Thursday, September 29, 2011


UK Life Might Be a Bit Crap, But I Wouldn't Swap it

I was struck today by an article claiming that the uSwitch quality of life index, shows us 'bottom of the pile'.

The UK emerged as having the second lowest hours of sunshine a year, the fourth highest retirement age, and the third lowest spend on health as a percentage of GDP.
Despite above average household income – the fourth highest in Europe – Britons have 5.5 fewer days holiday a year than the European average and endure a below average government spend on education. UK households also struggle with a high cost of living, with food and diesel prices the highest in Europe, and unleaded petrol, alcohol and cigarettes all costing more than the European average.

The upshot? 12% say they would like to emigrate and only 5% said t hey were happy in the UK. Pretty serious one might think. Yet, on a rare late September day of glorious sunshine, with everyone I passed on the road to the shops remarking with huge smiles on the beauty of the day, I couldn't really see why I should be depressed about this. Rain? Sure I hate it but complaining about it is like sailors railing against the sea. We can't do anything about it so why not just be cool about it? The previous weekend I visited the Yorkshire Dales and enjoyed the kind of beauty my picture represents.

I'd be the last to deny our quality of life could be a lot better and I do get depressed with our climate. But when the sun shines? I forget about the rain and the fog and think that if only we had 5-6 weeks guaranteed sunshine a year, I'd not b other to go abroad so much. We have a beautiful island here, and should value it as highly as it deserves. And the standard of living? Well, it may not be Europe's highest, but I can remember what life was like in the fifties when life was drab, austere and boring. We have so much more to enjoy in the present day. I'm sorry but I really can't be bothered to worry about our poor quality of life on one of the most lovely days of the year.

Monday, September 26, 2011


Skipper off to London for two days

I'm off to London to interview Lord Heseltine for my ongoing research topic on ministerial promotion. Couldn't resist uploading a pic of the Mace..

And, if you read this, this is NOT a holiday Bob Piper!

Friday, September 23, 2011


Tory Party Attacked by its Own

I always welcome a bit of Tory bashing, from whatever source, so I was amused to read this piece from a Daily Mail and Express journalist: [I add the picture of Eric Pickles as I feel any dissemination of it is grist to the critical mill.]

“…if the Tory party were a consumer good or a commercial service, it would long ago have ceased production. Nobody, however, dedicated, would be fool enough to carry on buying it. If it were your fridge, all your food would go bad. If it were your accountant, you would go bankrupt.

The Tory party claims to be patriotic. But all the major steps into deeper EU integration have been taken by Tory governments. It claims to stand for strong defence. Yet it has repeatedly run down the armed forces. It claims to be tough on crime, yet it shackled the police with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984, closed deown dozens of police stations between 1979-1997, and now proposes to cut police numbers by 20 per cent. The Tory party claims to stand for rigorous educational standards, yet it introduced the devalued GCSE and closed more grammar schools than Labour did. It claims to be pro-family, yet it never reformed the ultra-=liberal divorce laws of the 1960s and it passed the 1989 Children Act, hugely increasing the power of the state over family life.”

Yes, I know it's written by Peter Hitchens, nothing if not a maverick, but it's still making some valid points think I....

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Lib Dems Can Veto but not Initiate

We learn from journalists at the Lib Dem conference that they are in a form which belies their awful poll position and the terrible year they have just suffered. Jackie Ashley described how they seem to love being in power, smugly congratulating themselves on their 18 ministers, four of them in the Cabinet. Clegg closed the conference with a well received speech today and most delegates will have returned home with a warm kind of feeling that, despite the euro-crisis and the faltering economy, things are not too bad at all really.

Simon Jenkins' piece today might even have convinced some of them that the corner has been turned. Jenkins, who back in May 2010 was sure Clegg had destroyed his party, now is full of praise:

There is no argument. The Liberal Democrats and their leader, Nick Clegg, have played a political blinder this past 18 months. They have kept a British coalition government in being against all odds, with no sign of it collapsing in the near future. Nor have the Lib Dems just sustained a regime, as they did some governments, Tory and Labour, in the 1920s and 1970s. They have palpably had a restraining influence on it. They deserve recognition at least for this.

But I wonder if that inner warmth is justified and whether it might not shade very quickly into ashes should that double dip recession roll along out of the future sometime in the new year? If that happens the government will be in a parlous position and, as Lib Dem grandee Lord Oakeshott commented, both parties will get 'slaughtered'. But besides that I didn't see any rabbits pulled out of the hat to please delegates by their ever so powerful Cabinet galacticos.

The brutal truth is that the lib Dems seem to forget at times is that they are junior partners in a coalition. The Conservatives occupy Downing St and the Treasury and have the vast majority of MPs. Lib Dems can be a 'restraining influence' as Jenkins observes but that's about it. Theirs is a moderating negative role; they cannot initiate policy on important matters but are forced to acquiesce in Tory policies. Meanwhile, Clegg's spouting contumely at Labour, especially the 'back room boy' figures of the two Eds will not assist them if they ever need to build new coalition bridges with the party of which they were once to the left.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Coalition Splits Underlie Lib Dem Conference

Interesting fault lines are opening up in the Coalition after 18 months in power. Danny Alexander, No 2 to Chancellor George Osborne, characterised it as:

" Saving Britain from Labour's irresponsibility while saving it from reactionary Tory policies."

Hmmm. I daresay a fair bit of horse trading has gone on behind the scenes regarding what both sides can say about each pother. For the Lib Dems times are more than hard. With an ST poll rating of 9% and 47% of people who voted for it in 2010 saying they would not repeat their vote, it is not too wide of the mark to foresee total extinction as a more than remote possibility for the party. The party's president Tim Farron, tipped as the person most likely to if Clegg stands down, suggests a "divorce is inevitable in three to four years", presumably as the parties gear up for an election they will fight separately.

Others stepped in to rubbish this prediction- David laws, on PM, said Farron had made the remark with the election in mind. Jackie Ashley suggest that the government will survive as the Lib Dems have learned very quickly to love power, after being for so long on the periphery of it. Maybe, some of them think that, like the German Free Democrats- which has also shifted to the centre-right over the years, they can occupy a regular role as holder of the balance of power at election times.

But, hung parliaments have been highly unlikely in British elections and either Labour or the Tories are likely to win the 2015 election. Furthermore the Tories on the right are hell-bent on using the euro-crisis to lever Britain out of the EU altogether, a policy which will severely strain the alliance. If a double dip recession hits as well, my prediction in May 2010 that the government would fall before the end of this year, might well come true. And in those circumstances how would the Lib Dem future look? Dire indeed is the answer.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Sovereign Debt Crisis will Change Nature of EU

Simon Jenkins seems to be rediscovering some Euroscepticism from what I can gather. Not without a splash of schadenfreude, he declares:

Europe is clearly at a turning point, turning against the single statism of the European movement, with its straitjacketed currency, its flows of economic migrants and counterflows of subsidies, its everlasting crises and its humiliation of democratic governments. It is turning back to national identity, and there is nothing the EU can do to about it.

Certainly the EU is in a crisis from which it is likely to emerge substantially altered. The three scenarios I foresee are as follows:

i) A return to independent sovereign states with their own currencies.

ii) A survival of the customs union aspect but an end to the political union objective.

iii) an increasing intensity towards economic unity within the eurozone, led by Germany, leaving a residual group of nations remaining out of the euro and completely outside any political union aspirations.

It could be that i) and ii) come about at a later stage but the one which seems most likely in the near future is iii).

As a non reconstructed liberal internationalist, I have always supported the EU- to solve the world's problems we need more unity not less- and thought it would be good to be in the euro. But when I thought it through I could never see how, when some regions in the UK would prefer a different interest rate to other regions how a single rate for the whole of Europe- which basically suited its biggest member, Germany- could ever survive any really serious crisis. Now we have that crisis and the lines of fracture are so very clear to see.

Any single currency like the euro implies a supra-national degree of discipline and direction. Greece, Italy, Spain and Ireland proved not so biddable or adaptable and have precipitated a point of departure. Those who are happy to accept German direction and economic dominance, will, I guess, stay in a probably smaller euro-zone, and accept an even tighter regime of control from Brussells. The rest of the EU membership, including us, will have to make our future in the 'slower' tier of the EU, able to adjust our currency but outside the possible powerhouse of economic expansion.

Some right-wing Tories are urging Cameron to exploit the crisis as Bagehot discusses in his Economist column this week. His conclusions seem sensible, even if this gang of Tories is not:

Still, Eurosceptics are right about one big thing. Europe’s tectonic plates are moving, and Britain’s vital interests are in play. The government should plan defensively in case a moment for horse-trading arises. But it should seek a narrow, valuable and—if timed right—achievable concession. Try a protocol giving a veto over EU financial regulation to Britain (where the lion’s share of European financial business is transacted, after all). Forget blanket opt-outs that will not be granted. Europe is on fire. The moment is not golden; this is no time for glee.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Dorries to Lose Out Through Redrawn Boundaries but we'll all lose out as well

Redrawing constuency boundaries is causing MPs no little anguish. We know the Tories will gain around 20 seats from the Boundary Commission's redrawn constiuency limits. Labour will lose around a dozen seats, redressing the inbuilt bias towards Labour within our fairly rubbish voting system (recall I was an AV man).

Labour is always going to benefit to some extent from FPTP as it takes fewer votes in Labour constituencies to elect their MPs. Tories would need a swing of maybe 5 percentage points in addition to drawing level in votes to win enough seats to manage a decent overall majority. The reason for this is that Labour areas tend to be low voting inner city areas while Conservative seats tend to be in the high voting properous suburbs where huge 'wasteful' majorities are piled up beyond what is needed just to win. The Tories will have to do a fair bit more gerrymanmdering to remove this natural advantage and I wouldn't put it past them to try. As it is this exercise will not allow thesame kind of appeal process that existed in ealier reviews.

But what worries me is that taking 50 MPs out of the Commons will save us 12m quid but will reduce still further the talent pool of MPs available to serve as ministers. When a new government comes in it usually has around 350- 400 MPs available but of this number: around a third are too old, of feeble health or mind or are just not suitable for office. In addition not all MPs want to be ministers- maybe only 60% want to bear this burden. Moreover, as time goes by and ministers are found wanting and discarded, the pool of rejects gets larger and the pool of 'availables' gets smaller.

Robbing this 'talent pool' of another 50 MPs doesn't seem like sense tome. of course the sensible thing would be to remove the convention that ministers have to sit either in the Commons or the Lords. Visitors to UK are always astounded when I explain this to them. It's not needed but we cling on to it. I fear NO government will be sensible enough to take this necessary measure.

Friday, September 09, 2011


Skipper in Paris for Weekend

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


Why are the British Super-rich so Bloody Mean?

I see Osborne has reaffirmed he won't cut taxes or reduce rate of cuts, despite the near inevitability of a double dip recession. But there is one exception: he is considering dispensing with the 50 pence in pound taxrate for those on 150K a year. 20 economists have obligingly urged him to do this, this very morning too.

I feel so impotently angry about the arguments regarding the fat cats. We are told by economists and politicians on the right that we must keep the top rate low otherwise rich folk won't live here, spend all their dosh and benefit our economy. So therefore don't whinge but celebrate the fact that Sir Philip Green has signed over nhis company to wifey whose lives in low tax Monaco so that his hugely profitable retail empire avoids the kinds of taxes the rest of us mugs have to pay.

And in addition to all this we learn that, while other super-rich people like Warren Buffet and a number of French billionaires, are asking to be taxed MORE! The excellent Bagehot in The Economist made some telling points to make on this:

THE Royal Mail is not what it was, so perhaps that joint letter from British billionaires, volunteering to pay more tax, is stuck in the post. The absence of such a letter has certainly been noted. British politicians and commentators have pointed to America, where the investor Warren Buffett has fretted about being “coddled” with low tax rates; and to France, where plutocrats last month wrote an open letter offering to pay more to the state. In a challenge to Anglo-Saxon sniffiness about tax-shy southerners, the British press even carried news of civic sacrifice from Italy, where the chairman of Ferrari, a carmaker, said those earning several million euros a year should pay a supertax. It was almost a relief when British newspapers reported that Italy’s star footballers were threatening to strike rather than pay a wealth tax

If rich people are going to leave the country should they be forced to contribute a widow's mite or two from fortunes which they have not the time to spend, should we worry overmuch? I find it hard to.

Monday, September 05, 2011


Take it as Confirmed: Gordon WasNot Fit to be Prime Minister

When Andrew Rawnsley in early 2010 reported Gordon Brown had bullied, shouted and thrown things when angry, some added the pinch of salt appropriate for a journalist. When Mandelson said Brown was impossible we added the (slightly more) salt appropriate for him was added. Ditto for Blair himself and for Jonathan Powell, who owed natural loyalty to the object of so much Brown ire. Seldon and Lodge's superb analysis said the same things but toned them down, in keeping with a measured academic study.

Needless to say when Gordon denied all these things, backed up by his acolytes Balls and company, we either disbelieved them or were reassured our government had not been run for the past three years, and the economy for ten, by someone who might have made Adolf Hitler seem a model of pschological stability. So Alistair Darling's evidence has been awaited with great interest. He, after all, was a lifelong friend of Brown, a fellow Scot and a 'Brownite' in most senses of the term. In addition the former Chancellor is famous for understatement, for being boring even; certainly not for hyped up interpretation let alone accusations. Put it this way: I believe the man and always have; he just does not seem the kind of guy to tell lies.

So when he relates how Gordon ran a chaotic, last minute, advice of the last person administration, I tend to think he was dead right. My favourite story was the one about Gordon's speech about 'endogenous growth theory' when a hand appeared from behind a curtain and gave himthe second half of the speech which had not been finished before he started. But his furious controntations, his endless meetings when he contradicted his line in the one before, his tendency even, to throw things around when really angry- all these things bespeak a man totally unsuited to run anything substantial, let alone the fifth largest economy in the world.

Why did they not get rid of him? Well, Darling says: he was not a plotter; owed loyalty to an old friend, even if such friendship was not really reciprocated; and would never have left without a huge fight which would have ruined the party's chances of a wipe-out at the 2010 election. What I'm now dying to hear is what Gordon himself, whose ears must be scorching right now, will eventually say about this version of events, so universally confirmed by enemies,colleagues, civil servants alike. Brown is a proud man and will not be able to accpet, for instance, that it was Darling who was responsible for saving the banks in 2009, not himself.

Friday, September 02, 2011


Come off it Ed!

So much has been written about the Blair and Brown years we almost need a special shelf in our bookcases to accommodate them. The current one up is by Alistair Darling,perhaps the only Cabinet member to acquit himself with honour during the second half of the Brown premiership. At issue, or at least one of the debates arising is the alleged decision of Brown tomove Darling in 2009 and replace him with his close confidant Ed Balls.

According to memoirs and the received wisdom at the time, Gordon was furious with Darling for describing the economic crisis as the 'worst for 60 years' when his line was to say the economy was well able to withstand any likely buffeting. He wanted to shift him to another job but Darling refused to budge, judging, rightly, that Brown lacked the political strength to sack him during such fraught times and when his own
personal stock was so low. He courageously stoodhis ground and his fellow Scot decided not to take him on.

Ed now denies he ever knew of such a plan and that he in any case opposed it. This is a problem of credibility: who would you believe first? A sober, hardworking, unrufflable Scot or a clearly ambitious master of the political black arts like Ed Balls? Nuff said.

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