election results which two (or three if the third is within about 5% of the second placed candidate) and working out which one you would least dislike.

The Tories are warning that a vote for the Liberal party is voting to keep Gordon Brown in power – which is effectively saying that smart voting can accomplish something, but obviously slanted towards favouring voting Tory wherever you are. Whilst no party will encourage tactical voting, it can be for the benefit of whatever party you would prefer.

Vote tactically – it’s the smart thing to do!

Apr 182010

There is a suspicion that the elections in the UK just might result in a hung parliament where no party has an overall majority. In other words no party has more MPs than all the other parties put together. In such a situation, a government formed from the largest party tends to be quite nervous as it can be thrown out by its enemies if they all manage to agree.

The preferred option is for a coalition to form out of two or more parties who can swing (if all their MPs obey the party whip) an overall majority.

However in either case, the government is not as stable as it would otherwise be. Hung parliaments usually have a poor reputation because they typically do not last very long and spend more time arguing amongst themselves rather than actually doing anything constructive.

At least in the UK. In Europe, hung parliaments are common enough that coalition government is the norm rather than the exception.

The Tories – after the first “presidential” TV debate where Nick Clegg was surprisingly effective – are suddenly banging on about how dangerous hung parliaments can be. Ignoring those scum-sucking lying politicians for the moment (at least as far as we can), are hung parliaments actually good or bad ?

Well the truth is that they do not happen enough in the UK for us to know. We do know that hung parliaments in Europe are quite common and that it does not appear to be a complete catastrophe there. Of course there will be those who point at countries like Italy and ask whether we want a government as unstable as they have. But I will also point at Italy’s economy and say that it doesn’t seem to have done much harm – Italy is the 7th largest country in the world in terms of GDP.

It is entirely possible that a hung parliament in the UK will cause a momentary loss of confidence by the financial markets, although those that panic are eventually going to be counter-balanced by those with cooler heads that realise that the UK is not going to go bust just because it has a potentially unstable government. It is likely that the economic effect of a certain cloud of volcanic ash will have a greater effect than a day or two of instability in the economic markets.

If we can avoid being distracted by the probably relatively minor economic problems of a hung parliament, we can look at more interesting aspects of one.

This will be an opportunity to get a government which does not let either of the old major parties (Labour and Tory) have everything their own way. Of course a coalition government will have one or other comprising the largest part, but another party – most likely the Liberals – will have a big say.

The likely result of such a hung parliament is significant electoral reform because the smaller parties are more interested in it than the old school parties who do quite well out of our archaic and undemocratic electoral system. Sure you hear of Tory and Labour plans for electoral reform, but what they plan is tinkering around the edges, and the Tory plans revolve around making the political system cheaper with the effect of making our current system even less democratic than it is at the moment.

If the thought of a hung parliament is currently making you consider one of the big two parties, perhaps you should reconsider – a hung parliament is not quite as bad as the politicians of the big two will have you believe, and the increased chance of genuine electoral reform is worth taking that risk.

Apr 092010

If you listen to what the Tories are saying you will be under the impression that one of their radical proposals is to tackle benefit fraud. The money saved from this will go towards reversing the rise in national insurance contributions.

Sounds good doesn’t it ?

Well it would be, but it really isn’t a change at all. Benefit fraud is apparently at the lowest level for 10 years – the current Labour government has been tackling it and somewhat successfully at that. Even the Tory idea of stopping benefits to benefit cheats is hardly a new idea – they are just making the “stoppage” longer.

Apr 082010

The Tories have been slowly trotting out a procession of business leaders who think a Tory government would be a good idea. This is supposed to be news ? We know that the Tories are bankrolled by big business, which gives those business leaders a considerable say in what the Tories do – not explicitly, but in terms of influence.

Labour of course is similarly indebted to the unions, which gives the union leaders considerable influence over Labour’s policies.

Given that I am not a fat cat but one of the workers, I am likely to be less unhappy with the union’s unfair advantage with Labour in charge than with the fat cats hotline to a Tory government.

But I’m not happy about either Tories or Labour being beholden to any select group. It doesn’t seem to me to be a healthy situation if some group has an unfair access to the corridors of power because they helped fund the political party who managed to win an election.

There is of course the Liberals who are not funded in the same way, but realistically they are unlikely to win a majority. The best chance for Liberal involvement in the next government is with a “hung parliament” with no overall control – at least until a pact is established.

The real answer is to make party funding independent of private interest groups.

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