Monday, December 22, 2008

The Curse of Castle Circus Strikes again?

One of my very favourite politicians of modern times was Harold Macmillan, the ice-cool composure of his generation is an utter inspiration in these hysterical 24 hour media obsessed world we now operate in.

In 1958 Macmillan remained committed to maintaining full or nearly full employment, bringing him into dispute with many hard-liners in his own party. Super Mac rejected the advice of his more monetarist Chancellor Peter Thorneycroft, and two treasury Ministers (Nigel Birch and Enoch Powell) who wanted to support the value of Sterling by exchange controls which would save the pound but cost jobs. On January 7th as Macmillan was leaving for a Commonwealth tour all three of them promptly resigned in protest.

Mac refused to cancel a tour of the commonwealth and famously described this near-collapse of his Government to journalists as ‘a little local difficulty’.

In fact what he said to reporters at Heathrow airport was this: “It is always a matter of regret from the personal point of view when divergences arise between colleagues, but it is the team that matters and not the individual, and I am quite happy about the strength and the power of the team, and so I thought the best thing to do was to settle up these little local difficulties, and then turn to the wider vision of the Commonwealth”

Parties are a coalition of people sharing a broad philosophy; they are not a firm where everyone has no choice but to put up or shut up. I welcome independent thinking and recognise that councillors have the right, the duty even, to disagree with their party, or their colleagues when necessary.

I think Macmillans quote above sums up almost perfectly how a political party should be run.

In Torbay the Tories have been all over the newspaper for all the wrong reasons this week. Firstly there has been lively row between a councillor and an officer, which became the cause of a disciplinary hearing, followed by the councillor concerned being suspended. This was promptly followed up by the fairly acrimonious resignation of the political assistant to the group- and all under the steely gaze of a local newspaper desperate for copy at an otherwise quiet news week.

This kind of row is not helpful to my election, there is no doubt that the public tolerance for councillors is very low, especially when rows blow up over ‘trivial’ or non essential business matters like this seems to be.

Anything that builds on the idea that all they do is argue about pointless procedures (famously the Lib Dems spent a whole evening arguing about whether to scrap free tea and biscuits a few years ago and a week or two ago our lot spent two hours debating the merits of having free reserved car parking spaces for themselves) is a bad thing and only encourages people not to vote in local elections.

On the other hand I do get frustrated that any disagreement between councillors in the same party is leapt on by the media as ‘a damaging split’. It is simply not possible, or desirable, to have 20+ local councillors agreeing the whole time - democracy and indeed Torbay would not be served with such poor scrutiny.

Councillors are there to debate, discuss, challenge and sometimes even to disagree on your behalf, for the things he or she believes you want; and sometimes this will not be the same as is wanted by his or her party colleages or even the Conservative mayor.

The mayoral system means that the Mayor proposes and the council debates. Broadly councillors and Mayors of the same party share the same philosophy but - as Macmillan was aware - you cannot always see eye to eye.

What they don’t have the right to do is to behave disrespectfully to each other and even more importantly, towards their (our) civil servant employees.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Odds Against an early election.

In spite of a real surge in speculation of an early election the betting odds remain firmly against Gordon Brown going to the country in 2009. After days of 'will he go in the Spring?' speculation the money is staying firmly on 2010 as the date of the next General Election.

One reason I am interested in what the odds are is that I have recently changed my mind about this. All the way through the election that never was in 2007 I remained resolute that Gordon was not a man to make a decision before he had to, and that as a result he would always 'put off till tomorrow what you could do today' and not go to the country before the last possible date - June 2010.

Lately - and especially since Mandelson reappeared in 10 Downing Street - I had begun to rethink this - and the evidence is piling up:

1) Increasing guerilla tactics, the recent attempt to destabilise and discredit George Osbourne and the arrest of Damian Green are good examples of the black arts being deployed.
2) Money - Labour has come to an accommodation with the unions and now has the funds to fight if they want it, donations to them are also sharply up and ahead of us last quarter
3) Activity, Labour hyave been a blur of campaigning activity recently, locally as well as nationally, with targetted mailshots going out in all marginal constituencies.
4) Spin, the level of Labour spin has gone up (including spinning knife crime statistics and releasing them early) and manipulating the daily news agenda with repeated and constant news stories designed to blot out any opposition activity. This is a great short-term tactic Governments usually deploy in the run - up to a general election (after a GE is called, the media have to hand out airtime equally).
5) Tax give-away - well some has happened already but I do expect another raft of tax cuts in the spring (all on our borrowed money).
6) Interest rate cuts. Before Bank of England independence it was often the case that Chancellors discovered the 'need' for lower interest rates and base rates were cut. This time it is even easier, Brown has taken control of most of the high street bank network and cut rates that way.

Rumours abound of adverts and airtime booked by Labour in March as well.

So with so much evidence why do the betting markets still not rate the chances?

Probably it is because we have seen all this before. In the lead up to Autumn 2007 the airwaves were thick with speculation of a snap autumn poll and as we all now know, Brown bottled it. Punters think that exactly the same will happen again. Advisers and the party will go to great lengths to prepare for an election that when the final moment comes Brown will baulk from calling.

I am not so sure....

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Will it be a U, V L or W?

The news on the economy continues to be pretty gloomy with another slew of reports out showing the speed of decline in economic activity in Britain accelerating.

The pound has sunk as of today to around €1.13 and a currency trader friend of mine is saying that he expects to see parity with the Pound/Euro at some point in 2009.

The Government have made their rescue plans on projections that this recession is going to be very short and the economy will quickly return to fast growth in the back end of 2009. This is called a V shape recession (reflecting the shape the chart will be) and is a scenario widely dismissed by virtually all economic think tanks, research groups, and most other Governments. Their consensus view about the UK is for a U shaped recession, a period of fall, followed by a series of quarters of zero growth followed by an evential climb back to the long term average of about 2% growth year on year.

The most pessimistic observers feel that we are in for an L shaped recession, a sharp downturn followed by a very long period of flat economic activity; possibly for as long as a decade or more; this is what happened in Japan in the late 1980's when their totally overheated economy bust and it took twelve years of low or no growth to slowly unravel the towering mountains of debt that private individuals, banks and businesses had run up to buy inflated assets that were now nearly worthless. This slump included a period when base rates fell to a minus figure, in other words you got paid to borrow money and banks effectively charged you for depositing money with them (it still didn't work, today asset prices in Japan are still below the levels in 1989; the stock market is still at a quarter of it's pre bust levels).

My own view is that this recession will be 'W' shaped; a 'double dip'. The last period of W shaped recessions was the 1970's when it was almost a permanent time of either boom or bust. W shaped recesssions happen when the 'cure' for the downturn unleashes other unfortunate consequences that mean a quick lapse back into recession.

During the 1960's and 1970's the problem was a chronic capacity shortage in the supply side economy. Governments would stoke up a 'dash for growth' of economic stimuli - tax cuts, spending pledges and government borrowing to 'kickstart' the economy - usually ahead of an election (sounds familiar, doesn't it?). This would lead very quickly to shortages, of goods to buy, property and other assets, leading to almost instant inflation and ballooning wage demands, which in turn would provoke an rapid unwinding of the stimuli, followed by a sudden lapse back into recession, often accompanied by a sterling crisis.

This combination of stagnation and inflation (stagflation) creates long periods when interest rates were lower than the inflation rate, meaning that borrowing money was almost free. This was a disaster for many people who had accumilated savings for their old age, their money became worth less and the income from it was not enough to live on.

It took twenty years of painful restructuring of the economy to cure this disease. Although credited (or blamed, depending on your view) on Mrs Thatcher the beginning of the turnaround was some fiscal discipline on public spending put into place by Jim Callaghan and Dennis Healy after having had their hands tied by the terms of our rescue loan from the IMF.

Gordon Brown seems determined to turn the clock back to the 1970's. His 'fiscal simulus' will create a short-term boost to consumer spending and may well create the impression that the recession is over during the second half of next year. But in creating trillions of new pounds and dumping them into the economy there will be a rapid, indeed I think a drastic, rise in inflation; (the pound in all our pockets is going to become worth a lot less and therefore people will demand a lot more of them for the same goods) and we will soon be facing rising interest rates, rising taxes and more expensive imports which will tip the economy back into bust almost as soon as it gets going again.

The cure for the patient is going to be more damaging than the disease.

Monday, December 08, 2008

What is the big deal over the Green arrest?

Two weeks on from the arrest of front bench opposition spokesman Damian Green by terrorist squad Police and the subject is still dominant in most of the media. Today Parliament held a debate about the issue, specifically the role of Speaker Michael Martin in allowing the police to enter the Palace of Westminster and search a serving MP's office and confiscate and search through confidential correspondance from constituents without a warrant.

As some have pointed out, is it really that important to be arguing about apparently obscure Westminster protocol at a time when the economy is falling off a cliff?

Well in my view virtually nothing is more important than our freedom, and this shameful episode threatans the very heart of the hard-won democracy, Parliamentary power.

Be quite clear, MP's might not be above the law individually but the institution of the House of Commons is; and so it should be. Aside from the fact the it's now become clear to everyone that there is no suggestion that Green had broken the law in any way even if he had had that been in the interests of the public good then he is and should be allowed to, and should only be judged by his fellow MP's.

Think about this, if the House of Commons is ever answerable to anyone other than us -the electorate- it's power is lost; and the power rests in whoever the Commons ends up answering to.

One of the greatest arguments about the EU is the level to which MP's have derogated power to the EU commission, itself a body appointed by political leaders, in a move that has hampered and hobbled their authority.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Mortgage help for 0.17% of the population

Well it isn't much but I suppose it is better than nothing. About 9,000 families may have their homes saved by Gordon Browns much trumpeted initiative to underwrite the rolled up interest on mortgages where homeowners defer payments and then still eventually default.

This is all well and good but what about all the people who do keep their mortgages up to date? Like so many Gordon Brwon initiatives this one has the potential to backfire horribly as a) people work out that so few will be helped (in the face of 75,000 repossessions, helping the richest 9,000 seems perverse in the extreme) and b) that the net effect of this move is to reward people who have over extended themselves with taxes taken from people who haven't.

As someone called Jon C observed on Politicalbetting this morning:

"In debt? Lied about your income to get a stupidly unaffordable mortgage? Withdrawn some equity to spend spend spend? Never mind! Let the government/taxpayer pick up the bill for you!

I have always lived within my means. I have payment protection insurance (which I will be cancelling). I have not over-borrowed. I have not extended my mortgage to spend it all on holidays, cars and plasma screen TVs. Well I should have done - that is the message from this appalling, amoral, disgusting, reckless, useless government.

I am indescribably livid that taxpayers money is to be used as the latest in a long line of doomed schemes to prop up the housing market and further delay the time when the market’s true value of housing will be revealed. A kick in the teeth for honest people who don’t live on credit.

What about people sensibly renting, not having lied about their income or over-extending themselves on credit, waiting patiently for an affordable house, will they get their rent paid if they lose their job, or as they have to wait YET LONGER for house prices to return to normailty?"

Could this could turn out to be another 10p tax rate fiasco?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Are we really living in a Police State?

As regular readers of this Blog will know, I am not a fan of the Police Service as it is increasingly being run these days.

I have said before that current police are ever closer to a paramilitary hit squad that the approachable law enforcement service we used to know and love, and also pointed out that they have growing powers to act as judge and jury - to assume your guilty and act accordingly, without the need to prove to a judge or jury their case.

The latest news last week from Westminster that a trusted colleague Damian Green was arrested and held for nine hours on suspicion that he leaked (non-security) information to the media is another sign that the police are out of control.

Some of my political colleagues are pointing fingers in the direction of Labour high command and certainly there are questions concerning who knew what about this raid, and when. But in the end the Police alone decided to go for Mr Green - and not just to arrest him but to go in metaphorically 'guns blazing' with a total of nine anti-terror squad officers involved in raids at Mr Greens home, constituency office, and most controversially of all, his Parliamentary office taking his computers and mobile phone, suspending his email account and cutting him off from contact with the constituents he was elected to represent.

The role of an MP is very closely connected to the basis of our democracy, the rights we enjoy as free citizens were won by early parliamentarians - the sanctity of Westminster is based on it's status as a Royal Palace and a Court where the people are represented.

If our police force have come to believe that they act on a higher command than Parliament as it seems they felt in this case, than we have a major problem brewing with our democracy.

There are many potential causes of this malaise, but the most serious of which is the total politicising of senior officers (now chosen not on their effectiveness at cutting crime, but on their willingness to adopt NuLabour political correctness).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Getting to the bottom of Government Borrowing.

There is much in the media at the moment about just how much our Government is planning to borrow; and the figures are so big it can become a bit of a blur, quite frankly.

Is £100 billion a lot?

It helps to put it in some perspective. The Government has a total annual income that is roughly 40% of Gross Domestic Product, (the amount representing a total of everything the UK produces). GDP is about £1,400 billion, so the Government has an ‘income’ of roughly £550bn per year.

UK real public debt is expected to soar far beyond the 2007 level of £614 billion towards an estimated £1,065 billion this year. This would put UK debt at an eye watering 81% of GDP (from 46% of GDP in 2007). Worse is to come in 2009 and 2010 as the UK economy contracts and the short-fall between tax revenues and government spending is met by ever more government spending.

81% of GDP is knocking on for double the Governments annual income. That is the equivalent of a person on average earnings (£22,000) owing more than £45,000 – on an overdraft (ie excluding their mortgage); or an average domestic household owing around £60,000 on credit cards and overdrafts.

Not only that but current spending plans amount to spending 20% more each year than you have earned, which if you tried to do it would probably cause your bank manager to have a coronary.

This is the economics of the madhouse. This recession is partly a result of consumers spending less and paying off some of the enormous debts they have already piled up. It’s an absolute nonsense to imagine that the Government adding an extra £12,000 to the debt pile of every home in Britain is anything other than a formula for disaster.

And let’s not forget that unlike personal debt (which, if you die, is not repayable by your heirs) this debt is a legacy that our children will have to repay if we can’t afford to.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Will we never learn?
For those with long enough memories the current shenanigans with our Government bailing out high street banks and orchestrating mergers to create ‘national champions’ holds some depressing parallels with corporatist interventionist days of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

During the 1960’s the formation of BMC by the merger of Austin and Morris had already created a giant-sized but critically under funded car business that had too many outdated products - and the modern cars it did have (the Mini) were loss-making. Without sufficient profits BMC couldn’t finance new product development, and couldn’t modernise production, and was slowly failing.

Meanwhile a bright, young and ambitious management team was running a far smaller business called Leyland Group. They had re-invested the huge profits from their successful bus and truck sales into developing new and very profitable up-market Triumph and Rover cars like the TR6, Triumph Stag and Range Rover and sales and profits were booming.

Worried about the possibility that BMC might collapse the Labour Industry Secretary (a certain Anthony Wedgwood-Benn) forced a merger and created the monster that was British Leyland. Instead of Triumph ending up as a ‘British BMW’ success story we ended up with the actual German BMW picking over the smouldering remains of the entire UK car industry twenty years later, and only after the Government had wasted billions in ‘state aid’.

In my view there is a real possibility of the same thing happening with the latest Scottish bank mergers. We have proved time and time again that forcing or bribing a successful business to take on a lame duck behemoth backed by Government money is a formula for disaster.

Just like BL the management will never be free of Government intervention, branches and offices will have to stay open for political reasons and tough decisions will be fudged and delayed leading to enormous losses over decades ahead which you and I will have to pay for.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

1931 1951 1970 1979
With Labour it's always the economy, stupid .
Above are the four Labour prime ministers who have so far lost office in the party's history. In each case it was a collapse in the economy that was a major factor or the sole reason they were ejected from power.
In 1931 the Labour Government collapsed when Ramsay Macdonald attempted to cut unemployment benefits and introduce a raft of stricter public spending cuts in the face of uncontrollable rises in the public debt; which his cabinet rejected forcing a general election and the formation of the coalition National Government.
In 1951, again seriously unstable public finances were tested to destruction by a run on sterling which brought about a foreign exchange crisis, drastic import controls and limited re-introduction of rationing.
In 1970 the famous 'pound in your pocket' devaluation of sterling in 1967 and an unexpectedly bad set of balance of payments figures released in polling week was widely seen as the main cause of Wilsons unexpected ejection from No 10.
In 1979 it was the 'Winter of discontent' that was brought about by the need to drastically cut public spending after yet another sterling crisis had forced Callaghans Government, now bankrupt, to go cap in hand to the IMF.
And here we are afte another Labour Government facing economic meltdown. Two of our biggest building societies have already gone bust and another three of our high street banks have had to be bailed out, Government borrowing is out of control and the pound has fallen to an all-time low against the Euro. Unemployment and inflation are already at their highest level for 16 years, and the recession has only just begun.
Sadly on this occasion we have the added complication of sixteen years of Labour 'spin' to factor in as well; so the true extent of our woes are even now being hidden from view. Labour have told us that our total national debt is 'no worse' than other countries. Unfortunately this is just not true, as Labour exclude debts from our statistics that other countries include in theirs (Private Finance initiative and civil service pension liabilities, for example); if you include those figures our national debt and the rate of growth of our national debt are the worst in the developed world.
Once again economic largesse has left the nation's overdraft out of control. If we were a business or a private household our bank would be bouncing our cheques. The danger is that Labour are about to discover the lessons that they clearly haven't learned from their own party history; that money doesn't grow on trees.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Consumers get the last laugh.

So, the European Union commissioners finally decided that dictating what our fruit and veg should look like is 'not in their remit' according to their spokesman today.

As a result soon it will once again be legal for (some) fruit and vegetables ro be sold to you and I even if they don't quite 'measure up' the the EU ideal.

It's only taken twenty years of corny headlines and poor jokes in The Sun every time funny fruit is banned from sale or furious headlines in 'The Mail' on the rare occasions when Trading Standards have upheld the ruling and prosecuted some hapless greengrocer to get these people to wake up and recognise the resentment and ill-will such rubbish creates.

This miniscule sign is that the EU commission is beginning to reconsider it's scope and role is welcome ; but it doesn't alter the main issue which is that unelected civil servants came up with these daft proposals and unelected civil servants will remove them.

And although this law has resulted in millions of tons of perfectly good fruit and veg going to animal feed or compost it is nothing when compared to the criminal waste of perfectly good fish that is occurring every day on our seas. Due to some equally daft fishing net restrictions millions of fish are being tossed, dead, back into the sea every day because having caught them by accident, it is illegal for fishermen to land them.

If the EU want to deter catching small immature fish to preserve future stocks the best way of doing it is to deprive the fishermen of the profits, this could be done by the compulsory purchase of undersize fish at a loss-making price, these fish could then be sold or given away by the EU to poorer countries whose population need the protein. Surely anything is better than simply tossing them back into the sea?

But then the day the EU comes up with such a logical solution to any of our problems will be the day that I eat my hat.

Well if you insist; my special hat-shaped pumpkin.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Who’s round is it anyway?

Binge drinking is back in the news today with a committee of MP’s calling for an end to promotional drink offers in pubs and supermarkets because, it believes people can’t be trusted not to get drunk if booze is discounted too much.
The committee called for a ban on selling alcohol as a loss leader and the setting of a minimum price for all drinks.

The report, "Policing in the 21st century", unveiled the strain it claimed that alcohol-related violence had put on police resources. Chairman and Labour MP Keith Vaz said: "We cannot have on one hand a world of alcohol promotions for profit that fuels surges of crime and disorder, and on the other the police diverting all their resources to cope with it."
Well, they took their advice from the Police forces concerned so it’s not surprising they all claimed a need for more resources; they would, wouldn’t they?
I live right on the Harbour front in Torquay, and we witness every weekend lots of young people having a good time, and in some cases, getting very drunk. This is not new.

Two things have changed to make so-called binge drinking a ‘crisis’ in recent years:
1) The almost complete eradication of drinking and driving means instead of being spread in small pockets in hundreds of pubs all over the countryside all our binge drunks congregate together in the town centre where they can become much more intimidating and rowdy.

2) The Police have become much more visible in response to public concern about the noise and rowdiness, and as a consequence of being there, witness and intervene in a lot more relatively minor criminal and anti-social behaviour, boosting their workload and arrest rate but somewhat distorting the statistics.

In actual fact, far from getting worse the amount of alcohol consumed has been falling steadily in recent years, an ONS study showed that in 2007 drinking was in decline, especially excessive drinking amongst adult males. Beer and spirit sales on and off licence are down 7% Wine down 5% and the largest beer and spirit manufacturers are merging and closing down at an unprecedented rate; matched only by the speed at which hundreds of pubs clubs and bars are shutting through a lack of trade.

What we are seeing is a complete U turn; MP’s who have only just backed the abandonment of one sort of restriction on the sale of alcohol (by opening hours) are now hurriedly urging it be replaced with another one (price).
This would be a huge mistake, as there is precious little evidence that increasing price reduces consumption, especially of the session drinking type; people out for a big night will find the money one way or another.
If this crisis is real (and I am not at all sure that it is) then the best way to deal with it is to leave local communities in charge of policy and policing and let each town develop the strategies that their local circumstances dictate.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I am delighted that Obama has won, and that Americans seem to have chosen someone prepared to challenge and change the status quo.

Having said that I can't help but wonder if the orgy of press coverage - especially from the BBC (who have covered this election and it's aftermath with more detail and for longer than they did our own election in 2005) is entirely justified, or necessary, or even terribly interesting.

I have just come back from three days in Germany and although their press did lead with his victory the headlines on the day it happened thereafter (and before) Obamania/America was relegated to third or fourth on the running order; and quite right too in my opinion.

America may change now that he is in the White House but the impact on the rest of us is going to be very minimal, and to be cold-hearted about it, not all positive. His campaign signals suggest a much more 'America first' economic policy which may well hurt our exports and if he goes further and introduces some limitations on cheap imports from the Far East there could well be some serious international trade repercussions for all of us.

His foreign policy is entirely focused (rightly) on the Middle East and we will notice almost no difference - we will still have to provide the bulk of the non-US troop numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan for the time being and there will still be horrors there for years to come.

Even his welcome embracing of the environmental argument has serious potential downsides for Britain. So far we and the Germans have built a sizeable expertise and market advantage in many emerging new energy technologies. I have a nagging feeling that the script from here may follow a time worn path, American business will be Obama Emboldened to exploit the technology we have developed and in ten or twenty years it will be American firms making, selling and profiting from the wind and sea generation, solar rooftile and similar products we pioneered.

I am certain that the mass of UK press coverage is not being warranted because of the possibilities and the risks that Obama brings to American policy and therefore the impact on our lives but for a much more depressing reason. Because he is black.

It didn't bother the Americans one jot, they voted for the best guy on the day irrespective of his colour. Why, then, does it fascinate our media so much?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Another institution
‘modernised’ by Labour :

Another institution in crisis.

The BBC has found itself in deep trouble this month following a storm of protest about the style, content and extent of coverage of the Osbourne/Mandelson/Rothschild affair and then a hurricane of protest over the Russell Brand show and the comments made by him and Jonathan Ross to Andrew Sachs’ answerphone.

Irrespective of ones views about either story (and both are entirely subjective issues) there is widespread agreement that the rows themselves have been badly handled by the BBC. Initially they failed to react at all and looked high-handed and arrogant as a result; and then faced with the furore have over-reacted to the long-term detriment of the Corporation. This echoes the fuss over the queens ‘tantrum’ that never was and the now infamous phone poll fixes.

Controversy is nothing new to the BBC; for as long as I can remember there have been fairly regular outcries about what is broadcast or complaints of bias and in the past there was a quick response from the Chairman of the Governors or the ‘DG’ or both.

For a long time past the BBC has been a problem, it has grown from a national broadcaster of two radio stations and the sole TV channel to being Britain’s biggest media empire with extensive interests in publishing, film-making, the internet and literally hundreds of channels on air on TV and radio around the world. It badly needed a root-and-branch review – what is the BBC for in the digital age? Why should 100% of viewers pay for a free service that only about 35% of people watch? Why have a licence fee for watching TV when increasingly we will get our entertainment ‘on demand’ over the web or via satellite?

New Labour failed to address the big challenges and instead agreed to renew the charter with some tiny (and utterly futile) changes to the management. Out went the Board of Governors and its hands-on chairman and in came the BBC Trustees; a toothless quango whose ill-defined responsibilities appear to clash with the existing regulator OFCOM.

And the result? Another new Labour fiasco. The BBC is now not sure who it reports to (we tax payers are not represented either directly or via our elected Government) and the whole edifice seems incapable of deciding day-to-day why it exists or what it should be trying to do other than get as much money out of the treasury as possible and spend it as fast as it can.

This is a repeating characteristic of nearly everything New labour have restructured, from the regional Development Agencies, health trusts, the banking regulators and the broadcasters the story is the same, lack of focus, lack of accountability and self-serving management.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Will the New Labour spending splurge include the Kingskerswell bypass?

The Labour Government have decided that the best answer to the deep hole the country is in is to keep digging. The idea that the way out of an economic crisis brought on by too much debt is to borrow more money is utterly bizarre.

The Government argue that a sudden increase in State spending can alleviate the worst effects of a recession, an argument that sounds sensible enough on paper but falls at the first hurdle on closer examination.

The main reason that there is a crisis in the first place is that the other side of the borrowing/lending deal – the lenders, have got cold feet. It’s not banks that have the money to lend; it is the people that deposit with them. These people have become rightly concerned about the ability of many bank customers to repay their debts.

So everyone still wants to borrow (in fact in a downturn borrowing requirement goes up) but the banks stuck in between have to persuade their creditors that they are lending responsibly to attract their funds in the first place. As a consequence there is a lot less money around; and because there is less of it the price (real interest rates) have shot up.

If you are sitting on a pile of money you need to lend it but you only want to lend it to the safest borrower imaginable; and easily the safest borrower is anyone who can’t go bust – a big Government like HMG is perfect. So as soon as the Government starts serious borrowing they start competing (and beating hands down) with the very businesses and firms they say they are so keen to help. This has the effect of driving the interest rates that these ‘less safe’ people have to pay even higher and means that fewer firms will be able to borrow at all.

What a blatant ‘tax and spend’ policy like this undeniably does is to shift even more of the economy out of the hands of individuals and businesses and into the dead grip of Government. When this last happened last time in a big way after second-world war, it brought us 45 years of relative economic decline.

This is because Government spending rarely creates economic activity; it more often destroys it. State projects and Government machinery create non-productive activity – and worse they create jobs which suck talent out of the labour pool; meaning business’ cannot always grow even when they want to because they can’t attract staff who are enjoying security; a top salary and an index-linked pension in the public sector.

In any case big infrastructure projects like the Kingskerswell Bypass take years to start, let alone finish, and by the time they are providing work in construction it is highly likely that the building slump will be over. We can live in hope that this is one piece of Labour spin that might help us, but I won’t hold my breath.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Polling latest:

It's good news for him

But bad news for him:

A slew of recent opinion polls have provided some much-needed cheer for the Prime Minister, and some serious pause for thought for Nick Clegg.

ComRes for the Independent on Sunday has :
- CON 40%: LAB 31%: LD16%
Yougov for the Mirror has
- CON 42%: LAB 34%: LD14%
The Mail on Sunday poll, showing
- CON 46% : LAB 30% : LD 13%
turns out to be a bit of an outlier now and therefore is looking less reliable than the others.
Generally therefore I have to admit that Browns handling of the banking crisis added to his well received Conference speech has provided about a 5% lift to Labours poll rating (average during the summer was in the 24-27% range).
Of course you could argue that this is good news for us in the blue team, as this is not enough of a bounce to justify an early election or provide Labour with a win, but it is enough to prevent Gordon from being ousted and thus guarantees a Cameron V Brown playoff in 2010.

On the other hand the Labour supporters reading this (Yes, Kieth, that's you) will probably argue that Gordon is building a base on which to mount a fightback, and that to be 'only' 8 points behind at this stage of a third term Government is very good. Trailing by only 8 points or so into an election would leave them strong enough to bounce back in a single Parliament, even as they lost power.
Of course it's true that Conservatives would feel much happier back in the 20% poll leads we did briefly see during the summer (although there is a danger of complacency, see posts passim) but it's easy to forget that we would have bitten our own arms off for a poll lead of anything like this as recently as summer 2007. Even with these numbers Cameron would be safely installed in 10 Downing Street with a working majority.
The biggest worry in these latest polls must be for the Liberal Democrats, who on the averages have now completely lost touch with the 18/20% that they must be in range of to avoid at least halving their Westminster presence. Lib Dems claim that an election campaign boosts their poll numbers as the broadcasters are forced to give them more airtime under fairness rules; but the last few weeks have boosted their broadcast presence hugely, Vince cable has hardly been off the TV screens, yet they are steadily losing votes (overall the Lib Dems have lost more than one in four of the voters they had in 2005). Worse, the latest Labour surge has come almost exclusively at the Lib Dems expense which blows Nick Cleggs new strategy (making gains from Labour in the North by promising tax cuts) out of the water altogether. Having already had two complete changes of policy (in totally different directions), and three leaders in one Parliament the Lib Dems have no room left to change strategy or leader again before the next election.

I happen to think Labour will not sustain this level of support. Reaction on the doorstep to Gordon Brown hasn't noticeably changed at all, most people really don't like him or want him as their Prime Minister and as soon as this credit crunch does become a crisis in our high street then Labours level of support will sag even further.

Update Wednesday 22nd : A new poll came out today from IPSOS MORI today with another set of figures that supports the others.
Their figures are: CON: 45 LAB : 30 : LD 14.

The average 'poll of polls' considered to be the most accurate predictor of all has CON 43, LAB 31 and LD 16

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


- it's in our genes.

One of the most irritating features of the current banking crisis has been the barely- disguised glee with which journalists and politicians of the left have reported it.

Mainly this has been in the ‘proof at last that market forces cannot be trusted’ type thing, but what has surprised me is the sheer lack of understanding by supposedly intelligent commentators about what ‘economics’ is, and what ‘the market’ is.

To many it seems the free market is some kind of theology, a cast in stone political and economic philosophy that has been followed by right wing politicians with seemingly disastrous results.

In fact the term free market is nothing more than a euphemism for civil freedom. People free to behave as they wish will buy, sell and trade their legally held assets as the mood takes them; and because humans do periodically act as a herd, occasionally they all choose to sell, or buy, at the same moment in time, and when that happens there will be a very temporary spike or dip in the prices. This process (‘boom’ or ‘bust’) can be very messy but is as inevitable as leaves falling off trees in the Autumn.

Human nature also inevitably provides the solution – it never takes too long before the bold in society turn these situations to their advantage and act differently, becoming very successful in the process, encouraging imitators and reversing the spike/crash in the process.

Stupid politicians and their left of centre supporters imagine that this apparently random process needs to be somehow ‘controlled’ by a higher authority, namely those same politicians. There is no example in history of any authority managing the process of trade with anything other than disastrous results.

The most that a Government needs to do is to protect citizens from the temporary fal-out if there is one. A good example of this is George Osbournes ideas on fuel duty that would rise as prices fall (and vice-versa) thereby ironing out the worst effects of oil price fluctuations.

Yes, there is a massive correction going on in the financial services world, banks have become over-borrowed and the fall out will be destructive and cause short term problems for economies around the world, but this crash is the aftermath of 20 years of an unprecedented increase in living standards world-wide, from Manchester to Mumbai citizens are richer, happier and healther than at any time in history thanks in large part to those same bankers and speculators.

Human progress is messy. Some of the biggest and most successful business ventures ever have been the result of, or have caused, the destruction or breaking up of venerable institutions in the process. Some of our best inventions, greatest sociological steps forward and greatest freedoms have been the result of wars.

The lefts desire to regiment and organise all aspects of our lives is a failed philosophy and it will be a huge step backwards if the temporary breakdown of the loan market were to be an excuse for a widespread abandoning the freedom to speculate that is at the root of all of our wealth.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Just the ticket.
Camerons Conference speech did the trick – he perfectly straddled the conflicting challenges facing any opposition leader in such difficult international times.

On the one hand he had to rally the troops and bolster party supporters (to whom the Conference is supposed to be focussed) to do the extra legwork and hard fundraising necessary to put us in a winning position in 2010 and on the other hand he has to persuade the public at large (for whom the conference is actually focussed) that we are a Government and he is a Prime Minister in waiting.

The carefully choreographed seating arrangement (Candidates were all seated behind David Cameron in a strict plan that was supposed to reflect the diversity and inclusiveness of the new party offering) took nearly an hour and a half to organise (and came to nothing because the point was completely missed by the media) but at least gave me a good seat from which to hear the whole speech.

Our inconvenience was nothing compared to delegates, though, who as the photograph shows started queuing for seats a full four hours before the hall opened (surely even Barry Manilow would have been humbled by such dedication) to ensure a seat in the main hall rather than the ‘overflow’ one. I said to a colleague that the only thing that would get people would queue up for 4 hours to hear a speech from Gordon Brown was if they knew he was going say 'I resign' at the end of it.

As the picture I took from behind the stage shows the size of the audience facing him would reduce most people to a quivering jelly; but Mr C remained as cool as I have ever seen him; which given that he had been up nearly all night re-writing the speech to keep up with world events was remarkable testament to his abilities and stamina.
Personally the bit about dealing with the 'all must have prizes' mentality in our schools had me cheering and the shocking story of Mr Woods wife and the heartless nature of NHS bureaucracy had me weeping. Any bit of oratory that can take a cynical forty-something like me to both emotional extremes in a few minutes must be noteworthy indeed.

Anyway we have had a reasonable press and some positive response from commentators, the general view is that he pulled off a very difficult task. There will be a few days of turbulence and it won't be until the weekend that we get to see the first post-conference polls; and mid October before they have settled down fully but I expect there will be a lot less talk of a 'Brown Bounce', for sure.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Are rumours of a media ‘ambush’ at the Tory conference true?

There is a growing feeling afoot that some in the media are winding themselves up to give Cameron a bit more of a hard time at conference this year, and I am bracing myself for some less than flattering conference coverage.

Labour managed to screw up what was beginning to look like relatively promising coverage with the Ruth Kelly affair unravelling on the last day; but even still they came out of last week looking stronger and marginally nearer making a convincing fight back.

On the other hand the Conservatives have been getting a lot of warm coverage during the summer and still remain an awfully long way ahead in the polls, even if not quite as unstoppable as some people have imagined. My gut feeling is that we will be ‘punished’ as a result.

Basically the media need a story, and ‘Tories wow at Conference’ is so 2007.

And we may have partly ourselves to blame, as a friend pointed out to me having read this blog recently there is a very fine line between being proud of our progress after all these years in the doldrums and becoming irritatingly triumphant before we actually have very much to triumph about; (looking back over the last few posts I think he probably has a point) and recent glossy profiles of candidates in magazines have run the risk of crossing that line – it’s an easy trap to fall into but a real danger for a political opposition.

So perhaps a bit of a slap down by the media pack could actually be no bad thing in the long run.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More of the same from Gordon the Timid....

I am still eagerly anticipating the 'raft of initiatives' designed to relaunch Gordons premiership once again, so far I am underwhelmed.

Free internet for kids and free theatre tickets for teenagers - all very nice but like free bus travel for pensioners it is a pathetic 'fiddle while Rome burns' type initiative.

And anyway, some kids; some teenagers and lots of pensioners don't need anything free from the Government being wealthy or living in wealthy homes.

Wouldn't it make more sense - especially when the Government itself is short of a bob or two - to give those in need some proper help - especially those seriously poor children, single parents and old people in the bottom 10% of income brackets whose real living standards have fallen drastically in recent months, and leave the better off to look after themselves?

Like many people fortunate enough to still be able to make ends meet I'd far rather pay my taxes to help those genuinely in need of a helping hand rather than finance silly universal freebies and pointless political gestures.

As the Government money runs out it's interesting to learn how just much Labour have had off us all recently where it's all gone. Fun to play with the Gordon Calculater supplied by the Taxpayers Alliance, click on the picture if you fancy trying to make Gordons sums add up!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tories are set to win Torbay, say YouGov.
Another big independent poll of Torbay voters puts it well within our reach.

There has been a very great deal of huffing and puffing from various quarters about the liklihood of Torbay falling to the Conservatives at the next election.

For two years now national polling data has pointed to a large slump in Lib Dem support from 22.65% of the vote in 2005 to an average of 17.65% (based on opinion polls from 25 Jul 08 to 21 Aug 08, sampling 5,768 people) meaning that over one in five of their last election voters have abandoned them whereas for the Conservatives the same average puts us on 45.18% against 33.24% last time, meaning for every three voters we had in 2005, four now intend to support us.

On the basis of that ' national swing' the next election here in Torbay would give us around 22.600 votes and the Lib Dems 15,200; a pretty drastic turnaround but one that was supported by the council election results last year; which we won with a 13% swing.

'Oh but that's not going to happen because Lib Dem MP's have a strong personal vote' say some opponents. Although, so far, there has been no actual evidence to support this most observers agree that there is a higher 'incumbency' factor in Lib Dem seats than others, but how much? And is it enough?

A recent report prepared by Lib Dems for the Lib Dem conference earlier this month concluded that Torbay was still at 'high risk' in spite of the tactical vote question and now there comes a much more comprehensive study by YouGov of specific target seats (including Torbay) where this very issue was dealt with head-on.

According to the authors of the report:

"Until now it has been impossible to make any truly informed projections about whether the Conservative swing really is weaker in the North, whether individual MPs will be saved by personal votes, whether the national changes in vote mask different changes in the Conservative vs Labour, Conservative vs Liberal Democrat or Labour vs Liberal Democrat battlegrounds or how tactical voting may be at play. Using an unprecendented sample of almost 35,000 people over 238 marginal constituencies, with fieldwork carried out by YouGov PLC, the PoliticsHome Electoral Index allows us for the first time to look at small groups of key marginals, to compare how people are reacting in the London commuter belt, or South Western LD/Con marginals,
seaside towns or the urban West Midlands. It also allows us to single out the specific demographics that will decide the election – people voting Conservative who might change their mind or people wavering between Labour and the Liberal Democrats in Lib Dem target seats.
It is, quite simply, the most detailed snapshot to date of British political public opinion in the marginal seats that will decide the election."

And they broke the result down into clusters of seats with similar political issues, Torbay was grouped with the other Lib dem held seats in the South West and specifically studied for evidence of 'extra' Lib Dem loyalty and resilient anti Conservative tactical voting.

The results speak for themselves:

The report authors concluded:

"Tactical voting and the personal vote for Liberal Democrat candidates has a drastic effect here. The standard voting intention question in these seats shows a 13.5 point swing from the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives, a swing that would result in the Liberal Democrats losing not only all the seats polled, but being totally wiped out in their strongest area.

Only when asked specifically about how they will vote in their own constituencies are the tactical considerations and personal vote of MPs brought into play, suggesting that most Liberal Democrat MPs will owe their jobs to their personal popularity and hard work and the continuing desire of Labour voters to keep the Tories out."

The research was conducted during July this year, before the conferences (which distort polls for weeks either side of them) and before the recent furore over the Banking system.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Has Cleggs’ Tax Cutting strategy bombed?

Earlier this month Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg shocked the political world by declaring that he intended the make the Lib Dems into a ‘tax cutting’ party.

In a carefully orchestrated series of public announcements leading up to his conference speech yesterday Mr Clegg has sought to abandon the Lib dems ‘more left than Labour’ position.

For years his party has made great store by being the only party to claim that the only way to get top class public services is to cough up lots more money in taxes; a penny on tax for education, a 50p top rate for those on £100,000 and a 4p in income tax to replace the hated council tax are three such policies.

At a stroke Clegg has U turned his party and is now saying the same thing we Tories said at the last election – that the public services are bloated and wasteful. His claim is that what the country needs is £20bn in tax cuts and he can find this in efficiency savings is almost exactly what we said in 2005 – a claim that was comprehensively rubbished by his party at the time, and also by the electorate who clearly decided that substantial cost savings are easy to talk about but impossible for any politician to actually deliver.

Unfortunately for Clegg his road to Damascus conversion coincided with reports that he is to abandon most of his Southern seats and to instead try and win Labour seats in the North; and of course to do this you need Conservative-minded voters to vote tactically in places where “only the Lib Dems can beat Labour”.

So it was no more than a wafer thin attempt to say anything necessary to win votes where Lib dems think they need them.

Most political parties expect a ‘conference bounce’ – but for the Lib dems their average poll rating – already a fifth down on their 2005 level of support- dropped from 17% before the conference to just 12% yesterday, according to the latest one from MORI.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

These are indeed dangerous times....

The media is awash with one shocking story today that is serving to remind us all of the perils of our modern lifestyles. The prevously unimaginable has happened and people are seeing and learning things they once would have deemed impossible.


As a personnel and recruitment management consultant I regularly have to offer advice to manegers who may see that the organisation that they have worked for for years collapsing around them and whose staff simply cannot cope with the strain.

As the shocking figures pour in and the true scale of the crisis dawns across the country it's easy to think only of the familiar personalities acting out the drama on our TV screens and in the newspapers and forget the thousands of hard pressed workers, strategists and advisors behind the headlines who are suffering now and will suffer more as the situation worsens; bad enough that many will lose their jobs, but some have to suffer the anger and pent up rage of their superiors.

The talk of 'meltdown' and 'obliteration' is taking a heavy toll on those 'senior people' whose jobs are in the front line and the pressure is clearly beginning to tell.

Bullying in the workplace, even under the most intense pressure, can never be tolerated and if powerful senior members of the 'team' strike out against their younger, smaller colleagues ( especially when their only crime has been to speak the perhaps unpalatable truth) then someone has to take matters on before things get out of control.


Whenever any violent outburst happens in the workplace it is a warning signal to senior managers that personnel are on, or even already past, their breaking strain and that something needs to be done. The pressure cooker environment and the stress and worry of whether they will hang on to their job or not has become too much to bear. Perhaps the senior personnel involved needs an extra-long break but if that has already been tried then often a complete career change is the only answer.


Faced with signs of such behaviour the natural course of events would be a meeting amongst the managers of the staff member concerned and in all probability the outcome would be a redundancy package of some kind; a generous pension perhaps would soften the blow and usually some alternative post at a lower level might be suggested.

Of course in the case of some unlucky people events overtake them and the entire organisation they represent ceases to exist, sometimes overnight, in which case the best answer is usually a complete lifestyle change; starting a small business or doing charity work are both popular choices for many affected in his way.


Many people feel that the those involved in this latest crisis have enjoyed a long run of easy pickings - many years 'on the gravy train' in some cases making millions from doing not very much - often by simply promising anything to everyone in a largely successful effort to keep their backing, year in and year out.

Those days are now coming to an end, and for those on the wrong end of this seismic shift the fear of loss should not be under estimated, for many there is little else that they know other than earning their living from the 'business' -in some sad cases entire families have earned their living in this way for decades and adjusting to life 'on the outside' will be tough.


I will not be commenting further on reports of Adrian Sanders' apparent attack on a young researcher at the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Threat level high? You bet.

A very intersting document has been fired round the internet in record time over the weekend - it is a very carefully researched discussion document from a group called 'Liberal Vision' taking a dispassionate look at the Lib Dems chances seat-by-seat in England at the next election.

The piece was written by a group of Lib Dems keen to see their party invade traditional Tory territory (tax cuts, efficiency savings etc) in an attempt to stall what they call the 'Cameron Effect' which will otherwise, they claim, decimate their current representation in Westminster, knocking them down to a rump of 20 or 30 seats from their current 63.

Where I think they have got it spot-on is the threat level represented by a resurgent Conservative party. For the first time I can remember a group of Lib Dems are prepared to admit that the 'great leap forward' by their party from all Lib Dem MP's being able to fit into a small minibus in 1997 to their 60+ number today was largely a result of deep unhappiness with the Tory regime of 1992-1997 and not some sea change in British politics. They extrapolate quite correctly that as this situation unwinds these gains from 1997 and 2001 will be lost and the Lib Dems risk going right back to square one.

And of course to rank Torbay as one of the most threatened seats was also spot on. The 13% swing against the Lib Dems in the local elections was the highest of any of the Lib Dem seats surveyed and caps the 4.9% swing against them in 2005; itself amongst the biggest in any Lib Dem constituency.

Where I completely disagree with the report is the suggestion that the answer to this is to become Tory Lite (actually Tory Heavy, we have avoided any pledges to cut taxes early fearing that the public finances may be in too much of a mess by the time we get control) and hoping that in doing so they can snaffle enough Conservative voters to keep us out.

If you study the history of Lib Dem gains a lot more closely you can see that in order to hold on to any of these once Conservative strongholds the LD's need Labour defectors - they depend on thousands of Labour tactical votes to hold the seats, and presumably those voters aren't going to support an MP who is backing Tory calls for lower tax and less public spending.

The front cover of the report is particularly appropriate, the 'Liberal Vision' is the sun setting...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Comrades in conflict .

It's not just the Local Conservatives who are changing their leader apparently....

News reports have begun to appear that a junior Government minister Siobhain McDonagh (who IS she?) has apparently requested a leadership nomination form from party officers ahead of Labours conference next week.

Sky News reports:

"Ms Donagh is one of several Labour MPs who have requested leadership nomination papers ahead of the party's conference.

The form, which Labour say has not been routinely issued since they were in opposition, is a necessary step in forcing a leadership challenge.

A potential leadership candidate would need the support of 71 MPs in order to trigger such a contest"

From where I sit in the opposing camp Labour are getting into the same terrible place that we Conservatives were in during the last years of John Majors time; and potentially could have ended up here in Torbay, had our local Tory leadership not come to an abrupt conclusion this week.

If Labour don't have a leadership election and prove that Brown is wanted by the majority of his MP's the endless speculation will just go on eroding their ( and his) credibility, and if they do have a leadership election he will lose it and there will be an early General Election.

Of course the reality is that this is a false choice.

When a leadership gets into this situation deep down everyone knows that for whatever reason the leaders reign is already over; leaders need enthusiastic support to have any chance of doing a decent job - anything less than that and they are a lame duck who will probably be powerless anyway. So its not a case of if Gordon Brown goes, more a question of when. Can he hold out to 2010? I think he probably can - but the damage could put Labour out of action for a generation.

UPDATE Saturday : a second MP has also called for a leadership contest today. Is this part of a structured plot? Are we going to see a drip-drip every day of more and more MP's and ex ministers demanding a chance to challenge?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Conservative Group Leader going.

I am receiving news that Kevin Carroll has stood down as leader and the Conservative Group on Torbay Council will soon elect a replacement .

I am not sure and cannot find out whether Kevin stood down of his own accord (as I know he planned to do quite soon) or whether there was a coup at the Palace but no doubt all will become clear in due course. (updated - I have found out that having been challenged for the leadership I understand Kevin himself asked for a vote of confidence which he then lost by one vote)

I am hoping that Kevin, who is at an age when most people would rather be enjoying retirement than working 60 hours a week at the Town Hall, may quietly be a bit relieved that the task of marshalling the disparate group of personalities that is the Conservative Group will no longer be his problem, especially if the mayor chooses to keep him involved in other ways.

Kevin is one of the most dedicated and hard-working people I have ever had the pleasure of working with and I think he is a huge asset to Torbay and to the Conservative Party and whoever gets the job will find he is a very hard act to follow; in fact I think being group leader is a very difficult job when you have a powerful directly elected mayor and I think there are very few who could have managed the last two years with as much aplomb and determination as he has.

Politics can be a tough business.

Friday, September 05, 2008

I'm bored already

The BBC have overloaded the news with endless coverage of the US election and I frankly couldn't care less who wins there anymore.

And I am becoming irritated that the coverage that we do get is no more than salacious gossip about the various candidates private lives.

Since there isn't much difference between them on the areas where we have an interest (Iraq and Afghanistan) we are left with nothing other than to pick over their personalities, foibles, their choice of running mate and - oh yes, obsess over the fact that Obama is a black man, McCain is a pensioner and running mate Palin is a woman who also has a 'teen pregancy' in the family.

Now this may fascinate the political correct obsessed BBC journo's but for the rest of us is completely irrellevant. The undercurrent of the media coverage is the assumption that the average American is at heart racist, sexist and ageist (otherwise why would it matter so much?) .
America has many faults but predjudice is not one of them. No doubt some Americans are but in all honesty I have never met one - even when I was doing business a few years ago in the Missisippi Delta.

We forget in England, where our immigrant communities are a mostly post-war phenomenon, that America has been a multi cultural society for it's modern existance. Although they have a history of race riots and segregation it is to most Americans just that - history.

In fact one of the most striking things about spending time in the States is just how unjudgemental they are about everyone - or at least they judge everyone on only one criteria - how much money you have (or don't, as the case may be).

So posh restuarants will happily welcome leather-clad Hells Angels provided their gold card has enough room for the bill, while you will regularly get served in McDonalds by well educated middle class men in their seventies forced to carry on working because American healthcare is virtually non existent, to pick just two examples.

So I am not at all surprised that this election has an old man, a young woman and a black man in it and nor are most Americans - and I guarantee that these issues will affect hardly anyones vote, either. They will be worried about the economy, law and order and all the countless other issues affecting their daily lives - and they will vote for whoever has the answers they want to hear, whoever has the slickest advertising and whoever manages to make the mud stick to the other guy.

Does this fascination in Europe with the narrow issues of the race, age and gender of the candidates tell us more about ourselves than it does about Americans?

I think it probably does.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Could this be in store for 2011?

There was a very interesting comment made by a poster on Tuesdays thread which seemed to indicate that some Lib Dems locally are considering the possibility of pitting current Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders against current Conservative Mayor Nick Bye when his first mayoral term of office comes to an end in two and a half years time.

The poster, under the name 'Yellow Ribbon' said this: "some Lib Dems are trying to keep the job of 'Lib Dem prospective mayoral candidate' open until after the result of the next General Election."

Many of us in the local Conservative Party have been wondering for a while why the Liberal Democrats have not begun at least to groom a potential rival to Nick Bye. 'Embedding' candidates very early on was a Lib Dem innovation - Adrian Sanders was first picked to fight Torbay in 1990 so that by the time he won in 1997 he was already a very familiar figure to voters. So you would have expected the Lib Dems to have picked a mayoral candidate long ago and had him or her promoting themselves by being used as a spokesman to 'front' attacks on the Mayor.

Up to now we assumed that the Lib Dems were in some confusion over the mayoralty, indeed we had presumed that the party was so heavily committed to trying to abolish the post altogether that they couldn't find anyone prepared to stand, and that was the reason for the continuing vacancy.

With even the Lib Dem high command admitting that nearly all the South West Lib Dem MP's seats are likely to be lost it must have crossed some in the party that their chances of holding on here in the Bay have significantly diminished since the 2005 result and deteriorate further with every day that Gordon Browns government continues to disintegrate and the public become more and more determined to be rid of New Labour.

'Yellow Ribbon' has raised the intriguing possibility that the reason that the Lib Dems haven't picked anyone is because some of their people want to keep the job 'open' so that, if bay MP Adrian Sanders does lose the Torbay seat at the next General Election he could take up a new role - standing against his old rival Nick Bye in the elections due the following year.

Possible, but unlikely in my view. But what do you think?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

If the Russians do come, it's good to know we have the best Pilots.

We had some friends round for drinks last night and along with several thousands of others we watched the awesome display by the Red Arrows. As they swooped and dived with our beautiful bay as a backdrop I couldn't help but feel proud.

Unfortunately the over-use of our military in a number of international conflicts in recent years has blunted in the public mind that our armed services primary role is to defend this country from attack.

Up until the collapse of the Soviet Union all of Europe, including Britain, was facing the clear and present danger of invasion by the Soviet Union, a fact quickly forgotten during the 1990's. For forty years after the end of WW11 the Russians had tanks and guns ready to flood across their (very nearby) borders to invade neighbouring states and at fairly regular intervals they did it, in Czechoslovakia, in Hungary and in Afghanistan.

Our airspace was regularly intruded upon illegally by Soviet spyplanes and our air defences were routinely tested by Soviet fighter jets and bombers who wandered into restricted airspace to see how quickly the RAF would respond; and of course we knew the co-ordinates of our major towns and cities remained programmed into hundreds of Soviet Nuclear missiles.

The public were only too keen to ensure our military had the best equipment and the highest standards of training and personnel and they were happy to pay for the security and peace of mind - throughout the cold war the percentage of our national wealth spent on defence remained above 4% and was often at 5 or 6%.

How different are things today. Figures from Nato show that Britain lags behind the United States and France as well as smaller countries such as Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey in the share of national wealth it spends on defence.

Government figures show that 2.5 per cent of the UK's GDP — or around £32 billion — was likely to be spent on defence in 2005/6 compared with 4.4 per cent in 1987/88.

The MoD has been forced to borrow from private companies through the Private Finance Initiative to ensure that the Armed Forces are prepared for the 21st century.
Figures obtained by the Conservatives show that troop numbers fell to an all-time low in 2007, our entire available army could sit and watch a match together in Wembley Stadium. The Royal Air Force has seen offensive squadrons fall from 16 to 11, and the Navy has lost eight destroyers and six frigates. Soldiers' leave and training has also been squeezed.

The peace dividend has been a mirage, Russia is once again flexing her muscles and the diplomatic temperature has cooled to it's lowest since the 1980's.

Russian aggression is nothing new, but perhaps the war in Georgia has acted as a timely reminder of just why we need to maintain an armed service corp that is fit for purpose, not against terrorists on the underground or for 'peacekeeping' in some far away desert but for defending our island against attack by another country, however unlikely that may seem.

The lesson of history is that conflict is more likely to come to those who are unprepared for it.