Thursday, May 31, 2007

89yr old woman takes taxi from UK to Greece

And deliberately, too. I have friends who have taken a taxi between countries before, but that was only Prague and Vienna, and a couple of hundred miles, so not quite the same thing.


Monday, May 28, 2007

The UK's ten busiest and ten least busy train stations

Here's the top 10, by ticketed entries [1], with few surprises...they are all in London except Glasgow and Manchester.

Liverpool Street25,173,463
London Bridge18,352,637
Charing Cross14,332,255
Glasgow Central13,228,465
King's Cross10,453,343
Manchester Piccadilly9,362,902

And here are the least busiest - I've included the region here as they are not so well known. Most seem rural stops, and I imagine there are some issues with the data here, particularly that the station Teesside Airport in Darlington only had 25 people buying tickets (I'm not even sure that is a separate station).

Tees-Side AirportDarlington25
Havenhouse Lincolnshire 22
Pontefract Baghill West Yorkshire 20
Buckenham Norfolk 17
Barry Links Angus 14
Shippea Hill Cambridgeshire 13
Dorking West Surrey 12
Watford West Hertfordshire 10
Gainsborough Central Lincolnshire 9
Golf Street Angus 8

[1] There's a guide to the numbers, and their limitations, here.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Bank holiday weather

Bank holiday weather
Originally uploaded by mjtphotos
The positive angle is that at some point after 4am but before 7am on the Bank holiday, the weather is forecast to improve to light rain from heavy rain. The temperature, however, will still be falling.


Bernard Kouchner, Nick Cohen, Oliver Kamm & Neil Clark

In today's Observer, Nick Cohen turns away from moaning about the plight of the 'less fortunate' couples on £100,000 a year and turns to Bernard Kouchner, the new French foreign minister. And promptly gets a lesson in the facts from Conor Foley (also - did Jacques Chirac really support Iran's efforts to get a nuclear bomb?).

Oliver Kamm criticised Neil Clark over Kouchner earlier this week, with the latter claiming he was in favour of the Iraq war and the former saying that he wasn't. I think Oliver is probably [1] right in that the exact words Neil used were wrong, as he talked of Kouchner's 'welcoming' the Iraq war, ie before it happened, and that is not correct. However the wider story is it's certainly true that Kouchner was in favour of the war after it had happened, as he told Robert Graham of the Financial Times in early 2004 - "it was right to intervene". The FT link isn't working, but here's one from Norman Geras's blog.

[1] I've edited this to add 'probably' as there were certainly people -- one being of the calibre of John Lloyd in this whine - who at the time thought Kouchner was in favour of a war.

Update: Matthew 'unquestionably the 2nd most powerful country in the world' Jamieson says that Kouchner was the most senior French politician 'to support the Iraq war' - I think that's game over for Neil Clark.

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Can you believe it?

A SENIOR Tory MP is paying his son to act as his parliamentary assistant even though he is still a full-time undergraduate at university.

Seriously a much more important problem than all the others we face. How dare he? And he's still at university...


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cape coddery

Were you aware that Gordon Brown holidays in Cape Cod? Yes, of course you were. But just in case you weren't, Daniel Finkelstein decides to remind us again.

The important thing to note is we're only 20 days into May, and yet Cape Coddery has been mentioned a record number of times in the context of Gordon Brown, and looks set to break the total number of mentions easily. In fact moving away from the data - the journalists are out-doing themselves in stating just how much he loves the place. Not that he went last year though, so these numbers don't include a 'Brown is NOW in Cape Cod' breathless piece.

MonthMentionsBrownBrown as a % Cape Cod
Jan 061400%
Feb 0616319%
Mar 0610110%
Apr 061915%
May 062100%
Jun 062814%
Jul 0626415%
Aug 0617212%
Sep 0616638%
Oct 061119%
Nov 061517%
Dec 069222%
Jan 0710330%
Feb 0710110%
Mar 0711218%
Apr 071000%
May 0720735%

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Amis & Blair

I would say an odd couple, but they seem perfectly suited. Anyway as the British military attache tells Chatham House the surge isn't working, apparently Martin Amis of these views' fame:

There’s a definite urge—don’t you have it?—to say, “The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.” What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation—further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan.

was travelling with him :

Accompanying him was Martin Amis, the novelist who is writing about Mr Blair's final days in office. Downing Street declined to say whether Mr Amis's work was of a biographical nature.

It must have been quite a trip for Martin. Almost everyone in Iraq 'looks like they're from the Middle East' - his urges must have been unbearable.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

It's going to happen...

The bookies seem to think that Alan Johnson, the Minister and Trade Unionist, is set to become Labour's Deputy Leader. We've discussed whether this will have implications for Alan "Not the Minister and Trade Unionist" Johnson, and the general consensus was that in this limited sense, it would only require a small change of emphasis - i.e., Alan "Not the Minister, Trade Unionist, and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party" Johnson. The real issue will come if Alan "Not the Minister, Trade Unionist and favourite to become Deputy Leader of the Labour Party" Johnson [1] ever enters serious politics [2].

[1] Actually this might be ambigous - does the Not obviously refer to the 'favourite to be become' bit.
[2] There's also Alan Johnson, Mark's boss in Peep Show. I have no idea what we'll do if he enters politics.


Friday, May 18, 2007

The new Wembley

Cost a lot of money - around £750m, which according to the BBC is roughly 1,000 times the amount the old Wembley cost in 1923. Is this dearer in real terms? Yes, by a long way. Using the RPI (or its predecessors) £750,000 in 1923 has the same purchasing power as £28.5m today. So the new stadium is around 26 times more expensive than the old one in real terms. Even using the GDP as your deflator, the old stadium would now have cost only £215m. So even terms of the UK's much higher income now than in 1923, it was still about three times more expensive.

The costs break down something like this:

* £325m to build the stadium
* £120m to buy land
* £50m for improving infrastructure
* £23m for demolition
* £40m for development costs
* £80m in financing costs


How rich is my constituency?

A question that can be answered surprisingly simply by the fact that the Inland Revenue publishes its tax and income statistics by parliamentary constituency.

The top 5 in total income (UK = £686bn) are:

Kensington & Chelsea - £5.7bn
City of London and Westminster - £5bn
Hampstead and Highgate - £3.2bn
Hammersmith and Fulham - £3bn
Richmond Park - £3bn

and in terms of income per head it is the same with K&C far ahead, although Hammersmith and Fulham drops to 12, and Wimbledon is 5th.

Kensington & Chelsea - £104,000
City of London and Westminster - £66,500
Hampstead and Highgate - £59,900
Richmond Park - £47,900
Wimbledon £43,700.

Median income is much lower, but the same places crop up - with K&C (£28,400), followed by H&H (26,100), Cities of L&W (£25,700).

The five poorest in terms of income per head are

Belfast West - £15,100
Nottingham North - £15,200
Sheffield, Brightside - £15,300
Rhondda - £15,500
Manchester, Blackley - £15,600

The poorest London constituency is West Ham, which is 106th.

In terms of tax, total UK take is £122bn. The leading constituencies are the same as the ones in terms of total income with K&C paying £1.8bn in tax, or £32,900 per inhabitant, followed by Cities of L&W, which pays £1.5bn, or £19,500 per head. K&C also pays the highest % tax, at 31.8%. The lowest are the same as the lowest constituencies, with Sheffield Brightside paying £1,950 per head, or 12.9%. In fact the tax take from residents of K&C, Cities of L&W and H&H, with a tax paying population of 182,000, is slightly more than that of the Welsh, with a population of 1.4m.

The constituency with the lowest proportion of income being pension income is Hackney South, with just 2.6% of income pension income, the highest East Devon, where it is 23%, then West Dorset, 22.2%, and North Norfolk 21.6%. For self-employed income, the lowest is 3.6% in Glasgow North East, then Redcar, Sunderland, Jarrow, the highest is in Islington South, Brecon and Radnorshire, and a number of Northern Ireland constituencies, where it is around 20%.

These should all be taken with caution, as such data is not massively accurate.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Less than 42%

The ever optimistic Foreign Office responds to a new Chatham House report on Iraq by noting that most insurgent attacks occur in four provinces, which contain "less than 42% of the population". So 41% then - about the same as the share of London and the South-East in the UK's population.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Nuclear codes

Apparently President Chirac has given President Sarkozy the codes required to launch a nuclear attack. So presumably they are in the process of being changed from 291132 to 280155.

Which gets me thinking. Does the same thing happen in Britain - do we have nuclear codes? Maybe President Bush keeps them for us. And what would happen if someone refused to hand them over? I suppose someone has the authority to issue new codes - who is that person? And does the Queen have a role in this?


Cycling in London

I love cycling in London - I prefer it to any other means of transport, and I even prefer it to cycling in the countryside. This new TFL advert (you can find it) is clever, though I am unsure whether the route it takes through Hyde Park is actually a cycle route.

I meant to blog about this article from the Guardian's cycling correspondent, Matt Seaton [1]. He claims that revisions to the Highway Code could imply that a cyclist is at fault for not using cycle lanes and so on if they exist. This would be silly as often to use the cycle lanes is to risk your life.

[1] Yes, there is already a huge petition agains it so clearly I have become aware of the issue with my usual turn of speed.


The Tories and secondary moderns/grammar schools

David Willetts is going to announce the Tories won't return to the 11+. He's clearly been reading the same research as I have, namely the Bristol university study, which I posted on here. The findings of that study were (read the post linked to for more details) that overall attainment was slightly higher in a secondary modern/grammar system [1], but the distribution of results was much less equal (basically the gains were at the top end) and for those in the secondary moderns, worse than it would have been in comprehensives. It also found that poor but bright children did very well if they got into gramamrs, but very few did, even when their test results were as good as children from richer families [2]. It didn't go into the reasons for this but they are not hard to imagine.

This is being represented as a big shift in policy, but it isn't really. 17 years of Tory government did little to return to a secondary modern/grammar system, and although Mrs Thatcher prevented some secondary moderns/grammar schools from closing, and her position had clearly shifted from the 1970s when she was Education Secretary, she was (and presumably remains) an opponent of the 11+[3].

Update: Stephen Pollard enters the fray into today's Daily Mail, with his customary grasp of the issues, claiming that the Assisted Places scheme was what allowed children from poorer families to attend grammar schools.

[1] The cry of "bring back the grammars" rarely is accompanied by one of "bring back the secondary moderns", despite the fact that (if similar to the old system) 80% of children end up going to the secondary moderns.
[2] Advocates of grammar schools on the left tend to argue that this could be got around, but given the hullaboo in the Daily Mail etc about 'social engineering' when universities tried to change their admissions systems, I'm sceptical.
[3] She's very clear on this point in her autobiography.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Argues against a smoking ban and bizarrely starts off and ends his case by using a quote from Patricia Hewitt that was made up by Christoper Booker as an April Fool's joke.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Premiership ends

football chart. jpg
Originally uploaded by mjtphotos.
With Manchester United and Chelsea in the top two. The chart shows the points obtained by various league positions, and I think supports the idea that it is getting more polarised. The top 2 (the blue lines) now get 5 more than they did - the break seems to come around 2003, though it's not consistent (the maximum points a team can get is 114). The 3rd and 4th place teams (yellow) have gained slightly, whilst 5th to 10th have held steady. The trends at the bottom end are less clear - basically the bottom 10 or so teams have lost a tiny amount of points each. The variation is quite large, however, the 100 points the bottom 3 got this year was the highest since 1999.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Spitting Image - 1987 Election Special Part 7

I was going to do a blog post asking how you convert VHS video to Youtube format, as I have the Spitting Image Election Special 1987 on tape. But then I found it was already there. This is the last 5 min segment, with the rather amusing "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" cover. I especially like (and liked) the Ted Heath character, and the bit where Roy turns to Neil and asks whether he still thinks he can control them. The 1987 Spitting Image special was probably at the height of the show's popularity and skill, and it was run semi-live, as in at the start (part 1) Alistair Burnett actually gives the result of the ITV Exit Poll.

Friday, May 11, 2007

John Redwood on the BoE

Slightly strange article in the Telegraph from John Redwood, in which he appears to confuse independence and power. It is perfectly possible to be more independent but less powerful. The foreign exchange reserves have been the Treasury's for years, so he's confused on that issue. If we were to join the euro they would have to be given to the Bank of England, which I can't say I think is a wholly good idea. On the creation of the FSA, clearly there are benefits and costs, but unless Redwood is proposing giving the Bank entire responsibility over financial regulation, there's always going to be some tension.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tony Blair goes

It's really happening. That's a sigh of relief you hear all around you - I think all but the most die-hard Blairite probably thinks he has gone on a bit too long.

It seems a long time since 1997, that's for certain, although maybe that's just me. I remember the tremendous sense of excitement of his first few weeks in office, when it really seemed as if the country was being governed in a vastly superior way to the last few years of the Major administration. Indeed, despite the long-running Blair/Brown fiasco, the resignation of a seemingly abnormal number of Cabinet Ministers (some twice - I wonder if there are any statistics on whether there were more resignations than under Major or Thatcher), it's never quite reached the depths that the 1987-1997 Conservative governments did, particularly in 1990 and 1995.

How he will be remembered as a PM, I don't know. When people say that, do they mean by professional historians or the public? I've read quite a bit of history about our ex-PMs and I would struggle to write a paragraph about most of them. Anyway Iraq, Northern Ireland and very high house prices seem the most likely [1]. He deserves some credit for going of his own accord, but I suppose it wasn't much of his own accord.

The BBC points out that the morning of the election in 1997 Blair was contemplating a coalition with Paddy Ashdown's Liberal Democrats. I'm not sure how seriously that should be taken - there was a lot of denial about the opinion polls on both sides, but a lot of commentators (I remember in particular a Bagehot column in The Economist) were talking about the forthcoming landslide. I suppose after 1992 it paid to be cautious - anyway, I wonder how things would have turned out differently if he had required a pact.

[1] On that topic, reading Mrs Thatcher's autobiography the other day (as you do) she defends a windfall tax on banks on the grounds they did not earn the money through better service or cutting costs. I wonder if the Tories could justify a tax on house price gains in the same way?).

Update: There's devolution as well, I forgot that. I think some of these statements of the usual suspects' views are quite interesting. Neil Kinnock makes a good point about his winning elections, but of course we knew that, that's the thought we have of Blair when we think about his other achievements. Kinnock also say "the government which he has led has produced conditions in which people expect stable affluence. That is unprecedented.". I'm not sure if it is unprecedented, but certainly I think there is a case that the lurching from economic crisis to economic crisis has ended.

There's more here in Le Monde, which I think (though my French is not very good) has written John Smith out of history. He is rather forgotten, isn't he? I always liked Bryan Gould, though a friend used to say his hair was like Labour's policies - it looked good at a glance, but in more detail you realised there was nothing there.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007


A new survey says the most loved and hated brands in Britain, for men and women. Take with a pinch of salt as we don't know the methodology. But the most loved are:



I think BA's a bit odd. I quite like BA flights, but I couldn't say they stand out from other airliners, except perhaps if you are used to flying on the budget ones. And M&S and Tesco in the men's section?

The most hated:

Pot Noodle
Sunny Delight

Weirdly these are identical for men and women. I've never heard of Novon, so how that can be so hated I don't know. I can't even find it on the internet.

It's very amusing to note that in 6th place is Manchester United. Although their relative lack of success, and the arrival of Chelsea, have made me dislike them more than in the past, I was still jumping (literally) for joy when they went out of the Champions League.


Monday, May 07, 2007

Congratulations Sarkozy!

But what I haven't seen is - when does he actually get his hands on power?

Update: Ah ha, the Telegraph says its May 16th, which is a week on Wednesday.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Nick Barlow

Congratulations to Nick Barlow on becoming the next councillor of Castle Ward. Here is a video of him punching the air.


Friday, May 04, 2007

How singular

Oliver Kamm, May 1 2007

The government has clear achievements and important reforms in domestic policy - alongside some unreasonably authoritarian and populist trends. In foreign policy, where many of my readers will disagree, I defend Tony Blair's record, which has done much good in a hostile and anarchic world order.

Oliver Kamm, Dec 16 2006

Britain - the new banana republic