Monday, February 28, 2005

No Tory revival?

Rather strangely despite the Tories' storming run in the opinion polls over at Sporting Index the forecast Tory seats in the General Election are lower than they were in 2003...

17/10/2003 219
27/6/2003 203
12/11/2003 223
Today 197

Update: [The polls don't really explain this lack of faith among the spread-betters] On some Michael Howard is indeed still doing worse in the polls than IDS, but on most he is doing slightly better. Taking the average of the two months' polls before Howard took over Sep/Oct 2003 and the latest two months' Jan/Feb then YouGov have the Tories going from 33% to 32.5%, while Mori have them going from 35% to 34.5% [correction - Mori actually had them on 33% in Sep/Oct (IDS had a shocking 31% poll which hastened the end of his run IIRC), so Howard is up 1.5% with these polls]. Labour have gained 2.5% and 1.5% respectively.

One explanation would be that the spread-betters in 2003 expected the Tory revival to be stronger than it has. Another would be that they don't know what they are talking about.

US Congressman suggets nuking Syria

Twice.

Ok, it's not a great deal worse than Stephen Pollard's call for the invasion of Spain (Syria is I suppose at least not an ally). But Pollard is just a journalist/blogger, whereas this man is US Congressman.

Why won't he tell us?

Despite better budgetary news Oliver Letwin continues to argue that there is an £11bn 'black hole' in the public finances which both Labour and the Liberal Democrats will have to raise taxes fill, but remarkably the Tories won't.

"Since the Institute for Fiscal Studies says Labour's black hole would be £11 billion, meaning a tax hike of £1,000 a year for a typical working couple, we challenge the Lib Dems to answer the same question we have repeatedly asked Mr Blair: which taxes would they raise?"


Let's say it again. The £11bn 'black hole' applies equally to the Conservatives' plans. Those plans were to reduce spending by £12bn in order to fund £8bn of deficit reduction and £4bn of tax cuts. To get to the deficit (£16bn) which they believe is prudent they will now need to find £23bn of spending cuts or tax increases: in other words taxes will have to rise by £11bn. If they accept a larger deficit then taxes will need to rise less, but there is no way in which they can marry their intentions to cut the deficit with a tax cut, while believing that Labour & the Lib Dems need to find £11bn.

The only conclusion (I have asked Howard & Letwin twice for an explanation, but none is forthcoming) is that Oliver Letwin now believes there is more chance of Vincent Cable being Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2005/2006 than himself.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Say it ain't so!

Party leader accused of 'playing politics'

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Christian extremism

Nick Barlow goes where the rest of us fear to tread, and gets the goods on the unpleasant Christian Voice. The link Nick drags up to an article about gay Policemand (and citizens) is one of the most repulsive political tracts I have seen in British politics.

Will the Right say a vote for the Conservatives a vote for Al Qaeda?

The news that the Police believe London could be an Al Qaeda target during the forthcoming election is not much of a surprise. Nevertheless we must think about the consequences if there was an attack.

If it took place before the election, then it will be nice to know if those in Britain who said that the Spanish had given in to terrorism by voting against a government that had failed to protect them against terrorism, will follow the same logic in Britain. If anything there is a stronger case in Britain than in Spain given the Conservative Party's recent actions.

In the meantime let's recall what some of our American cousins had to say after the Spanish election:

"Go ahead, appease the Islamofascistibabykillermotherfuckers. Bow your heads to god their way, cover your women in black sacking, kill your gays. Forbid Jews to hold good jobs, make them wear yellow stars – you know the drill. As the Great Cthulhu says, “You will be devoured last! Yum!” But at least you’ll have shown up those Yankee imperialists! And that’s what counts, isn’t it?"

"Spain is now ruled from a tiny cave somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan, and her rulers will be encouraged to see how many other countries they can take over.” Yup. Even if the “real” reason for the change of governments was some weaselly non-important matter like health care or whatever it is the socialists over there think is worth a few bombs going off every now and then, the terrorists will think they’ve caused this, and they will respond accordingly. "

"I wouldn't put England in the list [of countries who 'get it']. They just went along to Iraq so they could slow us down. They'll jump ship at first opportunity"

"France is discovering the ugly truth about this culture: it is, well, ugly. This culture doesn't believe in freedom of speech (except for themselves.) It doesn't believe in living in peace. It doesn't believe in human rights (except their own.) It is a backward
anachronism that makes Medieval Western Culture appear civilized by comparison."

"What happened in Spain’s election was almost enough to make one feel nostalgic for General Franco (who is, unfortunately, still dead). "

Stopped clocks...

One of Britain's most pro-Monarchy newspapers calls the fiasco 'a national humilation':

Could it possibly get worse? We have a future Supreme Governor of the Church of England who can't get married in Church. We have a bride he dare not publicly describe as his future Queen. We have a ceremony validated by an Act he thinks dangerous. We have dissension in the Royal Family and platoons of courtiers who plainly couldn't run a raffle. And the whole world is snickering at this Ruritanian charade. What might have been an occasion for celebration - or at least acceptance - is turning into a national humiliation. Republicans must be loving every minute.

Say it ain't so!

"Here you have a man who takes drugs and gets locked up - yet ends up on the front pages," said Mr Howard.

The strange thing about this outburst, thankfully said at a press conference rather than in a letter to the British people, is that Howard clearly hasn't read any of the coverage of Doherty's misdemeanours. If he had I'm not sure he would have thought the coverage was in anyway positive.

THe reason all the coverage started, and the only time it was generally positive was not due to his imprisonment or his drug-taking, but to Doherty's dating Kate Moss. There indeed might be a poor role model for your children, but I don't think even Michael Howard is going to get the tabloids to leave her off their front pages.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Charles and Camilla follow Michael Howard

If the fiasco over their wedding was getting them down there is some consolation for Prince Charles and is fiancee -- they have been banned from the White House. This follows Michael Howard's banning in August 2004.

Howard's unflinching refusal to be cowed by the ban appears to have worked wonders -- the Mirror reports that Karl Rove, whose idea was the ban, was forced into an embarassing backtrack and has even offered to help Howard in the election campaign. Imagine what Tony Blair could have achieved if he had shown similar spine!

Social security

Excellent article on social security, the budget and demographics by Paul Krguman in the NYRB.

They do it to themselves, they do

So currently Charles is marrying Camilla in Windsor Town Hall. It's quite possibly illegal. But it doesn't matter as no-one important will be there to notice. His sons won't be his best men, and he's not going to have a best man. His mother and father can't be bothered to attend even though it's only about 500m away from their house.

This is not the Royal Family's finest hour. Chris Brooke and I had a discussion earlier this year on which tactics were best to rid us of these silly people - I preferred the ridicule method, whereas he took both sides of the argument (as Oxford academics are obliged to do) before finally disagreeing and saying that the constitutional disgrace should be the catalyst.

What we both forgot is if they're hell-bent on destroying themselves it's not really going to be up to us. The decision by the Queen and her husband not to attend her own son's wedding is so silly it must have hastened the day Britain becomes a Republic by about ten years. The decision can only be seen as a snub to Charles, a snub to the country (the man is the heir to the throne), and a vindication of those of us who have mocked the thought so beloved of Monarchists that the Queen has 'never put a foot wrong' and that she gives two hoots about the country or her subjects.

Will Charles ever become King? Surely not.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The end of local government?

To end the fiasco of the poll tax Norman Lamont in 1991 raised VAT to 17.5% in order to cut the average bill. It worked, but one consequence was the proportion of local government funding coming from central government leapt.

Michael Howard yesterday announced a plan that will have a similar impact. He intends to cut public spending by £12bn, spending £8bn of the savings on cutting the budget deficit and £4bn on tax cuts. Of the tax cuts he intends to cut £1.3bn from pensioners' council tax bills, presumably making up the deficit to council spending by increased central government spending. The discount will average around £250 per pension, with a a maximum of £500.

Some of the details aren't so clear. What for instance does this bit mean?

The tax cut will benefit households where one or more occupants is over 65, but where no adult is under 65.


The other policy it reminds one of is the Governmen't free TV licences and Winter fuel allowance. The money will be given to all pensioners, regardless of income.

So is it a good idea? It's a very expensive one in that a lot of the money will go to very rich pensioners, though the £500 cut-off will have an impact. For example, the Queen presumably will get at least £500 from the government. It's also not very comprehensive -- there are 11m pensioners in Britain, but only 5m appear to benefit. It also further removes any link between council spending and local taxation.

On the other hand Howard is right that means-testing does not work very well and the policy is clearly electorally attractive.

The real problem of course is the one that no Conservative can answer. On their own figures they will need to raise taxes by £11bn, not cut them by £4bn. So on their own figures this is an empty and thus cynical policy.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Bad maths

When the Loopy Right launched into one of their periodic foaming-at-the-mouth moments about comments made by Rod Liddle in the Guardian on the Countryside Alliance they showed both a typical lack of proportionality and bundles of political stupidity. For Liddle was probably the most right-wing Editor of the Today programme possible given the requirement of impartiality.

His Sunday Times column yesterday, "Things I shouldn't say about black people" is probably best left to fester in its own idiocy. Nevertheless it's amusing to note how it begins,

For example, did you know that black and Asian women commit far more crime than their white counterparts? Almost one third of the total female British prison population is drawn from black and Asian communities.


Because one-third is obviously far more than two-thirds. No, hang on, it's not is it?

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Tories spending plans do not add up

In one of his weird letters to the British people in today's Sunday Telegraph, Conservative leader Michael Howard says that he is going to increase pensions, and that all the Tories' proposals are 'costed'.

This is simply not true. As I noted in this post the Conservatives spending and taxation plans do not add up.

To explain again, they have told us they a) intend to cut borrowing to £16bn in 2006/2007, b) they intend to cut £35bn of Labour spending and have £23bn of new spending and c) reduce taxes by £4bn.

They have also told us that they believe borrowing will be £39bn in 2006/2007, not the £25bn the Treasury estimates (they are so confident of this they are calling on Labour to say which taxes it plans to raise).

Thus a) will cost £23bn, b) will save £12bn, and c) will cost £4bn. Overall then there is a gap of £15bn.

As I asked last time if anyone, Conservatives or not, can see a flaw in this reasoning and can back up Michael Howard's claims then I'd love to hear it. I emailed Oliver Letwin, but he has not replied.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

They should marry in Windsor Castler

Reading this Times' story about the shambolic arrangements for the Prince of Wales' wedding to Camilla Shand made me wince. It appears that the wedding will have to be moved from Windsor Castle to Windsor Guildhall because a marriage licence runs for three years, and thus for the next three years any old person could apply to get married within the castle walls.

The problem is the new arrangements are set to cost council taxpayers vast amounts on security. It's not just that the Royals will be there, but also the Prime Minister and other world figures.

Clearly there is something to be said for the rules. Weddings are public events, to be held in public, with the public admitted. The Royal Family have a reputation for believing that laws are for 'little people', which is deserved, and it is right that they do everything to try to modify it.

But, as Michael Howard might say, it is time for some Common Sense. The people of Windsor, Monarchistic lickspittles that most of them are, shouldn't have to pay for this. A special exemption should be made for Windsor Castle for one day. It might, and hopefully will, make both the Royal Family and the Church of England seem greater figures of fun than ever. Yet that is now essentially both institutions role in our nation's life, and we should applaud any efforts to let them play that role which will save the taxpayer money.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Joyous News

The news that the Prince of the Wales has finally asked Camilla Shand, his girlfriend for nearly 30 years, to be his wife is a cause for rejoicing across the Kingdom. We can only wish them a long and happy marriage, and regret that the Prince felt overly constrained by 'public opinion' and unable to make her our Queen.

Oh, they were good sausages.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Polls

Meanwhile Anthony has some interesting stuff.

Peter Kellner has made his first general election prediction, suggesting that Labour's majority will be slashed., but to a still-comfortable 86.

Also Populus's poll for the first time shows a majority might support the EU constitution, with 36% saying Yes, 29% No, and 30% that they won't vote. This poll was the one that showed Labour on 41%, so should probably be taken with some caution.

Nevertheless most of the polls have shown support for the EU constitution is not as small as many thought, and one would expect a re-elected government would win the day.

More Totten

For those who haven't yet read Michael Totten's wonderful meeting with Christopher Hitchens, go and do so. In the meantime let's have some more quotes. Here's Totten, with his view on small terrier puppies, sorry I mean Iraqis:

"I respected them more, too, because they stood up to me and Christopher Hitchens. They are not servile people. They will never, ever, be anyone’s puppets. They are gentle and decent, and at the same time fierce and formidable. You really do not want to mess with them. And they’re great to have on your side"

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Stupid, stupid, stupid

While commenting on Harry's Place I refound this wonderful example of historical ignorance from Melanie Phillips. I would suggest Churchill would be turning in his grave, but is Melanie Phillips even aware he is dead?

The similarities between these arguments and those mounted in the 1930s, by people who did not grasp the threat posed by Nazi Germany and thought 'jaw-jaw' was better than 'war-war', are uncanny. These are indeed the all too familiar weasel words of appeasement.

C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la politique

I've said on many occasions that the most impressive thing about Michael Howard's short leadership of the Conservative Party has been his willingness to take on powerful enemies even at considerable cost to his and his party's chance of winning the next election.

Last year his forensic skewering of the government's policy in Iraq got him banned from the White House. Now he's taken on Rupert Murdoch and the Murdoch Press, by issuing a libel suit against Murdoch's The Times over allegations that the Tories' election guru said they couldn't win the next election.

I have nothing but praise for this action. Let's hope his next target is the Sun.

Monday, February 07, 2005

In the corridors of Power

Via Gene, a conversation between Michael Totten and Christopher Hitchens:

“Like I said, Christopher,” I told him. “You can’t afford to be unplugged from the blogosphere."

“Angel,” he said. “Can I call you angel?”

“Of course,” I said.

“I want to exploit your knowledge of blogs,” he said


ps Incidentally the only other time I've heard anything by Michael Totten was when he described the IRA as "Old school terrorists" (compared with Al Qaeda's "new school"), whose campaign of murder was "pipsqueak of a bomb in a trashcan at the mall". Not much of an Angel, really.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Blogroll Changes

Anthony Wells has moved his excellent site to a new address, where it will focus more on the polls and less on swivel-eyed loons (rather ironically the same week he did this we now have more swivel-eyed loons than ever). Thus this seemed a good idea to make a few blogroll changes. In the spirit of the times they were cuts, of Calpundit and Matt Yglesias. I would like to stress that they are both excellent sites, it's just that -- whisper it softly -- I can't really find much interest in American politics outside of elections or wars.

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Senate of Lilliput

For anyone interested in 1980s British politics I can highly recommend Edward Pearce's "The Senate Of Lilliput", available second-hand from Amazon here.
In it Pearce gives an acerbic view of politicians from both sides of the House in wonderful detail. I'll gives some quotes from the book in the next few days.

A modest proposal for the UN

My recent trip to New York gave me an idea of how we can modernise and make relevant the United Nations for the forthcoming millennium. Clearly the institution plays very little role in preventing wars, or even fostering dialogue between nations. And by and large its large-scale humanitarian programmes are hit & miss.

Thus something more modest is required. I suggest it decides whether businesses can refer to things as 'world famous'. It's a worldwide problem, for example there is a sign just by my house which says 'Welcome to the world-famous Portobello Market'. But America appears to have taken it to the extreme, with everything world-famous. For example world-famous cheesecake, or world famous Maine lobster roll. Here there is even a world-famous 'talking bear'.

I expect, like me, you haven't heard of any of these things. But that's not to say no-one has heard of them. So put simply, the UN General Assembly could spend it's days voting on various products that are put up for discussion. If half of the General Assembly had heard of the product, then it can be termed 'World Famous'. You could also have sub-categories such as 'American Famous', or 'European Famous'.


Objections can be dealt with easily. Libertarians could be squared by making it voluntary. Companies who had a 'world-famous' product that didn't have the UN logo next to it would be shunned by the market. The vote could be weighted by population, or income, if it was thought more representative.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Which taxes will Oliver Letwin raise?

The Conservative Party announced its spending plans in mid January and I commented on them here.

The plans were as follows. Compared to Labour's forecasts, they were going to scrap £35bn of wasteful spending, spend £23bn of good spending, then reduce borrowing by £8bn, leaving £4bn of tax cuts.

Unfortunately, according to the Conservatives, Labour's forecasts are wrong. Indeed they accept the IFS's analysis, which says government borrowing will be £39bn in 2007/2008, not the £24bn the Treasury says.

So we know three things. One that the Conservatives thought that the government's borrowing in 2006/2007 was £8bn too high for comfort, two that they now believe borrowing will be £15bn higher than even that figure, and three that they would rather cut borrowing to their preferred figure before tax cuts.

So the only logical conclusion is that the Conservatives will have to scrap their tax cut in order to cut borrowing further. Indeed they will have to raise taxes by £11bn to bring the deficit back to their preferred level. Or they will have to cut their spending plans by a further £15bn.

If anyone can see any flaws in this analysis I'd be pleased to hear it. Otherwise I think Oliver Letwin should own up to whether he is going to raise taxes by £11bn rather than cutting them by £4bn, or he is going to cut spending by £27bn rather than £12bn, or something in between.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

When laws collide...

I'm now going to combine truth, immigration and a Tony Martin law in one post. Kilroy has launched his new party, the amusingly titled Veritas, with a direct appeal against 'mass immigration':

Mr Kilroy-Silk, who recently quit the UK Independence Party,said "our country" was being "stolen from us" by mass immigration.


I think it's pretty safe to assume that Veritas will be supporting one of the more extreme versions of the Tony Martin law, which raises the interesting question on whether in a Veritas world 'British' citizens like myself will be allowed to shoot dead immigrants on the suspicion that they are stealing our country from us.

Asylum and Immigration

Immigration is considered by most commentators a major concern of many voters, and opinion polls -- by and large -- tend to support that view. A YouGov poll found that 74% of voters believe too many immigrants were coming to the country.

Or do they? Digging a little deeper 52% said that it was because there were too may asylum seekers, while only 7% thought it was because too many work-related immigrants were coming in.

This is an important finding as it allows us to estimate what levels people are comfortable with. Take 2003, the last year for which full year figures exist. In that year there were about 120,000 immigrants allowed to enter for work reasons, and only 49,405 asylum applications made. Indeed this year asylum applications are likely to be less than in 1995, when Michael Howard was the Home Secretary (see chart -- 2004 based on simple scale-up of three quarters worth of data).



Furthermore as the Conservatives like to remind us, most of these applications are rejected. Indeed in 2003 due to backlogs there were actually more rejections than applications. Over the last 10 years those accepted (which is not just asylum but also exceptional leave to appeal and other categories) have average 13,500 a year.

Hence we can safely assume that around 37% of voters (of nearly half of those who believe immigration is too high) believe immigration is too high because around 13,500 people are granted asylum each year. To use the language of MigrationWatch, this is a new Birmingham every 80 years.

On the other hand only 3.5% of Britons believe immigration is too high because there are too many immigrants coming here to work. So we can safely say that most Britons think 120,000 a year -- a new Birmingham ever 8 years -- is not too high. Indeed one presumes many would be happy with a higher figure.

Hopefully Michael Howard, who is the only man committed to telling us the truth (incidentally in this context 'speaking the truth' has a long and inglorious history) on this subject will inform the country of these facts in the coming weeks and months.

Tony Martin Laws Again

Backword Dave makes the astonishing claim that the Daily Telegraph & Conservative party is backing away from their demands for a change in the law on what you can or cannot do to a burglar, based on this article. This leader is perhaps a better indication of their thinking, and it doesn't seem to have changed much since they ditched one backbenchers' bill that would have allowed you to kill anyone in your garden on a mere suspicion that they were going to steal some flowers, for merely not 'grossly disproportionate' force.

The irony is of course that none of these laws would in any case have acquitted pin-up Tony Martin.