The report into the prison murder of Zahid Mubarek was presented to the Commons at the end of June. Now, the Home Office has set up this website which contains far more information than the report itself. I recommend a viewing if you have an interest in the UK criminal justice sytem.
I wanted to share some extracts from the main body of the report that highlights financial illiteracy at the top of the Prison Service. At Feltham, where the murder took place, the governor from December 1998 to April 1999 was Clive Welsh. From May 1999 to October 2000 Niall Clifford was in charge and Nick Pascoe was governor from October 2000 onwards. The report states that
"Mr Clifford did not regard Feltham’s budget as a constraint on the incurring of such expenditure as he thought was necessary. He regarded keeping within the budget as a secondary consideration. His policy was to spend what was needed to improve the regime. He did not think his job was at stake if he exceeded his budget. Mr Pascoe said much the same thing."
The following table shows the cost per prisoner at Feltham in three consecutive years.
£18,992 in 1998/99
£24,030 in 1999/00 (Zahid Mubarek died on March 28th of this year)
£37,507 in 2000/01
The spiralling spending corroborates the comments on Mr Clifford's and Mr Pascoe's financial priorities or lack of them. I'd like to contrast this with the situation before their tenure;
"In the late 1990s establishments were having to make efficiency savings. Their annual budgets were marginally lower in real terms in the financial year before Mr Clifford arrived at Feltham than in previous years"
Not that the authors of the report itself seemed very financially literate. For example take this quote -
"Such was the paucity of funding that the Inspectorate noted in 1997 that Feltham actually had the largest cost per prisoner of any young offender institution in the country." Source
Of course, the report highlighted other serious failings, but I thought I would bring out this example to demonstrate the financial illiteracy at the top of the Prison Service. Finally, it is noted that Feltham was considered a failing establishment so it jumped the queue for funding. Rewarding failure?
31 October 2006
The report into the prison murder of Zahid Mubarek was presented to the Commons at the end of June. Now, the Home Office has set up this website which contains far more information than the report itself. I recommend a viewing if you have an interest in the UK criminal justice sytem.
30 October 2006
I was a little amused when the better half sent me a document to print out with title esej. J is the Slavic equivalent of the letter Y hence Borat’s famous greeting jagshemash (pronounced yag-sh-masch), so I assumed a cute spelling mistake. Always the pedant, I pointed out the proper way to spell essay - only to be told esej is the Czech (and Slovak) way to spell essay. Naturally, I didn’t bring this up with the girlfriend again, but I asked a colleague of my age when she started using the word essay/esej. She said that she first heard the word essay/esej at high school and then also at university and that she considered it an import. Before that (pre 1989) they would invariably use the term slohova prace. You can see why the word essay was stolen and naturalised.
Another good example of Western words mutating into Czech is the word reality. If someone was trying to sell you reality in Prague what do you think would be on offer? Don’t google Czech reality because that’s dangerous. Instead check this Czech reality website. As an American friend from Birmingham, Alabama reminded me, realty means property in the US. I am fascinated how this word was assimilated into the Czech language with a pointless addition of a letter and how that idiosyncrasy stuck. Call me a saddo, but I’m going to see if I can get any answers over at the Czech expats portal.
I like MyBlogLog. I’m signed up for a year with them and it’s my only sites stats instrument. Many of the occasional visitors to my site use it and get listed on the recent readers sidebar, which is an interesting feature. Yesterday evening, the blogfather himself Iain Dale popped up – the only thing is I’ve no idea how long he stayed. It’s also handy for marketing my site as my visits to other sites that have the sidebar are shown whether or not I want to post a comment. One thing I’ve noticed is that although the mybloglog is extremely popular with right-wing bloggers, Tom Watson and Political Hack are the only Labour bloggers that I’ve noticed using it – and they don’t use the sidebar on their sites. I wonder why it hasn’t taken off in the same way with the Lefties. Or maybe I'm being myopic?
28 October 2006
Here's a few pictures of Prague. October has been a pleasant month in Prague with plenty of blue skies. This morning is particularly nice and from my living room the view of the St Peter & Paul church is better than ever now that the tree foliage has mainly fallen. This church is located on the site of an old fortress although the "castle walls" that surround this attraction are apparently relatively recent. Should you visit this site, you must pay a visit to the cemetery. As well as being the resting place of luminaries from the arts world such as Capek and Dvorak, the beauty and symbolism reflected in the various shrines provides an insight into Czech culture over the years.
Looking down my street across the Vltava river shows the amount of greenery near Prague centre - although this is mainly due to steep hillsides unsuitable for construction. In the far distance, you can just pick out the Strahov Stadium which is the biggest stadium in Europe and dwarves the international football pitch that is next to it. In 2002 there was an Ozzy Osbourne concert at Strahov. Apparently, a crowd of over 20,000 was in attendance, but it seemed like maybe 10% of the space was being used.
From our bedroom windows you can see the historic Prague castle although as it is several miles away from here the view with the naked eye isn't as clear as this photo implies. Some say it takes three days to do a tour of the Prague castle and surrounding attractions properly. The gardens at the foot of the castle near Malastranske (Little Bank) tube stop are nice at the moment.
26 October 2006
The cost of our MPs has massively out-stripped inflation.
MPs claimed £86.7m in expenses and allowances last year which is 7.3% higher than the previous 12 months. I find the £87,276 that can be claimed for salaries for researchers, secretaries and other staff excessive. I suggest this is reduced significantly and then capped year on year for productivity gains in a similar way to government grants to local authorities.
The £20,000 that can be claimed by MPs with constituencies outside of London for staying in London is ridiculous, too. A single person should be able to arrange annual accomodation in the capital for a fraction of that. Clearly not enough is being done to rein in costs. Any more ideas?
My girlfriend is currently studying at the University Of New York In Prague. She's getting lots of essays to do as homework. I was thinking that using a blog would be an excellent way of submitting, marking and archiving essays. The other day the girlfriend sent me her essay to print so that she could go to school to submit it the next day. If a blog was used, she could upload the essay at the appropriate time (no question about whether the deadline was met) and the tutor could provide comments and a mark in the comments to the post. As the submissions grow, the tutor and pupil can at a glance check on the progress of the student.
Maybe this has already been done, but I'd be interested to hear of any other innovative ways that the blog template can be used.
25 October 2006
Setting higher education to one side, on education we can expect the following things from a Conservative government. Less paperwork, guidelines, initiatives, target-setting and dogma. More decentralization, choice, freedom and flexibility. That’s all about instinct, not policy. The levels of literacy amongst our school-leavers are a disgrace and so are the levels of achievement. I have a large degree of respect both for David Willetts (Education Minister) and Nick Gibb (Schools Minister). Reading the runes the empirically successful techniques of phonics and streaming are likely to be implemented in the early years of a Conservative administration. Even if we were in coalition with the Dems this is an area where I would expect a lot of progress from what I consider to be a standing start (i.e where Labour will leave us). Although more contentious another expectation is that the status of the teaching profession will be enhanced. This means paying teachers more – I would expect something in return. I would like to see tough competition for teaching jobs. I want to see a time when the top reason for teachers leaving the profession before retirement is because they are not good enough, not because of unruly kids or too much paperwork. Does the above go far enough? Is this a platform we can run on?
An ICM poll for the Guardian puts Labour on 29%, 10 points behind the Tories on 39%, with the Liberal Democrats on 22%. This level of support for Labour equals a previous record low for the party in an ICM/Guardian poll recorded in May 1987.
I was touched by Gordon Brown's response -
"If you're doing things right, and the economy is doing well, the health service is getting better, your schools are getting better ... then people will respond."
He added: "It's a discipline on us to be better and more effective, and to listen to people."
We are ineffective. The economy isn't doing well and despite the billions we have poured into them neither schools nor the health service are improving.
NB - Nothing from the BBC on this story?!
24 October 2006
Prague local elections results
Civic Democrats (ODS) - 53.3%
Social Democrats (CSSD) - 15.4%
Greens - 8.0%
Communists (KSCM) - 7.9%
Association of Independent Candidates - European Democrats (SNK-ED) - 5.5%
Others - C10%
Well done to ODS who can now rule without the support of any other parties. My only gripe is that part of the ODS platform was to increase the number of police officers in the city. Seems to me that there are enough already, they just need to focus on the criminals rather than road traffic duties.
The ODS' dominance in Prague is mirrored in other major capitals in Eastern Europe who typically vote for the mainstream right (e.g. Bratislava in Slovakia). Some of the political posters have been interesting to say the least and if I manage to photograph a few before they disappear I will post them. Here is an amusing text I received the other day from an expat friend who got caught up in the campaigning
"I've found myself a Green Party tram. I'm having badges, leaflets and green tea forced on me. It's like a hippy nightmare."
Wedding and birthday surprise went swimmingly. I'M BACK. In recent times there have been at least 6 to 15 predictable bad news stories per Parliament. That’s right - by-election results. For some reason they never seem to come up in Labour/Conservative marginals where we could give Labour a bloody nose, but nevertheless our results are appalling. The last time we made a gain in a by-election was June 1982. That's less than once in a blue moon.
Back in July in the aftermath of the debacle at Bromley & Chislehurst, a Tory Radio interview with Francis Maude gave me no comfort that he was going to solve the problem. I never like the words “try to” when talking about how to solve a problem. So, at conference, I was particularly interested to find out what was happening about by-elections. I asked the girl on the by-elections stand who had been put in charge and she said that (she thought!?) it was Grant Shapps. She was also recruiting a by-election volunteer task force. I hope this volunteer force doesn’t look like this.
Grant Shapps (Welwyn & Hatfield) is a great campaigner and one of only 40 Tories who won a seat from Labour in 2005. Every Tory blogger should check out his local web forum and he is full of excellent ideas – an interesting factoid is that he reckons that he has e-mail addresses for 10% of his constituents. Nevertheless, the man is an MP – he has a day job. Use his expertise by all means, but I want someone heading up the by-elections who is employed in that role full-time who has that as his/her prime responsibility. I want the someone who can strategise, who can lead and motivate and can jump at the kick of a bucket. Should failure continue that person will be out of a job. I want that level of clarity. Am I asking for too much?
19 October 2006
I'm back in the UK this weekend for a wedding and will be extending my stay for my Dad's 60th and getting some admin out of the way. I've realised that my to do list is fairly extensive and I'm not yet close to being properly packed. Therefore, I've made the decision not to blog until the middle of next week. I may get the occasional chance to check for comments etc, but the timehole that is blogging is on hold for now. Bye for now.
18 October 2006
Lee For Mayor
If you're a Tory, you should be interested in who we put up as the next candidate for London Mayor. If you're a tax-cutting Tory, the time for faffing around should be behind you. Lee Rotherham is the only choice. If you haven't heard of Lee, you may well have heard of the book he wrote - the excellent Bumper Book Of Government Waste (you've got my copy Pete). Lee's vision for his Mayoral term is clear and attractive. Tax and spending cuts, localise decision-making and ultimately abolish the position of Mayor. Magic.
The Wider Picture For The Conservatives
Across the country there are Tory councils increasing efficiency, reducing waste and generally delivering excellent value for money, but we don't get enough credit at the national level for these success stories. The received wisdom is that people want tax cuts, believe that there is incredible waste that can be carved out, but don't believe the Tories can manage it. .
Having Lee win the mayoralty and deliver on some of his eye-catching promises would rock those perceptions.
Further Reading For Enthusiasts
For more read this interview or this one or take a look at his campaign website. Lee is also a pretty humourous guy. Here's a few choice quotes.
Lee - If Mr Livingstone wants to retire tomorrow and run for Mayor of Caracas instead, I’d be delighted to sign his nomination form.
Q What makes you stand out above the other (Conservative) candidates?
Lee - Original thinking. There’s no point in Conservatives running for mayor believing they can run socialism better than the socialists. It’s not just the man at the top, Livingstone, who’s at fault over London’s government – it’s the whole structure and the system itself.
Lee - I did not spend my time co-writing the Bumper Book of Government Waste to tinker at the edges. I believe in a low tax, deregulated, free economy. I believe in letting people get on with their lives. And I believe in standing up to express these opinions, rather than letting the socialists win the argument by default. Let’s shout it from the rooftops. Low taxes and less regulation mean greater wealth and a better society for all.
Several other Tory bloggers are fairly sure that he has the right approach. All he needs to do is to turn these thoughts into a campaign that will win the election. A penny for your thoughts.
17 October 2006
The Sads are a band formed in Prague comprising a Canadian lead singer/guitarist, English cellist American guitarist and a newly-recruited American drummer. They provided the atmosphere at my house party at the weekend and were much appreciated by the guests. They are playing tonight in Vinohrady.
For more about the Sads check this link.
My second Czech English word is "action" which is used to describe a big night out with friends. For example, it's time we went out on an action. A wild action is the extreme version of this and fairly describes the Saturday night house party and subsequent visit to Harley's.
16 October 2006
A few months ago the Pakistani cricket captain Inzamam-Ul-Haq precipitated a crisis by refusing to take to the field after a ball-tampering decision in a Test match with England. He rationalised his decision as follows. "The pride of the nation has been hurt, we have been unfairly labelled as cheats". See here for more.
Many commentators (who should have known better) appeared to consider that this sense of honour meant that the usual concept of the referee's decision being final did not apply to Pakistan. I don't agree with this, but the cowardly ICC chief Malcolm Speed made it clear which side he was taking when, by his actions, he hung the international umpire Darrell Hair out to dry.
I hope that this breaking news will chastise them and jolt them out of their arrogant disregard for the cricket authorities. Are they going to admit that they can now be fairly labeled as cheats?
15 October 2006
Third in this series on land value tax. LVT 1 and 2 posts linked here and here provoked an excellent debate and I learnt a lot more. Recommended reading is the "how land affects the average person" link at this website.
At this stage, I was planning to get on to the how of LVT, but I feel the need to counter the main right wingers' argument against LVT as set out in the comments section to LVT 2. Conservative councillor and blogger, Richard Bailey and an anonymous right wing poster were the most strident opponents to the principle of land tax.
Without wishing to deliberately oversimplify their objections the key elements of their argument were as follows;
"The right of private land ownership is as fundamental to our society as breathing air." and "not in further penalising people who have managed to retain assets despite the predations of socialist and successive wet so called conservative governments."
Firstly, I could argue that many other "good" things such as hard work are well taxed. For example I could argue that the right to work is as fundamental to our society and should not be taxed. But, I won't make this argument, chiefly because the government needs the revenue from payroll taxes.
According to authoritative research the average value of an acre of UK development land was £404,000 in 2001. Obviously, this has risen further since then, but to be on the safe side, I will assume it holds. If you hold your £400,000 in undeveloped land, you pay no tax on that holding.
Imagine that instead of buying that land you have £400,000 in cash earning 5% interest per annum which equals £20,000 a year. 20% or £4,000 of that interest will be deducted at source by your bank and handed to the tax man.
After LVT is fully introduced, I imagine that a rate of 1% per annum would be reasonable - £4,000 in this example. Using this example, I think I can successfully argue that taxing land value merely balances up taxes on assets. Furthermore, unlike the private ownership of cash, private ownership of land necessarily deprives others of that land so there is a social cost to land, which ought to be borne by the landowners themselves. Any ripostes?
14 October 2006
The Lib Dem linking comp is closed. My top three in reverse order of preference
Bronze - Liberal Bureaucracy - A fairly personal blog, with a unique angle (administration can be good). I'm going to visit this one a bit more before deciding whether to link.
Silver - Inner West - First impression was it was a bit heavyweight for this time on a Saturday morning. The blog is very thoughtful. The even-handed way in which he makes criticisms of Cameron (on not cutting taxes) and his own party is impressive. You're linked.
Gold - Forceful & Moderate - I'm a little seduced by small things such as the fact that the link to the Grauniad, it's a double act and that they appear to have big issues with the welfare state. More generally, I like the way that the site tackles everyday issues in a calm and engaging manner. Linked.
Whilst, I am at it (awarding gongs), I asked a few chess questions at the start of the World Chess Championships. Croydonian correctly named the first British GM as Tony Miles (pictured in his younger years). As to the other questions, Miles's biography is called "It's Only Me" which is an anagram of his name and the "handle" he used when playing Internet chess. He went to King Edwards School Edgbaston. His fellow alumni include Enoch Powell, J R R Tolkein, David Willetts and my brother.
Note - The new world chess champion is Vladimir Kramnik who won on a tiebreak after the main match was tied 6 - 6.
13 October 2006
I've been spending too much time weighing in against Sion Simon to worry about my own posting and I have visitors this weekend. I don't like to be political unless I've thought the post through, so here is an apolitical post. Just stocked up on basics
3 2 litres bottles of still water
2 litres of milk
2 kilogram bags of rice and
1 jar of coffee.
The cost approximated to £2.40. Let's see who can turn this into a political post.
The Lib Dems I like section on my links is a little thin. Witty and intelligent, Chris Black has a cool blog and has been an excellent contributor to this site. Jock Coats in spite our differences (he makes me look like Mussolini in the libertarian stakes) is a true thinker and has been of genuine support especially in the area of Land value tax, which I support.
But my recent sojourns into the world of Lib-Dem blogs have been less edifying - in fact I can't be bothered any more. So I want to hear of other Lib Dems I might like. Please give a reason. I promise to peruse the recommendations and the best suggestion will definitely get a link (wow the baubles are so enticing). I hope nobody finds this find-a-decent-dem-blog search irritating. If so, just send me links to some terrible ones. I'm going to leave this open until Saturday morning.
12 October 2006
Less than a year ago Sion Simon MP for Birmingham Erdington wrote the following piece in the Guardian admonishing fellow Lefties for trying to get rid of Blair. Quote "...the sentiment is dysfunctional, illogical; frankly, it's disgraceful. So look into your heart, Lefty, and ask yourself: "Why do I hate Tony Blair?"
Of course, less than 10 months later he is signing a letter calling for Blair to resign.
Now he has put out an astonishingly ill-judged MyTube video with a sort of homeboy attack on Cameron. Hasn't he heard of the words "retake"?
Rather than crawling under a rock, here he is losing it on Sky. Reminded me of Kevin out of Harry Enfield or Sebastian out of Little Britain. Hat tip to Guido.
In Birimingham there are 44 Labour, 41 Conservatives and 33 Liberal councillors but the Parliamentary representation is 9 - 1 - 1 (yes, it is an emergency). This can't be because of the quality of the Labour MPs. We desperately need to ensure that Sion Simon remains active in the media. I want to see Edgbaston, Northfield and at least one other turn blue next time. Why not Erdington? Sion doesn't deserve to be called the Right Honourable member for anywhere.
From Eastern Slovakia the first tranche of EU migrants after May 2004 were mainly male breadwinners and worked in labouring and construction. A significant number of (generally younger) single females also moved to work as aupairs or in the caring professions, but often ended up branching into retail/hospitality etc.
Thinking to the village in Slovakia that I know best, maybe half the working age population has worked or is working in Britain or Ireland. We've gone past the early adopters. Even a young mother has left for a short spell to work at the same place as her Slovak boyfriend in rural England. She will almost earn the same in a month in the UK as she would in a year in her previous job at Tesco's in Eastern Slovakia. With permission, here follows an annotated translation of a letter detailing a new migrant's first impressions after less than a week in the UK.
Hi, we are fine. On Thursday and Friday, we experienced English rain for the first time. I work with my boyfriend’s mum and we talk more than we work. Today we went to the sea (I’ll tell you the exact name later because I can’t remember), but I liked it very much and I liked the playgrounds (Note 1). We made a boat out of paper and set it out to sea.
Yesterday, went to the church but it was locked (Note 2). Next time we will try to go at a different time. I’m thinking that I will go back to Slovakia and bring children back, but I’m not sure how it will work. Tell Praguetory that I really like their red brick houses (Note 3).
We work eight hours a day in a vineyard, but we get Sundays off. But next week will be hell and it will be very busy – we won’t have Sunday off probably (Note 4). If you go home, look after my angels. I miss them very much. I learn English with a speed you can’t imagine. The other day an old woman stopped me on the street and I could understand what she was saying. There are very friendly people here (Note 5). The village is small, but very green, just like where we live. When you get home, tell the family not to worry about me. Take care. Sending kisses to everyone and let me know when you get home.
Note 1 - She has kids aged 4 and 5, so she thinks about these things.
Note 2 - In Eastern Slovakia churches are always open.
Note 3 - A lot of Eastern Europeans are fascinated by our style of homes.
Note 4 - European Hours Directive? Only joking
Note 5 - You hear a lot of self-flagellation about how terrible we are. Most of the Eastern Europeans I know are very positive about most English people they meet.
11 October 2006
I note the arrival of a keen Conservative going by the name of Istanbultory, who as you may have guessed is a Tory based in Turkey. As I don't know how long I'll be in Prague for, seeing this name snapped up filled me with a very mild panic. When I move on from Prague, I'd like to keep a somewhat memorable handle and hopefully one with a link to my current name. I was thinking of Transitory if I was of no fixed abode. Paristory sounds OK but I might need to change the brand if I move to the Slovak capital of Bratislava (try it). Maybe I'd go for perfunctory.
1. Done merely to carry out a duty; performed mechanically or routinely.
2. Lacking interest, care, or enthusiasm; indifferent.
What would you choose if you decided to use the "tory" brand?
Istanbultory has started a blog. First impressions are highly favourable. Go here to check it out.
I previously blogged about attending a Conference Fringe event on how to get an electoral swing.
In the aftermath of the 2005 election, the Conservative Party commissioned a report to uncover the key factors in getting an electoral swing. The report quantified the electoral impact of when you were selected (earlier the better), whether the PPC has fought in that seat before (yes that's a positive), the candidate's focus on local issues, the seat's distance from London (in 2005 the bigger swings happened in the South-East), voter targetting strategy etc etc etc. The Fringe event was illuminating and the insights shared in the room should help the PPCs in attendance.
On reflection, the report ignored some very significant but politically incorrect questions.
After all, the Conservative Party under Cameron is doing everything short of quotas to ensure that the "party reflects the country at large". In practice that means you are 4 times more likely to get on the A list if you're a woman than a man and that we are taking special steps to find a spot for characters such as Rehman Chisti (I think I'm on fairly safe ground to say he wouldn't have made the list if he were white). Also, whatever the rights and wrongs of the Local Association's actions, openly gay candidate Ashley Crossley managed to take the Tories from 2nd to 3rd in Falmouth & Cambourne whilst Julia Goldsworthy leapfrogged Labour and us to take the Libs from 3rd to 1st - and Iain Dale didn't do any better in North Norfolk.
Maybe my instinct is wrong or I am ignoring some resounding successes by identifiable minorities. If so, tell me, but a report into what candidates were successful should at least consider the factors that are then given preferential treatment, shouldn't it? Personally, I don't think that the "A-List" issue will be a dealbreaker, but for this Tory winning the next election is more important than hitting diversity targets. Should we fall just short at the next election and we have a few high-profile A-list failures I won't be the only person unforgiving of our leadership's failure to run a meritocracy.
10 October 2006
Pavel Bem, the ODS mayor of Prague has suggested that a national referendum should be held in the Spring to decide whether Prague competes for the 2016 Olympics. Realistically a Prague 2016 bid would be a test run for a serious attempt in 2020 or beyond and I realise that the Olympics in Prague would be a much bigger commitment relative to the country's economy, but I do think it's nice to ask the people about prestige projects such as this. We could have done with such consultation in the UK re 2012.
Historically, the cities that benefit most economically from staging an Olympics are ones that need to be put on the map - e.g. Barcelona, Sydney and Atlanta. The main contenders for 2012 - Paris, New York and London are not such cities. I think the British public should have been consulted about this diversion of resources and I don't think we will win economically from this project. On the other hand, I think that Prague has much to gain by staging an event such as this especially if out-of-town locations are well used.
09 October 2006
I thought I would run a little series with more of a local feel.
Words can be powerful. This may surprise some people, but there are English words that are used in the Czech Republic, but very little elsewhere. The first in this series is the word tunnelling. Wiki-ed here. My understanding of it is the stripping out of company assets by company managers for personal gain. The word tunnelling refers to the situation where on the outside all appears fine, but when you dig deeper you realise that there is nothing there.
The term has encouraged an assumption of corruption when overseas investors look at company accounts in these markets and I think the crystallisation of this word says a lot about post-Soviet times. On the other hand the use of this word has served as an excellent shorthand in the fight against corporate malpractice.
08 October 2006
In most countries the following words from a top judge would result in drastic remedial action. In the UK, it's all part of managing a crisis. Whereas your average citizen is thinking why aren't more criminals apprehended and put in jail, a top Labour supporter (who happens to be a judge) questions why certain inmates are in jail. Isn't it incredible that this announcement coincides with emergency measures to reduce prison overcrowding?
Two important extracts struck me from this understated BBC article
1. A risk of more drug abuse and absconds had been "accepted as inevitable" by Mr Reid.
2. Emergency measures to reduce prison overcrowding will not expose the public to more dangerous criminals, Attorney General Lord Goldsmith has promised.
Explain to me how having more drug addicts in the prison system and more "unauthorised absences" cannot expose the public to more dangerous criminals. This isn't an overnight crisis. We've been "approaching" the 80,000 system full figure for what seems like an age. Bearing in mind that we are talking to abolitionists, allow me to turn up the volume - BUILD MORE PRISONS.
As an expat, to be entitled to vote in the UK, you must have been registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years. I lived out of the UK between 2001 and 2003, but because I returned to the UK in 2003 my electoral clock was reset. I returned to Prague in August this year and so if I remain out of the UK I won’t lose my right to vote until August 2021. Although nobody can be sure of the numbers, it is estimated that there are at least 2.5million UK citizens living overseas who are entitled to vote. I am likely to return to the UK in the future, but even those who have no plans to return are likely to be affected by legislation especially in relation to UK foreign policy, taxation of UK assets and pension and other entitlements and do deserve to retain their electoral stake in society.
It is shocking that of this overseas population, just 17,500 (!) - less than 1% are registered to vote. When the Electoral Commission records turnout, it is based on registered voters not registrable voters. As they are a state body, I imagine it is probable that they are probably focused on turnout percentages, not registration numbers. The suspicion that they are uninterested in overseas voters is confirmed by the fact that in 2005 they spent just £9,000 on targeting the expat vote (and £705,000 on advertising focused on 18 to 24 year olds). The Conservative Party has undertaken initiatives to try to get overseas voters signed up - I understand that when they took an advertisement out in the overseas edition of the Daily Telegraph, they were overwhelmed with responses. This reveals a large appetite amongst overseas voters to remain involved. Private sector organisations based overseas are reluctant to be seen to be meddling in the democratic process. What is less understandable is the lack of interest from the MoD and the Foreign Office to assist their employees who are based overseas with exercising their democratic rights.
07 October 2006
See previous post titled Land Value Tax 1 - Where's My Acre?
At a Tory fringe meeting a Northern activist stood up and said “I’m 31, I can’t afford to get married, buy a house or start a pension, what are you doing for me?” The reply was most dissatisfying. Build more houses. The response is trite and what Labour have been saying and failing to deliver on for years.
Let’s look at the usual methods of addressing the housing crisis. They don’t work and in the case of one and two are very expensive to the taxpayer.
1. Shared equity/key workers – this state subsidy merely drives house prices up for those who aren’t lucky enough to be in these groups. This is inequitable and burns public money. If key workers can’t afford to live in a location, pay them more or move the location.
2. Public housing program – traditionally pumps poor quality housing at the bottom end of the stock. Crowds out private investment in housing. V expensive and often creates sink estates.
3. Loosen planning regs - I’ll be the first to recognize the weaknesses and over-regulation in the UK planning system, but short-circuiting these procedures is not going to lead to a sufficient increase in the supply of suitable housing
If you want to radically improve the quality and quantity of housing in the UK I suggest land value tax. My vision would be to phase out tax on built property (i.e. rates and council tax) and move towards LVT. Patterns of land ownership massively influences access to housing and land on which housing can be built. Take a look at this report into private land ownership in Scotland and you have an explanation in a nutshell for why Scotland’s population has been falling. Private owners and speculators can happily sit on unproductive land with little or no cost. Phased in LVT would cause land owners to question their ownership and naturally divest ownership. This would dilute ownership patterns allowing more land for housing to become available. Also, as house ownership itself is taxed less, you'll get more of it. I make no apologies for calling this a panacea. Next post will be on the how to introduce LVT. What do you think?
Pardon the self-indulgence, but I am having a bit of a public review of this blog.
I've been running MyBlogLog for almost a month as have a lot of other political bloggers. It's the only tool I use to see where people have come from, what they have viewed and what links they click.
Here are the top 10 sites from which people have visited in the last month. A few surprises in there, I think.
Looking for a Voice - mine?
Iain Dale - you're not giving me enough traffic!
Pakman - he linked in to this joke.
The Daily Pundit - TDP has kindly linked to me in his posts several times
Chris Black - a decent Lib Dem.
A Very British Dude - we were adjacent in Iain Dale's top 100 Conservative bloggers list
Google "praguetory" or "prague tory" are also v popular ways of coming to this site as is the website www.expats.cz where I post under a different name.
Here are the top 10 external sites that people clicked in the last month(these figures are probably significantly skewed by my clicking)
Iain Dale (279 clicks!!! - I'm certain that those aren't all me)
The Notorious Bob Piper
Impact Of Political Blogging On Me
- Met lots of right-wingers with whom I agree
- Met lots of right-wingers with whom I disagree
- Improved my pub political argument skills
- More impatient with Labour and Labour supporters
- Moved from being Euro-Scizophrenic to Euro-Sceptic
- Becoming a more libertarian and a more socially conscious Tory
- Involvement in successful political campaigns (ReinstateRoger) and embryonic ones (Prison Works)
- Less time for other stuff
Future Short-Term Plans For The Blog
- Keep blogging at a rate of 1 a day
- Improve design, colours, features and formatting - probably through Mike Rouse.
- Ask a few of my regular visitors who don't, to link to me.
- Get more expats in Prague aware of the site.
- Focus on two political projects - Conservatives Abroad in Prague and Prison Works. Turn down getting involved in other stuff.
- Try to be nicer to Labour bloggers
Happy to have 30 to 50 readers a day with the occasional upward blip. Please provide me with any comments or suggestions to the above.
05 October 2006
OK, OK I admit it. The posting below is a wind-up. I was just waiting until I got 10 comments before owning up. Thanks to Bob Piper and Peter Smallbone for the back up. In reality, I am delighted to have O'Neill who is the finest British manager on the circuit at present (yes, better than Ferguson). Us football fans are always accused of being negative and I admit it was a relief to get rid of O'Leary. O'Neill can stay for as long as he likes.
For any Villa fan the Premiership table makes depressing reading. Villa lie sixth only ahead of newcomers Reading on goal difference. Just as worrying is Villa's failure to win away from home. Time will tell whether manager Martin O'Neill's statement "I can't do anything about expectations, but eventually we will find our level" will alleviate the pressure he is under to move Villa up the table.
Villa fans are known for their patience, but it must be an onimous sign that new owner Randy Lerner has given O'Neill the dreaded vote of confidence. Lerner said "Martin O'Neill has got the record and the history..." but this praise for O Neill's previous record came with a thinly-veiled warning. "I want to focus on Martin now. Even although I am just getting to know him Martin is great."
When O'Neill was appointed, I wasn't the only fan to express my concern over his managerial style which oscillates from manic to grouchy and the fact that he had been away from the coalface for an extended period, but I was willing to give him a chance. Seeing Birmingham City doing so well just adds salt in the wound. Personally, I'm prepared to give him until Christmas to turn our season around. Here's a picture from happier times.
I like elected sheriffs and more importantly so does David Davis. What about the nuts and bolts?
How often should elections take place?
How many candidates should be put to the public?
Are there any minimum requirements (e.g. seniority in Police Service) before candidates can stand?
Will this mean an end to national pay bargaining? It should.
How should their campaigns be funded?
Crime stats will become even more politically important. Who will monitor the accuracy of them?
04 October 2006
I'm back in Prague after about four hours sleep last night - I'll review my thoughts whilst it's fresh - I may well feel differently with more hindsight.
The party was in a buoyant and positive mood. Very confident. In Tory eyes we have won all the major political arguments and events at home and abroad continue to reinforce our key beliefs. The power of the Internet was evident as there were discernable campaigns being orchestrated here and there - but that's politics - the point I am making is that it is easier than ever to find like-minded souls in the party and work together to shape things. One slightly discordant note was a feeling that the issues that matter in the North are being sidelined for a Notting Hill agenda. We made no progress from 2001 to 2005 in places like West Yorkshire - this conference is unlikely to have an impact in these areas. We need to listen to these communities if we are going to give ourselves a shout.
THE MAIN STAGE
It was manifest early on that the Main Hall was carefully choreographed. It was about mood music, bashing Labour, clarifying our new direction and not a little branding rather than setting out policy. It didn't take long to read those runes. Also, the speeches were so well trailed you barely needed to see them. Saying that, I'm glad I was there for the Davis, Hague and McCain speeches on the first day. I didn't miss much by not seeing DC today did I?
FRINGES - POLICY DEVELOPMENT
I was more hungry to see what policies are developing by visiting the fringes.
NB - The most boring fringe event that I attended was Osbourne's cautious interview and Q&A with Sieghart. Too many media and they got their scoop anyway. In that event, a UKIP infiltrator was another incident as was the Ed Balls Conservative membership revelation, which went down well enough for George to use it in his conference speech two days later.
More interesting/wonkish were the fringe events around education, criminal justice, social justice and "Modern Compassionate Conservatism" which encompassed all of the above. There are a lot of deep thinkers both within and outside the party who are engaged in excellent research in all these areas and I gained great confidence that the policies that we will be presenting over the next few years will contrast very positively with Labour's knee-jerk approach and incompetent delivery of policy since 1997. The types of organisations that are receptive to our new, but still Tory way of thinking might surprise a lot of people.
Lots of names to faces in the blogging world. Also, heard on the grapevine about another active Tory coming out to Prague. Hurrah.
I needed to leave for a flight early on Wednesday - here's what happened on Tuesday my last full day.
Went to a breakfast do with David Davis and other notables including the Head of The Bar Council. Davis is 100% behind elected Commissioners. Finally met Mike Rouse from Blue Torch Solutions. Finally, the blogging stand appeared to be working like a clinic. Met the Conservative Abroad guys to knock a few ideas about. More later. Met up with a few friends who had finally got into the Conference and went for a coffee!!!
Watched Osbourne's speech and meet the Candidates on the main stage. Ali Miraj destroyed the panel and won over a vocal section of the audience including me. Some incoherent ideas and terrible presentation skills from the women (eeek!) and George wasn't much better. Without any coercion on my part, the two young ladies I met later on yesterday were disparaging about the A-list tokenism and concerned by the poor quality of the A-list women who had been on stage ("worse than Blair's Babes" were the exact words).
Went to a great fringe on campaigning hosted by the effervescent Grant Shapps. Just the man we need to be in charge of our by-election strategy. It was great to see so many PPCs and A-listers attend the meeting. I went along with Bobby Alden who got a 50% swing to become Birmingham's youngest Tory councillor by working like a dervish and going ultra-local. I don't think he'll mind me quoting him as saying that he thinks that Sion Simon (who is the constituency MP in his area) is one of the most unpopular MPs around.
We ended up in a restaurant in an old church where I found myself next to the only non-blogger member of the successful Reinstate Roger campaign which I supported. I'd bumped into Roger earlier in the day, who kindly told me about an upcoming event in Prague and gave me one of his DVDs, which I will get around to watching soon. Next was an event in the Royal Bath for an event called Absolutely Equal organised by Stonewall and CRE. More skewed towards Somerville than Snoop though. I tried to explain that there are a few straight nightclubs in Prague that play the same sort of stuff, but I think it went over people's heads.
For some unknown reason I then found myself drinking in the packed-out Highcliff Hotel until 4.30 in the morning. Spent quite a bit of time chatting and having a laugh with amongst others Trevor Ivory, Matt Dean and a few Birmingham Tories. Last MPs spotted were Peter Ainsworth (who looks like a Dr Who) and Grant Shapps again. James Cleverly was making up for lost time.
The Boris thing re the school dinners is funny. Why don't the media get that the Tories stand for freedom of ideas and speech? I think that if I had to judge the media purely on their coverage of this conference I'd think they are a bunch of idiots...
03 October 2006
I feel like I've almost achieved what I set out to do this Conference.
Yesterday's CA AGM was great fun. There were representatives from New York (who will be establishing a branch there), Washington, Spain, Malta, France, Switzerland, Czech Republic and most impressively Australia. We were given the facts on overseas voter registration. There are 2.5m UK voters living overseas. 17,500 of these (less than 1%) are registered to vote - undoubtedly even less actually vote. CA should exist to get more people registered and we discussed a few ideas. I'm meeting the members from Washington, Australian and Switzerland today at 11. It's fair to see that CA members are more right-wing than today's Tories from what I can gather.
I have met many bloggers. Unfortunately, not as many as I had hoped because of the problems with passes which have left the likes of Trevor Ivory outside of the main conference (STOP PRESS - he has his pass at 7.40 last night). I was hoping the blogging stand might be something like a clinic. Instead, the blogging stand seems to be somewhere where Iain meets, greets and blogs.
Had a few drinks with them, but haven't met the leader (Whitby). Oh well.
Anyway, off to see DD for a breakfast session.
02 October 2006
First fringe event of the day was all about education titled "New thinking on the curriculum". The panel was the Shadow Schools Minister Nick Gibb and Martin Johnson representing from the Association of Teachers & Lecturers (ATL) who are apparently relatively friendly to the Tories. The subject of the debate was the contents of the national curriculum. Martin Johnson seemed like quite a nice guy and was arguing that the curriculum should focus on skills rather than knowledge, but that it should be broad in terms of taking into account the psychological, emotional and morale aspects.
I agreed with Nick Gibb's view that the curriculum should include knowledge as well as skills and was happy to hear that he rejected the extraneous stuff and is in favour of setting/streaming and evidence based policy.
As previously blogged I think the levels of literacy is a national disgrace. I asked a question to the panel about the root cause for this and the one thing they would do. Nick agreed things were poor and suggested the use of phonics, which I agree with. Astonishingly, Martin answered by disputing the assumptions in my question stating that we were doing well in international terms. He thought we were doing well internationally - I kicked straight back and there was something of an uproar in the audience. He then babbled on for a bit - in other words he lost it. I had many people coming up to me afterwards complimenting me on my question.
Another astonishing comment from the panel was that the requirement for IT teachers/skills was a passing fad.
01 October 2006
David Cameron is on the front of the Economist this week and they lead with the article "Who is David Cameron?" with the baffling sub-headline "What the Conservatives' bright new hope can learn from Gordon Brown"
The article offers no new insights and it's a pretty trivial article, but I have to take issue with the three things the Economist counsels that he "needs" to do.
I set out their "recommendations" in order of ridiculousness
1 Ditch the pledge to leave the centre-right EPP altogether in order not to lose influence in Europe. This would be a wholly inconsistent and unprincipled stance. We have a great opportunity to lead the way in Europe by creating a non-federalist grouping in 2009. If Cameron wants a real schism in the party, he should take the Economist's advice here.
2 Follow up on his intention of making his party look as though it represents modern Britain by pushing through organisational changes and tightening his grip on how the chooses its Parliamentary candidates. Rightly or wrongly, I perceive Cameron to be less authoritarian than Howard - and I like that. When it comes to running the country he correctly espouses localism and decentralisation which I think is a powerful contrast to Labour. Why should he run roughshod over local members re candidate selection? I don't think any tightening of the grip is required, thanks. The foot-soldiers are already restless.
3 Hand the job of delivering public services to providers from the private or voluntary sector. We're Tories. We will always look at these type of initiatives on a case-by-case basis. We don't "need" to do this. We've always done it.
I used to subscribe the Economist. It won't take many more deadhead leading articles for this rag to be taken off the menu.
The first in a series about land value tax. I would like to see a shift of emphasis from property taxes to land taxes.
This question "where's my acre" is a little facetious but given that the population density of the UK is 244 per square km and there are about 247 acres in a square kilometre it is a reasonable rhetorical question. I am told the series Jon Snow did with his son on land ownership in the UK was great viewing. It demonstrated how land ownership in the UK is concentrated into a very small number of hands.
Not unconnected is that the average size of a new house in the UK is nearly a third (30%) smaller than a pre-1920s' dwelling, and has continued shrinking over the decades and is near the bottom of the EU league.
Retail analysts Verdict, has discovered that the average area for a modern medium semi detached house is currently 88m2, compared to an average 120 m2 for its pre 1920s' equivalent. Across all housing types, the current average is actually down to 83m2. Research shows overcrowded living conditions are independently correlated with poor educational achievement and other ills. Socialist ideas to solve this problem seem to be based around regulations and standards. In my opinion all that achieves is more red tape leading to less new housing which only compounds the problem. A root cause of the problem is that land is barely taxed (meaning speculators and indeed the public sector can sit on land and not use it productively at next to no cost to them) whereas residential properties are heavily taxed in the form of council tax, stamp duty etc causing a disincentive to build residential property. Your thoughts?
Quizzage - There is a successful and fast-growing economy where land tax is the major source of income. Can you name the place? Here's a clue, showing two fingers to the ordinary license fee payer the BBC is renting an island there?