Thursday, March 31, 2005

Patience Wheatcroft

David Aaronvitch heads off to a more natural home at the Times, and describes his new colleagues as "gorgeous animals as Matthew Parris, Anatole Kaletsky and Patience Wheatcroft." Will it improve his accuracy?

One fears not. Whatever Patience Wheatcroft may be, it's not good at reading a report correctly. Here's how she describes the IFS's report today:

A cut of 0.2 per cent in disposable income might not feel too painful to the average family* but the real hit is much harder. The Government is only measuring household income but there are some household outgoings over which people have little control and almost all those demands have been rising. Taking account of increases in council tax and utility bills, the average family is finding that the money it can spend in the shops, or on a holiday or a night on the town, is down by very much more than 0.2 per cent.

Here's what the IFS says on p.15 of the report:

Weekly Earnings
Actual £408 (–0.2%)
Before income tax and NI rises £412 (0.7%)
Before income tax, NI and council tax rises £413 (0.9%)

In other words the 0.2% includes council tax payments increases. Without them mean income would be flat.

* It's also nonsense to say the 'average family' saw a 0.2% cut. Those in the bottom four quintiles of the income distribution saw their incomes rise. Only those in the top fifth saw it fall. No-one in the real world would say an 'average' family was to be found in the top fifth.

The difference between a New Lab, old Tory and Thatcher government

To explain these charts quickly. They show for each quintile (fifth) of the population their income growth in % terms over the PMships of (in order) Blair, Major, Thatcher. In other words the income distribution remains reasonably constant over the Blair years (the IFS says income inequality did not increase, a change on its previous findings) with total income growth of 2.3% (mean)/2.5% (median), under Major it improved but growth was only 0.8%/0.8%, and under Thatcher it got considerably worse and growth was 2.1%, 2.8%. One more note - these are percentage changes -- 1% for the bottom quintile in actual money terms is only 1/17th what 1% is for the top.

Mysteries of our Time

Why, on a computer that can do over a billion calculations a second, which is about the speed they used to do nuclear-test simulations in the early 1980s, does it take at least 20 seconds for the 'Circular Reference' dialogue box to appear in Microsoft Excel when you accidentally try to sum a range of cells including the cell with the fomula? And why can the computer not do anything else during this time?

While I'm at it why do some, mainly older, London taxis look as if they have driven into a piece of white plastic, which has thus affixed itself to their radiator in a diamond shape?

And finally, why hasn't the BBC and the Daily Telegraph jointly sacked Andrew Marr for this embarassing piece of drivel? The Telegraph should sack him for the pointlessness of it all, the BBC should sack him because if you have rules preventing your presenters doing political columns outside of the BBC you shouldn't allow them to pretend to be a guinea-pig (I can hardly believe I'm writing it) to let them.

History Today

Average household incomes have fallen for the first time in a decade, says the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS). The IFS says income after tax and benefits fell by 0.2% between 2003 and 2004, due partly to rises in national insurance payments in the 2002 Budget. But the IFS says the incomes of the poorest people in Britain grew between 2003 and 2004, partly because of new, more generous tax credits.

In response, the Treasury described the IFS research as "complete rubbish

In reply Robert Chote, Director of the IFS, told Gordon Brown that he was 'ugly'. Brown countered with an allegation of sexual misconduct against Chote's mother, forcing Chote to remind Brown of his parentage, which was less than satisfactory. More soon...

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Tory tax cuts

Of their £4bn tax ‘cut’ the Conservatives have so far spent £1.7bn on making pensioners a little better off, and thus have £2.3bn left to play with. We await with baited breath the details, but one suggestion that has been floated in the press has been to increase the threshold at which higher-rate taxation is paid.

This threshold for the new tax year 2004/2005 will be £37,295. This threshold has fallen as a % of average earnings essentially since it was introduced in 1988, and from 161% of average earnings in 96-1997 to 143 in 2003-2004, increasing the number of people paying the higher-rate from 1.7m in 1990, to 2.1m in 1997 and 3.3m today. Unless it is increased the Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates that it will fall to 129% of average earnings by 2009, where perhaps 4m people will be paying it.

This has exercised the Conservative Party who of course draw a lot of their support from people who earn between £30,000 and £50,000 per year. Hence their interest in doing something about it.

So what could the Conservatives do with their £2.3bn? A simple calculation suggests that if there are 3.3m higher rate taxpayers then each could get about £750. This would be equivalent to increasing the band by (40%-22%)*£750 = £3,888, i.e. making it around £41,000.

In fact this calculation rather overestimates the cost. There are many higher-rate taxpayers who don’t earn £3,888 more than the higher-rate threshold, so they wouldn’t benefit by as much as £750. Scaling up an IFS estimate of 2001 suggests the band could be increased by about £4,500.

This would give taxpayers who earn £41,795 a boost of £810 each, and progressively less for those who earn between £37,295 and £41,795. Those who earn below £37,295 would get nothing.

Here is perhaps the political problem. Over 70% of households would gain nothing. The top 10% would gain the most, about 0.8% of income, whilst the next decile would gain about 0.3% and the third very little (these figures come from the IFS’s 2001 analysis and the numbers would be slightly higher , but the distribution would be the same).

The reason is that most people and households earn nowhere near this much. Roughly speaking for households to be in the richest 10% they need to earn about £24,000 p.a if they are a one person household, £40,000 p.a if they are a two-person household, and about £57,000 if they are a couple with two children (this is not, obviously, because the latter earn more than a childless couple. It is because they require more income to be equivalently wealthy; ie the income has been equivalised). To be in the top half the figures are £12,000, £19,500, and about £28,500 (I’ve scaled them up for 2004). Here's the income distribution for individuals today (the red line shows someone who earns £30,000 a year.

The problem then politically is that you are really appealing to either people who already vote for you, or people who probably will never vote you on these grounds, because they vote for you for non-economic reasons.

At the opposite end a different option would be to forget higher-rate taxpayers altogether and stick to raising the personal allowances. But will these people ever vote Tory?

There are of course many in-between options. One would be to make the ceiling on national insurance contributions the same as the higher-rate tax threshold, and then increase both. This would stop the somewhat perverse movement in marginal rates, where it goes from 33p to 22p, then back up to 40p [I made a slight error here (see comments). It appears there is now no national insurance ceiling because there is a 1% rate that takes over and has no ceiling. A stealth-tax extroardinaire, given I didn't know it existed. So the marginal rate goes from 33p to 23p, then up to 40p. This doesn't change the suggestion, which would you would keep the 11p NI rate up to where the 40p band takes over].


Channel 4 is launching a website that will monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major UK politicians in ads, speeches, interviews, debates and press releases.

FactCheck has been derived from the US version launched in 2003 to widespread acclaim in the run-up to last year's Presidential election.

The Channel 4 service aims to tell the British public whether politicians are telling the truth, whether they are being selective, what facts they are leaving out or whether they are telling a lie.

The site will go live on March 30 and will be updated daily when the UK election campaign begins. A general election is widely expected to be called for May 5.

It has initially been commissioned to run for the duration of the election, but may well continue beyond that if it proves as successful as its American counterpart.

FactCheck will be led by Jon Bernstein, former editor-in-chief of the all-of-government website Directgov, and will be produced by ITN, which makes the Channel 4 news, a FactCheck team of researchers and political journalists.

Dorothy Byrne, head of Channel 4's news and current affairs, said: "We believe FactCheck will be an important service to the public during the election period. With so many statements flying around, it is so often difficult for the voter to know where the truth lies."

A new idea for the Observer

What with his apology on Sunday and more errors this week (see post and comments directly below) I thought this might be a good new idea to go alongside the Observer's Sport, Food and Music Monthlies.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Aaronivitch 'fesses up

There was always the possibility that David Aaranovitch's column of a fortnight ago, "Why we weren't lied to", noted on this site here, was written in rather a hurry.

Yesterday in the Observer we get an apology. It appears when Aaronovitch said this bit,

But around the same time, Kelly had had a conversation with Newsnight reporter Susan Watts. This conversation was taped. Kelly told Watts: 'You have to remember I'm not part of the intelligence community.' Watts asked him about WMD. 'My own perception is, yes, they have weapons,' said Kelly. 'A "clear and imminent threat?"' 'Yes.'

It was rather misleading. In fact as he confesses here after having it pointed out by a reader, in fact Kelly's meaning was the exact opposite.

David Kelly: 'My own perception is, yes, they have weapons, but actually not at this point in time ... I think that was the real concern that everyone had; it was not so much what they have now but what they would have in the future. But that unfortunately wasn't expressed strongly in the dossier because that takes away the case for war to a certain extent.'

Watts: 'A "clear and present, imminent threat"?'

Kelly: 'Yes.'

There is no question clearly of Aaranovitch deliberately trying to mislead. It turned out to be wrong, but it was not false. Nevertheless, it cannot be wished away in the light of a successful colun about George Galloway today. I - as a supporter of David Aaranovitch- will never believe another thing that I am told by him, or the Observer. And, more to the point, neither will anyone else. Will that do?

Monday, March 28, 2005

Come friendly bombs

It has also been revealed that Michael Howard was forced to suspend a constituency association for refusing to deselect a Conservative candidate.

Adrian Hilton was abandoned after it came to light he had suggested the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, under John Major's government, was an act of treason.

He had been brought in to fight the seat in Slough after Robert Oulds was sacked for being pictured on the internet with a range of guns, rifles and a hunting knife.

Slough Conservative Association has now been placed on "support status" and is being run from Conservative campaign headquarters, a senior party spokesman said.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

A career in journalism does not beckon...

for Andrew Iain Dodge, who appears to have been at the key political event of this election campaign so far and yet completely missed the bigger story. Indeed complains about the opposite! (Incidentally I can't see what having it under Chatham House rules would have done to stop the story leaking).

Some other articles from Andrew:

What was clear from President Kennedy's trip to Dallas was the great esteem in which he is held by Texans and the complete lack of interest any have in harming a hair on his head.

Nov 22, 1963

The suffering of the East Germans under communism is not the worst tragedy of the Societ dominance of Eastern Europe. That is the utter lack of any signs that their situation will change in the next ten, twenty of even fifty years.

Nov 9, 1989

Howard Flight II

It's hard to know what to make of Michael Howard's order for Howard Flight not only to lose his Dep. Chairman role but also to be deselected as an MP. Certainly it is a terrible weekend for the Conservative Party. Almost every Conservative hopes, indeed believes that the party is promising one thing in public but in office will do another. It's not just on public spending. Britain's leading Tory blogger, Peter Cuthbertson, says that NOT A SINGLE MP believes the party will scrap tuition fees, despite promising to do so in their first month. Should all the MPs be deselected?

It also is a terrible warning of what Michael Howard will be like as a PM. If you think Tony Blair is authoritarian, what does this say about Howard? Furthermore is there anything inside his head except short-term electioneering? Howard's political views appear simply to be determined by Lynton Crosby's view of what plays well with the public rather than any underlying political philosophy.

On the issues, who is telling the truth? Howard Flight noted that he was the motor behind Tory finance and economy policy, and was instrumental in launching the James' commission. So if he says, to friends, that the results were 'sieved' to be political acceptable, it's not likely that he is lying. Similarly Michael Howard has in the past called for state spending to be 35% of GDP, as has Oliver Letwin. This is consistent with Flight's view of the policy not Howard's.

On the other hand it now appears that Howard has been forced into such a clear position that there's no way he could backtrack. Thus it's likely what is on offer is a high-spending, high-taxing, socially authoritarian government with policies that not even its own MPs believe in. If this isn't a recipe for turmoil and disaster, what is?

Friday, March 25, 2005


The decent Right have been in short-supply over this issue, particuarly on blogs, with most of the comment rarely rising above 'a mate told me in the pub' rants like this , which are totally irrelevant to the debate (if the stories aren't wildly exaggerated, which I doubt, they are clearly matters for the Police who can deal with the problem using all manner of existing laws).

The debate is about planning and The Economist helps to restore some balance with a few facts, noting that a) the number of gypsies has risen only slightly in recent years, b) the fact that Michael Howard himself is responsible for a shortage of legal sites, c) gypsies do not receive special treatment under the Human Rights Act, it plays only a minor role in this issue, and when it has been used it can work both for and against gypsies like anyone else, and finally d) the Irish policy Howard says he would like to introduce here also involves a requirement to create legal sites, i.e the opposite of what Howard has done.

So essentially what Howard is doing is singling out a group of people who are discriminated against in the planning process and attmepting to remove their (rarely used) means of redress. And he is doing this for short-term electoral advantage (no-one believes in reality this would be his policy). Any Tory should condemn it immediately.

Howard Flight resigns

Why is the question. Does anyone really believe that slashing public spending and cutting taxes on the rich isn't the actual policy of the Conservative Party?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

I'm rich...

The Value-Group, or more specifically William Radford, Account Manager, has written to me guaranteeing at least £1,000 and possibly £75,000. All I have to do is phone up and get an activation code.

True the calls cost £1.50/minute and last 7 minutes, so £10.50, but what's £10.50 to get £75,000? Or even £1,000?

Of course in reality if you're lucky you might get some holiday vouchers.


I think it was Backword Dave who noted that the Telegraph, once the shining example of neutral news reporting (along with the FT, of course), had become far more partisan as the election approached. This is surprising as the editor, Martin Newland, has said he is committed to "hard news" but it's true. Today's edition is a good example of this depressing trend, headlining a story with the tabloidesque "Blair caves in to Brussels".

Otherwise the paper remains it's rather odd self. On Tuesday's it has a rather bizarre education column called 'Any Questions' written by John Clare. It's mostly rather reactionary, as you'd expect, for example today he says the government says 'citzenship' lessons are 'about the kind of society we are striving to build and the role of teh state in the process' which means that it is a 'non-subject'. Now I'm quite prepared to believe such lessons are done badly, but the description hardly allows one to say it is a 'non-subject'. I'm pretty sure the Telegraph in the past has called for just such lessons to be given to immigrants.

What amused me today was a reader who wrote in to ask whether Clare thought it ws morally acceptable to make his/her son pay the cost of his university education. My advice to that son is this -- pay your own fees and have nothing more to do with your parents, if they are the sort of people who write to newspaper columnists to decide how to conduct their relationship with you.


Surely the UKIP's aim is for the British public to go off the European project?

UK Independence Party leader Roger Knapman said the rebate was "set in stone" and there was no reason to negotiate about it.

"It is extraordinary to do it at this time, just as we are becoming the biggest contributor to the EU. If we lose our rebate as well, the British taxpayer is going to be bled at such a rate that I think everyone will go off the European project."

Higher public spending doesn't affect growth

I hope this link works, from Martin Wolf's article in today's FT. He notes that there is no relationship between the level of public spending and GDP growth. It's also noticeable that sclerotic France has grown at essentially the same pace as dynamic America.

Asylum Seekers

Opinion polls show that the British people like economic migrants, who come here to work, and dislike asylum seekers, who come here fleeing persecution.

The good news is that the first category is booming, the latter miniscule. In the Fourth Quarter of last year there were...wait for it.... 8,460 APPLICATIONs for asylum. Obviously decisions are still being made but probably only about 1,000 people will be accepted. To use terms loved by the Right and people like Migration Watch, this is akin to a new, well a new, er... London electoral ward every year.

More interestingly the number of asyum applications in 2004 was around 25% LOWER than in 1995, when the Home Secretary was....Michael Howard.

I have written to the Conservative shadow Home Secretary asking him about their policy in this matter.

Ps This is the letter I have sent.

Dear Mr Davis,

I would like to ask you a question about the Conservative Party's policy on immigration. I saw that there were 33,930 asylum seeker applications in the UK last year. Will a future Conservative government reduce this total? And if so by how much? Furthermore given Michael Howard's desire for Ministers to be accountable, will you pledge to resign if it is higher than this in any year?

Thank you for your time.


Matthew Turner

The election commences

...with a "survey" posted through my door by Jeremy Bradshaw, the Conservative candidate for my constituency, Regent's Park & Kensington North. Bradshaw won't win, but there are going to be boundary changes so he probably will next time (though I doubt he will be selected again).

The "survey" is entertaining. Question 6 for instance is "There are now three layers of government running London. If one had to go which would you abolish". Answers - "The British Government", "The Mayor and GLA", "The Royal Borough Council".

Anyway now I know this chap's name I intend to ask him the searching questions you expect from this site. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Wolfowitz at the World Bank

I must admit originally I thought this might be a good idea. Not because Wolfowitz showed much competence in his last job (quite the reverse) but because at least it would mean the World Bank head having some clout in the White House. But Felix Salmon makes lots of good arguments against it and convinces me otherwise.

George Kennan

dies at 101 (on Thursday, but no complaints please, this blog is not Reuters).

Statist Tories

One of the more interesting shifts in policy by Michael Howard has been towards a more "statist" economic policy. In addition to his plans to raise taxes over and above this year's by £31bn by 2008/2009 (see today's Sunday Times) this BBC report suggests that the Conservatives may be planning to increase regulation on consumer lending.

Incompetent Tories

As memories of the 1987-1997 Conservative government fade one of the starkest realities at the time -- the sheer incompetence of many Tory MPs and Ministers -- is perhaps incomprehensible to younger readers. Stories like this should give them an insight.

Council tax & Will Self

"More than 7m homeowners in England will see Council Tax bills soar by up to £800 as a result of the current 'rebanding' exercise", notes the Sunday Telegraph. The article is by no means the worst of this type of thing, but it still seems to rather miss the point.

Rebanding houses due to house price inflation cannot lead to higher overall council tax bills. Only a desire to raise more in Council Tax can do that. In other words, if you want to raise £10bn from council tax, then it is irrelevant what price houses are to the amount you must tax. What can happen is there is a shift from some areas to other if their relative prices change, if they are in the same council tax area.

Talking of council tax we received our 2005/2006 demand yesterday and were pleasantly surprised (an increase of 4.4%). This handy website shows you how much you will pay under the Lib Dems' local income tax proposal, which in our case appears to be 150% more. Yikes! This made me look up the Conservatives' proposals, but with the exception of the pensioner discount, I can't find anything concrete.

In unrelated news and in an attempt to widen this blog's readership to Heat readers (well perhaps rather literary Heat readers) I saw Will Self today at Bekonscot model village with his two children. I have to say he seems rather funny (in the ha-ha sense), asking his children whether they thought the model town's coal mine 'actually had shafts running under it given model-makers's known quest for perfect accuracy'.

ps So true to life is Bekonscot model village it even has its own band of terrorising gypsies, out to destroy all we hold dear ((C) Michael Howard)

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Affairs of State

There is no-one in Britain as gifted as Simon Heffer for cutting through the crap and getting to what really matters. Heffer appears to believe that Mrs Thatcher's achievements -- and they were many, if on the whole the opposite of what her acolytes would believe them to be -- can only achieve the recognition they deserve if her place in the peerage is higher than Charles Falconer's. Mrs Thatcher! The shopkeeper's daughter from Grantham. How could someone who claims to be a friend of hers so misunderstand her political philosophy?!

A friend of the royal family’s lamented the other day that the Princess Royal, for reasons about which he could only speculate, has declined her mother’s offer of a dukedom and, therefore, a place in the nobility for her son and his heirs. This does seem an extreme act of self-effacement by one who, unlike some of her tribe, works extremely hard and doesn’t insist on using the company helicopter just to nip out to Tesco. Also, thanks to Mr Blair’s brilliant reform of the House of Lords, even if her son became the 2nd Duke he would not inherit the right to sit in the legislature. It was allegedly fears about Sir Mark Thatcher ending up in the Lords that dissuaded his mother from taking the earldom that was her due when she left the Commons in 1992. Thanks again to Mr Blair’s brilliant reform, there would now be no danger of that either. I am fed up with the standing insult to our greatest living statesman that she should occupy the same rank in the peerage as people whose qualification for the Lords is that they once shared a flat with Mr Blair. With her 80th birthday coming next October, I trust an appropriate gesture can now be made to rectify this unacceptable state of affairs.


I wouldn't normally recommend buying mass-market wine, such as Jacob's Creek, not because it is bad (e.g. Wolf Blass do some great wines) but because it is rather expensive for what you get.

However if you want some cheap wine, with a screw-cap (for example, if you need to drink it on the street) then I can recommend the "Fruits of France" range, which is obviously a belated attempt by the French wine industry to gain some branding for their products, and in particularly the Cabernet Sauvignon. It really is quite nice. The link is to an Irish site, for quite a bit more money, but -- check no-one's looking -- BuyBest sell it for a fiver.


Joseph Lieberman, shamefully a VP candidate back in 2000, makes a fool of himself.

Friday, March 18, 2005

V.Short Film Review

I went to the premiere of Robots, the new animation film, on Monday. Aside from the embarassment of walking down the red carpet whilst assorted paparazzi and fans shouted the names of people from Fame Academy (really), it was good fun. Much better than the slightly disappointing Superheroes [so disappointing I got the name wrong -- I mean Incredibles].

Cuts or just less spending?

As the pre-election battle hots up, Labour have been campaigning on the theme of £35bn of Conservative spending cuts. The Conservatives angrily deny this.

Some observations.

1. Clearly most Tories do want to make £35bn of cuts immediately. John Redwood said that their first year tax reduction of £4bn, paid for by £12bn of cuts, was 'a downpayment'. Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin has spoken in the past about wishing to see public spending down to 35% of GDP or lower, equivalent to nearly £100bn of cuts. To be more parochial, every Tory blogger talks of their wish to slash government spending. One can assume this is true of most of their candidates too.

2. However, Labour are wrong to speak about '£35bn of cuts'. It is no such thing. It is simply that by 2011, on projections that may turn out to be false, the Conservatives will be spending £35bn less than Labour.

3. Nevertheless the Tories cannot complain. Their much-trumpeted £4bn tax 'cut' is only a tax cut under exactly the same methodology. No-one denies that the Conservatives will tax more in year X+1 than Labour did in year X, where year X is 2004/2005. It is only a tax cut relative to Labour's plans.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Tories gambling with our economy

Using poker lingo, Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin said: “We will see the Chancellor — and raise him"

Generally as a poker player myself I can tell you that you tend to raise people in two situations.

1. When you have the best ('nuts') or near best hand and are cruising to victory.
2. When you have 'high card seven' and are desperately bluffing in the hope that your opponent will believe you have the best hand and thus fold.

I think Letwin probably falls more into the second category. Either way it's lovely to see the Tories a) using a rather disreputable gambling game as their policy on the economy, and b) that policy is to take a social-democratic government's vast debt-funded spending and raise it. Truly Labour have won the public spending argument.

Letwin still doesn't believe the Tories are going to win

If he did, he would realise that he too would have to increase taxes or break his promises.

Mr Letwin added: "If Mr Blair is re-elected ... there will be about £10bn or £11bn of extra tax rises that he [Mr Brown] won't possibly be able to conceal." "

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Another one down!

Although it's worrying that the Iraq insurgency now has Generals, it's comforting to think that they are being swiftly dealt with by the US Army.

US troops shoot dead Iraqi general: police

The deputy commander of the Iraqi army in western Al-Anbar province was shot dead by US troops at a checkpoint Tuesday night, a police officer said.

"The US forces opened fire at 8:00 pm on Brigadier General Ismail Swayed al-Obeid, who had left his base in Baghdadi to head home," police Captain Amin al-Hitti said.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Matt Central Station

Proof there is no such thing as global warming
Africa's tallest mountain, with its white peak, is one of the most instantly recognisable sights in the world. But as this aerial photograph shows, Kilimanjaro's trademark snowy cap, at 5,895 metres (1,934ft), is now all but gone - 15 years before scientists predicted it would melt through global warming,

Let's look at the facts shall we?

a) Mount Kilimanjaro is IN AFRICA. Africa is hot. Therefore you cannot expect snow.
b) It is also in the Southern Hemisphere. It is Summer there. So you cannot expect snow.
c) It is been snowing a lot in the US and Europe. There is only a finite amount of snow in the world -- it is what scientists call the "Snow Spaciality Limit Theorem". This "Snow Geographical Stopping Theorem" means that if it snows in your backyward in New Hampshire, that same snow cannot fall on Kilimanjaro. So it gets less icy. Simple science.
d) Ice is only cold rain. Why is it important for the top of a mountain to be cold and wet? Just as you don't like it when you are cold and wet, the same goes for mountains.
e) Famously unlike other liquids water contracts as it gets colder. The ice cap might be smaller because it is colder. Why does no-one mention this?
f) Scientists forecast the ice would go in 15 years, but it has gone now. Huh? If scientists can't forecast the next 15 years properly, why should we believe there forecasts over tens of years? Get real.


I know Hollywood biopics have a tendency give an overly flattering portrait of their subjects, but I really think they've gone a bit too far this time into the realm of fantasy.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Stephen Pollard world

Stephen Pollard, who advocates the military invasion of Nato allies merely for not inviting US troops to a parade, attacks Michael Howard:

I knew that our judiciary was worse than useless. I never it thought it possible that Michael Howard could find a way to be even more of a contemptible opportunist than he demonstrated in his behaviour over the Iraq war. Clearly I was wrong

Can anyone explain what was contemptible about Michael Howard's behaviour over the Iraq war [from a Pollard viewpoint]? As Shadow Chancellor he didn't really have much to say but I would be amazed if he did it was anything other than support for IDS's policy, which of course was to back Blair to the hilt.

All must have prizes?

I might have missed something obvious, but's General Election spread-betting ideas seem somewhat odd. Currently on their homepage there are two posts with three suggestions:

1. Labour are good value on the current spread of 350-356 as Brown's budget will bring their strengths back into focus.

2. Lib Dems to get more than 70 seats.

3. Tories to get more than 200 seats.

I will stick my neck out. I don't think Labour will get more than 356 seats, the Lib Dems more than 70 and the Tories more than 200. Or certainly not in amounts that justify the spreads.


The UKIP's cartoonist appears to have a problem getting Michael Howard's likeness...

Whoops it's too large for my site. Click here instead.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Should Tony go?

Harry has argued that (mainly) middle-class Labour supporters are indulging in their pet project of getting Blair over Iraq at the risk of the Conservatives winning the election, which will be at the expense of the welfare of those less well-off.

If [John Harris isn't right about there being no risk of a Tory government from not voting Labour] then on the morning after Michael Howard enters Number Ten, I'd like to take Harris, his nameless former Labour Minister, and those who followed their voting advice, on a tour of Britain's most deprived areas. While congratulating themselves on scoring a point over the Iraq war they can explain to the working class school-leavers, the single mums and the pensioners how life is going to be under a Tory government.

Let's say the assumptions are true. There are two problems I have with this.

First, the election timing is of Tony Blair's choosing, as long as it is before May 2006. Although no-one appears to remember this, he doesn't have to have an election for a year. There is a Labour government with rock-solid majority of 160. Why risk it?

Second, it's difficult to do much about it. If a million voters have decided not to vote Labour over the war in Iraq then there are a million minds to change. This is not going to be easy.

There is of course another way. Most polls have shown that if Gordon Brown was Labour leader the election would be a walk-over. If Blair was to resign now, say over "ill-health", it would give Brown plenty of time to revitalise the campaign and go for (say) an Autumn election.

So the argument can be turned around. If Tony Blair decides to ask for an early dissolution of Parliament, despite Labour having a huge majority, and fights the election as Labour leader despite mounting evidence that he is costing the party support, then on the morning after Michael Howard enters Number Ten, I'd like to take Blair, and his cheerleaders on a tour of Britain's most deprived areas. While congratulating themselves on scoring a point over the Iraq war they can explain to the working class school-leavers, the single mums and the pensioners how life is going to be under a Tory government.

ps Incidentally I think the assumptions broadly speaking are wrong and Labour's position is stronger than many fear. Of all the opinion polls since the end of 2004 Labour have increased their lead in four, and it has decreased in two. On average it has increased. The two where it has decreased are the two most respected and well-established politcal pollsters, ICM and Mori. But the two where it has increased the most, YouGov [edited] and Populus, are the ones that Tories were telling us were more accurate back when IDS was leader.

In the Observer...

David Aaranovitch argues strenously that just because it was all wrong doesn't mean that Blair lied over WMD. He too was misled.

This accusation is wrong and scrutiny of the Hutton and Butler reports (not so much their findings) and the evidence submitted to the inquiries shows that Blair was setting out - albeit in leadership-speak - what he was being told by the intelligence services...It turned out to be wrong, but not, as so many have lazily called it, false. Now, you may take the view that the wrongness is sufficient reason to punish the government. That someone's head should roll for the fact that what was promised was different from what was delivered. But that, my fellow liberals, still wouldn't make the PM a liar.

This is of course the culmination of Aaronovitch's efforts to get out of his famous pronouncement in 2003 when he said this:

These [WMD] claims cannot be wished away in the light of a successful war. If nothing is eventually found, I - as a supporter of the war - will never believe another thing that I am told by our government, or that of the US ever again. And, more to the point, neither will anyone else. Those weapons had better be there somewhere.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Backing Blair?

I knew the the blog-led campaign, 'Backing Blair', reminded me of someone...

Meanwhile, the Sun's most influential columnist, Richard Littlejohn, has fought a lengthy guerrilla war against Blair and his cabinet (and his "wicked witch" wife). He has taken to ending his polemics with an ironic call to readers: "Vote Labour". Though irony and/or sarcasm rarely works in popular papers, Littlejohn has employed it to devastating effect in his recent articles

(quote from Roy Greenslade, yesterday's Guardian)

Our electoral system

Oliver criticises the attempt to defeat Tony Blair personally in the forthcoming election, calling it:

An affront to representative democracy that coarsens the political culture and misunderstands its supposed precedent.

I'm not sure whether I agree with this. Certainly it seems to me to set an awful precedent as even if Blair's majority is only reduced sharply then will there ever be a Prime Minister who doesn't face such a challenge? On the other hand it does bring into sharp focus the absurdity of our electoral system, a system which the PM supports.

Advocates of FPTP like to pretend, if only in the background, that MPs are elected because of who they are, not which party they represent (e.g. Mrs Thatcher was persuaded not to bring Cecil Parkinson back to the Cabinet until he had been elected again).

Thus such arguments need to be used against them. If a celebrity candidate can change the face of British politics merely by winning one seat then either there is no democratic affront as he is the preferred candidate of the voters of Sedgefield, or our electoral system is broken and needs changing.

It's the latter obviously. I don't believe there is any chance of Blair being defeated, but perhaps if he and other party leaders faced more challenges like this they would come to realise the electoral system we have is more of a lottery than democracy.

Sunday, March 06, 2005


Having spent Saturday in a rainy Norfolk, I agreed to meet a friend for lunch in Borough, London, for a lazy Sunday afternoon's lunch and drinks.

Leaving the tube station I was rather shocked to find 20+ policeman in riot gear. I was more shocked having passed them when I saw what I counted to be at least 20 police vans, over 200 policeman, a police helicopter and about 30 policemen leading the way with alsations and then a column of rather sullen & angry looking men marching up the high street.

I went to take a photograph, but just before a policeman warned me not to, I had a feeling it might not be a good idea. 'Ah, it must be a BNP march', I thought.

Well no. It appears it was merely Leeds' fans off to watch Leeds v Millwall. Ah, the beautiful game.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Tony Blair does something right...

...he disappoints Liam Fox.

There's something terribly smug about Fox's words ('it's more in sorrow than anger') etc. It's as if the Tories still can't -- much like the Royal Family -- accept that they don't get to decide [slight edit - see comments] who leads the country. Fox of course is meant to be the modern face of the Tory Party, which if true, suggests Ann Winterton has a future.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Opinion polls

I've updated my opinion poll charts.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Livingstone and AlGathafi

Two remarkable things in today's Guardian.

In the letters page, Ken Livingstone says Fidel Castro would be an 'honoured' guest if he were to come to London, but he's not

In order for me to perform a U-turn on inviting Fidel Castro to London (Diary, March 1), I would first have had to invite him. Of course, if Castro came to London he would be an honoured guest.

Ken Livingstone, London mayor

And Muammar AlGathafi on p.4 has taken out a full page advertisement arguing that expanding the UN Security Council will be a disaster ('It is obviously a problem') and instead the General Assembly should be strengthened. A copy is here.