02 October 2012

The Number One Issue


For the foreseeable future the above is the number one issue for the UK. How indebted the nation becomes and to what extent future generations must repay current spending is a choice. As we can see from Spain and Greece, overindebtedness can become a vicious circle as debt servicing costs and debt rise together.

15 May 2011

Bruno Brookes Birthday

Ever wondered what Bruno Brookes first birthday would have been like.
Here's a couple of excerpts.

03 May 2011

Your Choice In Thursday's Electoral System Referendum


How we decide who represents us in our democracy is a critical question and one that ought to be answered by the public, not politicians whose opinions will naturally be skewed by self-interest. For this reason, I am delighted that one outcome of the coalition is a public referendum on electoral change.

Being a local association chairman for the Conservative Party and a supporter of Yes2AV since last year, I am in the unusual position of having a foot in both camps for the referendum campaigns and an insight into both.

Talking to 'ordinary voters' and to supporters of each side, it appears that many people have felt insulted or patronized by the Yes and No campaigns. Some may even decide their vote on that basis, or due to a particular dislike for Baroness Warsi/Nick Griffin/David Cameron/Chris Huhne/Ed Miliband/Nick Clegg/Insert as appropriate. My view is that we have a chance to vote on an issue which is more important than one individual, party or campaign and that we should look at the issue itself. I think we would all do well to consider the issue on its merits.

Personally, I think that the merits of AV can be illustrated by asking ourselves pertinent questions about the system.

1. Will AV be a system that engages more people in politics?

First-past-the-post is a misnomer. There is no post. A party needs only beat the second placed opponent and can win by ensuring its core vote gets to the polling station and attracting a few tactical voters by warning of the dangers of the main opponent. Under FPTP when door-knocking, if you encounter a non-supporter the temptation is to get to the next house or persuade the voter that their planned vote would be wasted. These are not a viable tactics under AV. In seeking to pass the 50% support test under AV, a politician who wants to win has to be interested in your other preferences and is therefore likely to engage with a wider group.

At the macro level, FPTP has led to a focus on ‘key voters’ in swing seats reducing the number of people parties engage with over the years. The electoral calculus doesn’t work like that under AV forcing parties with ambitions to win seats with 50% support to spread their nets more widely.

2. Under AV will more people walk away from an election feeling like their vote/participation was worthwhile?


Unambiguously, AV gives voters more choice. Whilst some people who have always voted for one party and wish to continue to do so will not see the personal benefit, many will appreciate the opportunity to vote with their heart (first preference) and their head (next preferences) or simply to rank candidates. By elimination of the phenomenon of wasted votes, barriers to entry are reduced, meaning that our politics is likely to become more dynamic with new ideas coming to the fore and a greater range of options at the ballot box.

What’s more, AV provides more information to politicians. MPs who were elected after several elimination rounds will know where their residual support came from and second placed candidates will know where they failed to garner the support. To use an example, we all know how Ed Miliband passed David Miliband on the later rounds of the Labour leadership vote which provided both with a great deal of useful democratic information.

3. Will AV be a system that strengthens Parliament?


Whilst I don’t think that politicians elected on FPTP are illegitimate, there is a perception problem when people can keep a straight face whilst questioning the mandate of a coalition government which jointly commanded 60% or so of the votes in the 2011 General Election. It is the case that under AV all MPs will need support of at least 50% of those expressing a preference. That has to improve the legitimacy of MPs to be our elected representatives.

As mentioned above those elected will know exactly where their support came from as a result of the information provided in the count. If somebody ran on a single issue platform (say a planning issue), the true importance of this issue to voters is likely to be concealed under FPTP because of the risk of wasting your vote. This is less so, under AV where voters can use their first preference to make a ‘protest’ on an issue of importance to them safe in the knowledge that they can still influence the overall result.

Downsides

The fact it isn’t used in many countries is irrelevant. It may lead to a tendency to moderation (not extremism as Baroness Warsi argued) leading to insipid all-things-to-all-men characters being elected, but I suspect that exciting, radical candidates can still break through.

Yes, AV costs a little more (it’s marginal), is more complex (it’s marginal) and incorporates delay (it’s marginal), but these are prices worth paying for a better system.

Conclusion

In summary, AV is a system which strengthens Parliament, supports a dynamic free market in ideas, is likely to engage more people in the political process and make more people feel like their vote was worthwhile. In my opinion, these are good reasons for any Conservative to support it, but most of all anyone who is a fan of true democracy. What do you think?

14 February 2011

True Up Uk plc's Accounts

Sometimes I prepare blogs which I don't publish. Here's one I found from last March. Quite interesting with hindsight.

A key lesson we can learn from our local government electoral successes is that when we take over from Labour administrations, we need to communicate to the electorate the true nature of the Labour legacy. We need to make the case for truing up UK plc’s accounts as soon as we get a chance to open the books.

Anyone who consumes political news can see that Labour is eager to frame the economic debate - which is the key battleground at the coming election - in terms of Tory spending plans. This is a problem for us. The Labour government has shown that they will unleash the machinery of a politicised senior Civil Service to attack specific ideas, but being overly vague on our deficit reduction plans sends a poor message to voters.

In respect of the inevitable future spending reductions, the media have taken up this what/when/how line of questioning on Labour’s behalf, and time after time we see Tory spokespeople on our screens walking a delicate tightrope between realism about and over-enthusiasm for cuts. It rarely looks pretty and in the context of a deficit of trillions, has, at times, descended into heated arguments over line items which are, in relative terms, minutiae.

The simple truth is that without sight of the books, we won’t know the true extent of the deficit problem or be able to diagnose the consequent action required. To fight on this territory before the election is like going into battle blind-folded, and it isn’t good strategy.

Therefore we should seek to reframe this debate by describing our approach to deficit reduction. Whilst certain cuts can and should be made from day one of a Conservative government, the larger part of the deficit reduction programme needs more groundwork.
In my view, the first step in this programme is to true up the national accounts. It may seem like a long time ago, but New Labour’s golden rule was that debt should not exceed 40% of GDP. First mentioned by Brown in the 1990s for over a decade, many major government projects and policies have been structured in ways with adherence to this rule as a prime objective. Classifying spending as investment, PFI projects where unavoidable future costs are not recorded as government liabilities and the non-recognition of future pension liabilities are the best known tools in the government’s box of accounting tricks, but they may be just the tip of a very nasty iceberg. Like Enron, the UK government has used the letter rather than the spirit of the law to present their numbers in a favourable way.

To reveal a fairer picture of our finances, we should engage an independent firm to prepare a May 7 2010 UK plc balance sheet under private sector standards valuing our assets at their market value and recording our liabilities in full. A summary of the adjustments made to take the leap from our predecessors’ records to get to this truer picture should not be difficult to set out.

Armed with this realistic information, we can have a proper public debate about future fiscal decisions. It may well be the case that after ring-fenced budgets and unavoidable commitments, the percentage cuts required in other areas to get our finances back on track are even greater than previously estimated or advertised. Or we may need to renegotiate onerous contracts entered into by the previous government. But that’s a question for the future.

These interminable arguments about what, when and where to cut which do so much to switch off the electorate can be extinguished, if instead, we answer such questions by describing our approach. It can also be used to put the onus on Labour on whether or not they support our sensible approach. If we can put this inane deficit debate to bed, perhaps we can focus our attention on the important business of recreating the excellent conditions for economic growth in the private sector which we provided last time we were in government.

Another reason for taking the approach I describe is to manage public expectations. If we don’t go through this exercise, I fear that financial grenades will be exploding for years to come. I’d hate to see us caught in the same cycle of obfuscation and form over substance that we have come to expect under New Labour. We wouldn’t be forgiven by the electorate for that.

08 February 2011

Election Flashback


Feeling nostalgic for the 2010 election? This picture relates to a general election story. Does anybody know which one and where it took place?

20 January 2011

Olton By-election - Lib Dem Last Minute Literature

Since the General Election the Solihull Council has been run by a Lib Dem/Labour coalition despite the Tories being the largest party. I believe it is the only Lib Dem led authority in the West Midlands. However, control is on a knife-edge. At the start of the day, the coalition had a working majority of just one. This is what makes today's by-election in Olton - a contest over a Lib Dem held seat in which the Lib Dem and Conservatives are regarded as the main contenders - a fairly important political event in local government terms and in West Midlands politics.

Here is an interesting type of campaign leaflet. Printed in Conservative blue and distributed on the day of the election, from the cover page below, it looks like a note of apology from the Conservative team.


It was no such thing and the Conservative team who ran a positive campaign have not apologised and have absolutely nothing to apologise for. Inside is a note from one of the incumbent Lib Dem councillors (note that neither the candidate herself or his ward colleague felt able to sign it) apologising on behalf of the Conservatives, which of course he has no right to do. Cllr Windmill even brings a dead body into the Lib Dem message.


This evening the Conservative campaign office was inundated with calls of complaint from voters (some of whom were previously Lib Dems disgusted by this particular leaflet). One mentioned that he's been through all the literature to see what the author of the literature was getting at, but couldn't find anything. On the other hand, we'll probably never know how many voters were fooled by these nasty tactics. I don't think we've heard the end of this matter. The first question is of course who authorised this disgusting and dishonest piece of literature.

Update 21 January 2011 0034hrs

LD 1188, Con 1179, Lab 280, Ind 228, Green 115.

Grrrrrr!

21 October 2010

The Impossibility Of 'Progressive' Spending Cuts

Only the very most stupid continue to argue that large spending cuts to address the dreadful black hole that the Coalition government inherited in May are unnecessary. However, the main line of argument against the spending cuts is itself a nonsense. Left-wing critics argue that low income groups will be most affected. But is there a permutation of government spending cuts which would not be regressive?

Of course, many elements of government expenditure are targeted at the poorest, but for illustrative purposes let's assume that the benefit of government spending is evenly distributed.

Let's imagine that in this theoretical nation, the highest earning half of the population segment have average take home pay of £30,000 and the lowest half £10,000. Say there is £10,000 of government spending per head and an across the board of 10% reduction is announced. The £1,000 cut in government expenditure represents 3.3% for the richest and 10% for the poorest. As it is obviously the case that poorer people have more spent on them by the government, a large scale expenditure reduction is always going to have a bigger percentage effect on the poorest than the richest.

Speaking on TV, Carl Emmerson, the acting director of the IFS suggests on the one hand that the cuts may not be sufficient but complains that the cuts are regressive. You can't have it both ways. To support spending cuts but argue against regressive cuts is demanding the impossible.

10 October 2010

What Is The Housing Crisis?

When house prices spiral out of the reach of the average family, they call it a housing crisis, now there are signs of price slippage, the message is similar. Tails, they win, heads, we lose. Some commentators appear to place the blame firmly with the Great British Public castigating our apparent obsession with owning a home for our ills, (See Note below) but I don't agree.

The housing crisis isn't about the level of house prices, significant as that is for aspiring and actual home-owners, but rather the housing shortage. The most relevant symptom of the UK housing crisis is the 5 million people on the council house waiting list. This is a record and a friend of mine who is in the sector tells me that many of these people will never get to the top of this particular 'waiting list'. Please don't go away with the idea that I am advocating a massive council house-building programme. Surveys show that most people would like to live in their own homes so what is the point of spending money we don't have, on things people don't want.

Instead, reflect on the incentives created by our current system of property taxes. In my apartment block of 20 flats, I reckon we spend £25,000 a year on council tax. If a similar-sized plot next door was derelict scrub, it would not attract any taxes. Seems strange that land put to productive use is highly taxed, but that in relative terms, owners of semi-abandoned land are rewarded. But this is just one feature of a British property tax system which penalises built property (council tax, rates, VAT etc) and property transactions (capital gains, stamp duty and inheritance tax).

Let us the consider the relative outcomes that arise from different ways of organising taxes on properties.

Taxes On Built Property - Taxes On Land

Housing Shortages - No Housing Shortages

Unaffordable Housing - Affordable Housing

Narrow Property Ownership - Wide Property Ownership

Poverty Trap - Incentives To Progress

Sclerotic Property Market - Dynamic Property Market

What's not to like?

Note re British obsession with owning a house - 1. I don't detect a relative lack of appetite in other countries to own a home 2. For a family the alternative to owning a home is living on a council state or depending on a private landlord. Neither is an appetising prospect.

08 October 2010

Katherine Birbalsingh

In my sidebar links under education, I link to "To Miss With Love" a teacher who has been blogging for years about how the poorest kids are badly let down by the educational system and culture. I found and so have others, that there comes a point when you run a successful blog when you have said all you have to say to your online audience and want to find a way to make a greater impact in the real world. For the author of "To Miss With Love", Katherine Birbalsingh that epiphany came recently.

So the other day she stopped blogging and appeared on the main stage at Conservative Party Conference. She brought the house down with an insightful testimony into how education was failing and what needed to be changed. Click to 1.17 for her impassioned speech. Well, naturally enough, she has now been asked to stay away from her work as deputy head at St Michael and All Angels Academy C of E in Southwark, London.

Cranmer's got the story by the scruff of the neck as have some of the nationals. Some people suggest that she should work in the private sector or help Michael Gove with helping to reform education. I would humbly submit that it isn't in those areas where there is a lack of talent or an excess of wrong-headedness. No. She should remain as teacher in the state sector.

She hasn't been punished by her school for speaking against the establishment but rather, for doing so effectively. She should keep her job and the people who punished her for exercising freedom of speech need to go. This is the sort of battle we need to win.

Update

The battle has been won. Katharine has been reinstated. However, in the fight against the left-wing establishment, Katharine may need our support again, so please join this facebook group.

04 October 2010

During conference, I am blogging for the Birmingham Post. Check out my daily blogs here



Here's a picture of me with a rather more famous Tory. Phillip Blond, an academic pioneer promoting localism and the Big Society is the Red Tory.