Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Who let the cat out of the bin?

OK, so by now, pretty much everyone on the planet, including a tribe in the jungle in Peru who have had no contact with the wider world since a plane flew overhead in 1952, has seen this photo:

Yes! It's the woman who put a cat in a bin.

I know it's August and no one really has anything better to do, but since when was putting a cat in a rather large box the worst crime known to humanity? Some people have even called for the culprit to be put to death.

OK. Let me get something straight here. The animal was a cat. It wasn't a small child, it wasn't a 85 year old man, it wasn't an adult. It was a cat. A small furry cat. It might be cute, it might purr sweetly when lazing in the sun, but it's still only a cat.

This woman didn't kill 55 Mexicans. She didn't rape 150 women and small boys. She didn't kill an 8yr old girl.

She put a Cat. In a box. She didn't break any law.

For fucks-sake people, there are serious crimes committed by nasty people. This woman, bad though she may be, is not something we should be getting riled up about. If you run over a cat in your car, whilst you may feel bad about it, there is no need to report it, same as hitting a badger, rabbit, stoat or any other wild animal.

Let's focus on the big things, right?

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Why the Defence Budget shouldn't be cut

OK, it took a while, but I'm now getting angry again.

Despite all the good words from the Tory leadership about how Defence would become important in their new regime, it's pretty clear that they never actually intended to back these words up with anything useful.

The argument at the moment is that Defence isn't special and therefore should suffer the same 25%-40% cuts as the rest of the Government. KingofWrong makes the excellent point here that actually the MoD is a completely different beast to the other Government departments (though I did like his ideas about snipers in Whitehall. I'm actually going to argue that Defence shouldn't be cut from a completely different angle. In my usual style, I'm going to look at the money.

In 1997 the UK Spent £25 Billion on Defence. That sounds like quite a lot, it's even fairly impressive compared to the £41 Billion spent on Health, or £37 Billion spent on Education.

However, by 2009 the Health budget had grown to £110 Billion and the Education budget had grown to £80 Billion. These grew by 2.7 and 2.2 times respectively (For interest CPI has been about 1.2 over the same time frame).

Defence on the other hand has grown to £42 Billion, which is bigger, but only a growth of 1.7.

Let's assume that Defence grew by it's fair amount (compared to other departments - I'm going to go with 2.2 like Education). Defence would now be £55 Billion in 2009. We can then apply the 'fair' 25% cuts, which brings us back to about £42 Billion again (Had it grown like Health it would be over £50 Billion with the 25% cut).

The Defence Budget has in effect already been cut. It never benefited from the massive spending increasing across all the other government departments, so it shouldn't be punished in the same fashion.

The Tories need to back off from cutting Defence now. If they want to choose to cut the budget then they should pull us out of Afghanistan, hand the Falklands over to Argentina and re-role our forces as nothing more than a slightly tougher police force (like many of our European allies). We can then rely on the French and Americans for our Safety.

Or, they could cut those departments that grew out of control over the last 13 years (including Health) and accept that some money is better spent than others.

Sorry for my recent absence. I'll probably start writing more frequently again from now.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Just not very angry at the moment

Sorry Chaps (and Chappettes, I have no idea if anyone reads this, let alone their gender).

I've not been posting much (at all?) recently, mainly due to being very busy all of a sudden. The other problem is I'm just not that angry at the moment.

  • There's a Tory government, cutting government spending and pushing through reform of a dazzling array of areas that were corrupted by the last administration.
  • England won the World Cup (in cricket, sure! But there's a reasonable chance we'll do OK in the somewhat less important Football tournament).
  • The sun is shining.
  • Generally, there just seems to be a bit of an air of optimism. Sure things are bad. The Euro might go tits up anytime soon (which really isn't very funny, quit laughing at the back!), but at least we're starting to do something about the incredibly crappy situation we're in.

So, why bother being angry today? There'll be plenty of time for that tomorrow.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

What I meant was...

Monday, 10 May 2010

Thoughts on PR and the Government we need

This is now the fourth time I've started this Post. I've been trying to write a sensible, balanced post without descending into circular arguments or just half-witted swearing.

Essentially there are two interesting things going on at the moment. And they're connected. Actually, there are three things going on at the moment, but for now I'm going to put the the Eurozone Bailout (funded by us!) onto one side for a particularly sweary rant later.

Right, the two things I want to talk about are:
  • Electoral Reform
  • Lib Dem support to the future Government
And boy! are they connected.

The price of a stable Lib-Dem / Tory Coalition will almost certainly be some level of Electoral Reform. I don't know what form this will take but I do know what form I'd like it to take and what form hundreds of under-informed students are stridently demanding it will be.

What I would like to happen is a mature debate around the merits of exactly what sort of elections we should have; who should be elected and what we want the government to do. This is exactly the sort of problem that cannot be solved by a minority shouting loudly for what they want.

The minority seem to be calling for Proportional Representation (or PR to its friends). This is very superficially appealing. The make-up of the House of Commons is decided purely by an exact ratio of the number of votes gained. The Lib Dems would get 23% of the seats, UKIP would get 3.1% and the BNP would get only 1.9%, or a mere 12 seats. As I've said in this piece pure, simple PR would lead to a nightmare situation. The constituency link would be broken and Party Politics would be even stronger than today.

The obvious solution is to say: "Well, sure! PR may not be right then, so let's work on another method". This could be something like the Scottish model, with a two tier parliament, partially composed of constituency MPs and the rest there to make the numbers balance. Admittedly this does use the d'Hondt method of assigning seats, which at least ensures that the smallest parties have to cross a threshold. It's argued that with some form of PR turnout would rise and the smaller, more extremist parties would be squeezed into irrelevance. This doesn't seem to be the case in Switzerland (54% turnout in the major elections. Though of course, much power there is devolved to the regions).

But all this misses the damn question. There are far more electoral problems than the mere method used to allocate seats. Why do Labour have more seats at this election than the Tories did last time, despite nowhere near the same share of the vote (And slightly tongue in cheek, where the hell were all the protesters when Labour 'won' with such a low share of the vote)? Should we have an elected House of Lords (I say no, but I can see how it could work)? Should the PM be elected directly?

Calling for Proportional Representation is just a lazy reflex response to perceived "unfairness". Voting for the Government isn't like ordering at a restaurant. You don't necessarily get what you want. You get what "the people" want. All the various voting systems try to do is work out from the mish-mash of actual votes what people actually wanted. Some reflect the people's will very closely, some lead to stable governments (Afterall, 300 years without a civil war is one of the best records in the World).

As DJPNZ said earlier: "PR will not cure our debt, or our social decay or underfunded armed forces" (he then bought up the possibility of a UK Federal system, bringing yet another possibility to be debated into the open). At the moment, we need to be cautious and have a mature, grown-up discussion about all the various things we need to do to improve the way we vote and what we're voting for.

The second interesting area is the possibility of a Lib-Con Coalition. On Friday morning I wrote a post suggesting that this could be exactly what the country needs for the future. There's a glorious possibility of two Parties coming together, losing their worst parts and becoming something greater than the sum of the parts.

I'd like to be optimistic and say that this is going to happen. It would probably be best for the country that it did. There's a lot of common ground between the Tories and the Lib Dems (despite the horror of some people on the left that perhaps politics isn't the simple right/left divide that they assume it is). The two parties both have good people and maybe could even do some good work together.

But, on the other hand, I can see this happening: The Lib Dems demand immediate, full PR. The Tories knowing this is a) suicide for them and b) bloody stupid (as outlined above) resist. Labour give Gordon Brown a revolver and a quiet room for the afternoon. Ed Millband (or Alan Johnson, or any of the various non-entities at the top of Labour) becomes the new PM. He then promises the Lib Dems a shared government, with both Parties having the same number of cabinet seats. Maybe the Lib Dems will get the seats which mean nothing to Labour, like Defence Secretary (which under Labour is the 23rd most important cabinet seat).

This coalition will be unable to do anything about the deficit (or stand firm on any other area) and the country will lurch forward another six months, teetering closer to the abyss (though unlike Greece, we don't have a $1,000 Bn bailout package set up for us). Eventually, probably on a minuscule point, the LabLib coalition will fall hard and a new election will be called. Odds are this would be before the coalition could push through PR, so it will be under FPTP again. Lib Dem voters would be demoralised and by then even Labour voters might be able to see the true face of their party. The Tories would win with a massive landslide and start taking the steps necessary to fix the country. They might be too late.

The latter situation would be best for the Tories as a party. They can watch the country burn whilst they wait for their moment in the electoral sun. Maybe we should all just be impressed that they actually seem to be trying to do what's right for all of us by pushing towards a stable Con-Lib coalition.

Are the Lib-Dems going to be able to put the country first as well? Or will they be seduced by Labours offer of anything they could possibly desire?

Friday, 7 May 2010

The Morning After

Well, I guess I feel like a lot of people today. I'm tired and slightly frustrated. I went to bed around 0600 when it was pretty clear that there wasn't a clear mandate in one direction of another. Now we enter into horse-trading. Maybe it will all be sorted by the end of the day, I don't know at the moment.

The whole election feels somewhat farcical. There are reports of fairly large numbers of people unable to vote despite turning up to the polling station before 2200. To me this is pretty simple. 2200 should be the last time you can turn up to vote. The doors then close, if you arrive at the station at 2201, you get sent home. But, if you are there on time, then no matter how long the queue - you get to vote. How hard can it be to close the doors and just wait another 30 minutes until everyone inside has voted?

(Sure, polling stations might not be big enough, but essentially: If you're in the queue by 2200, you get to vote. No exceptions)

Right, onto the actual meat of the matter. I can't imagine many people are "Happy" with that result. All major parties are probably a little bit disappointed. Maybe Labours result wasn't as bad as it could have been. Maybe Lib Dems never thought they were going to win more seats. Personally, I think that none of the parties had a good night last night.

But I'm a little bit of an Optimist. Maybe this is actually a good thing. Maybe a strong coalition government will be the best way to cut the debt without any one party being blamed for making the cuts that we all know are needed.

Maybe the Lib Dems can join with the Tories to build a new type of government, one not defined by where you are on the political spectrum, but one built on the vast areas of common ground between the two parties.

I don't know what's going to happen, but I am reminded of the Chinese curse:

"May you live in interesting times"

Well, we're certainly in one now!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Decision Time

My posts over the past few weeks have been mostly 'humourous' photos and slightly snide comments, but this one will be as serious as I can get. I make no apologies for that.

As you no doubt know, tomorrow is election day. At some point between 0700 and 2200 you'll be standing in a little cubicle, looking at a piece of paper and you'll have to make a decision.

Your mind may already be made up, and you'll stride confidently into the booth, stick a cross in the box next to your candidate, fold the paper, put it in the right box and stride out, sure that your civic duty has been assuaged for another five years.

However, your mind may be slightly wavering, and I'd like to talk you through the Choice you're going to have to make.

Firstly, I can see the attraction of voting for an independent like Old Holborn. He's making an alluring point about the general failure of politicians of all colours to solve our problems over the last few years and therefore you should protest by backing him or another minority candidate (I'd even include the BNP and the various other small parties in this bucket). Personally, I hope OH does well in Cambridge, I'd be very tempted to vote for him had he run during my university days. However, I can see that a vote for him, or any of the smaller parties is little other than a protest vote. Tomorrow may just be too important to risk a protest vote. Instead we should be voting for something.

Some of my friends and colleagues believe that this election should be characterised by a desire for electoral reform. They look at the polls and the projected results (in terms of seats) and wonder how a party can get so little of the vote and so much of the representation (and vice versa).

Rather than a protest vote, people want to vote for the Lib Dems because of their (wavering) commitment to electoral reform. Personally, I'm undecided on the benefits of Proportional Representation. I certainly think there are segments of the political spectrum who shouldn't be allowed a say. It's notable that only under PR systems do parties such as the Communists and the BNP (and they are much closer than either would admit) would gain any representation. We would also lose the constituency link as parties of all colours would stack their preferred candidates at the top of their lists, rather than a discreet set of people voting in their preferred candidate for each area. There's a strong risk that the ability to vote in a maverick, though party affiliated politician, would be severely reduced as the Party whips would be able to move them down their party's list of candidates. This would certainly be a more severe punishment than anything they can currently do to an MP, loved by their constituents, but who goes against the current party line.

However, I do believe that FPTP will need to change. I dislike the fact that the Lib Dems can get so many votes (but scattered across many regions) and win so few seats compared to Labour. I'm not sure what the optimum solution will be but I have no doubt that no matter what the result is tomorrow change will be coming to how we will vote in the future.

At least voting for the Lib Dems will be voting for something, but change is coming no matter who gets in. However, before voting Lib Dems, it's worth seeing what else you will be voting for. They have some desirable policies, I'd like to raise the taxation threshold to £10,000. I know that this will cost £17 Bn next year but it's still a relatively sensible policy. However, I can't agree with the Lib Dems position on the Euro, Crime and Punishment, Immigration or Defence.

They've talked about canceling our order for Typhoon Tranche 3, but when you look in their manifesto, they only mention Tranche 3B (Tranche 3 is now split into two parts, with the first ordered). They claim this will save £510m in a few years time, but without access to the contracts and the onerous penalty clauses, where does this figure come from? Also, wouldn't it make more sense to buy these aircraft and re-sell them onto the Omanis (who are very interested) and make a profit?

Their policy on the Trident Replacement is unfortunately not fully formed. Gordon made an excellent point that if the Lib Dems want to switch to a Air or Surface launched deterrent, they'll need to build many more warheads than we have at the moment, leading to more nuclear re-armament.

The immigration policy is massively un-costed and not fully explained. Afterall, if we don't know how many people are illegally in this country how can we check their claim they've been here for ten years? Let alone beginning to understand how much it will cost us to house these 'new' arrivals.

I can't in all good conscience suggest a vote for the Lib Dems. I actually hope they do very well in this election, move up to the official opposition and start understanding what being in power would require. I believe their policies would mature and they will one day soon be in a position to move into government. But not at this election.

I'm trying hard to keep the tone of this piece positive but with Labour it's increasingly difficult. I believe in the importance of benefits to those who need them. I believe that the NHS is an excellent system of health care (maybe not the best, but certainly a long way from the worst). I respect the increased share of government spending both Health and Education have received. I think in some areas there have been improvements. But these improvements need to be coloured with what they have done which hasn't work and what Labour have failed to do in the last 13 years.

I can't believe that of the £700 Bn of Government spending, there is nothing that can be cut. I can't believe Labour's position that the Government IS the economy. I get very angry about Labour's treatment of our incredible servicemen and women. Almost no matter what else Labour's failings, it has been their demand that the Forces do so much more with less funding and equipment that has rankled. As a result people have died. Almost nothing else a Government does will directly kill people. In this area Labour are unelectable.

However, they believe their strength is with the economy. And I can't fault them for bailing out the banks, the system needed to be propped up to ward off far worse events. Gordon talks of the dangers of removing the stimulus he's used to boost the economy. It comes to 0.1% of GDP. Other, more prudent countries have been able to stimulate their economies far more than that, because they saved money in the good times. Labour accuse the Tories of not understanding Keynesian Economics, but it is they who failed the first lesson: Spending is Counter-Cyclical. It doesn't just rise in the bad times, but has to fall in the good. Simply Labour ensured that when the worst recession in living memory came around, the UK was in the worst possible shape to deal with it.

Labour have had 13 years to shape the country as they see fit. A vote for them is a vote for a stagnant, government led economy. It's a vote for more dead servicemen and women. It's a vote for fear.

This, obviously, brings me to the last party on the list. Some would argue that the only reason to vote Tory is because the other parties, as shown above, are unelectable. I disagree. The Tories have actually run a campaign of hope, rather than fear. Sure, there were the broadsides at the risks of a Hung Parliament but these were the minority rather than the rule.

The Tories don't have a recent record that they can be judged on, unlike Labour. Their policies have to be workable and sensible, unlike the Lib Dems and the smaller parties. Their proposal to ensure that only the richest families pay the grossly unfair inheritance tax will cost the country roughly £500 m next year. This is about 0.3% of the total deficit, or 0.7% of our current debt repayments (Yes, thanks to Labour we are now spending £45 Bn on interest on our debt, much more than the Defence Budget).

The Tories haven't stated how they are going to cut the debt (not the deficit, that's just borrowing less, rather than starting to save). There's a very good reason for this. They're not actually in Government, they don't have access to the full Treasury. They don't know exactly where the Government are spending their £700 Bn. They can't say what they would cut or not, because they don't know where the Government isn't getting value for money. Labour do have access to this data and have refused to say what they would do. They know the Tories are going to have to cut, because they can see directly what a state the economy is in.

The Tories have indicated how they want to go about cutting the debt. They have proposed to not raise the rate of NI, a simple tax on jobs. Labour want to spend that money in Government, the Tories want to leave it in the economy. The Tories have said they'll put an end to this new culture of "Benefits for Life". I believe, based on the work at the Centre of Social Justice, that they'll succeed in reforming the Benefits system, delivering help to those who need it, but removing help from those who are just lazy. They'll change the system so that work is economically advantageous, rather than the situation at the moment where someone working more hours can lead to less money in their pocket. They'll change the fact that a couple can't live together more than 3 days a week to bring their children up together without losing some of their benefits.

There is a lot wrong with this country. There is a lot that's right with this country. The Tories have set out how they will protect and reinforce the things that are right, stepping back and letting teachers do their jobs; helping the NHS. They have set out where they will change what is wrong: Benefits Culture; Policemen fighting crime with one hand tied behind their back filling in forms.

There are a lot of reasons to vote against the Lib Dems and Labour tomorrow. But there are many reasons to vote for the Conservatives. A strong New Tory government will be in a position to start undoing some of the damage Labour has done, whilst protecting the things that are working in this country.

Tomorrow, you'll have to make a decision. Before you write that cross, hesitate for a moment and think abut what will be best for the country next week, next year and in the future. Good Luck.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Facepalm Mk II

Actually, this one is funnier:

Brown makes Britain an international Laughing Stock

I've had a look at what impact Brown has had in the International Press. Each of these images comes from the front web page of an international newspaper.

Thanks to Brown Britain is being mocked in Dubai, Italy, France, Argentina, the US and Singapore. And that's just the first six places I looked!

I've got no idea what "Un Disastro quella bigotta" means, but it sounds to sums up the situation perfectly!

Isn't The Mirror missing something?

Image taken at 1300BST.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Dave winning on Twitter

Current trends on Twitter, with ten minutes to go:

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Spoiling Political Scrapbook's Attack on Shaun Bailey

Political Scrapbook appears to be trying to attack My Generation/ a charity run by the Tory PPC for Hammersmith at the next election (A Mr Shaun Bailey).

The scope of their attack appears to be this annual report of the charity.

I assume at the moment, that this will take the form of the Charity receiving £35,110 from Gifts and Donations, with £10,904 spent on Management and Administration, with only £5,740 spent on Direct Charitable expenditure.

I've also had a look at the 2009 accounts which lists the following:

"Incoming resources from generated funds: Voluntary income: £58,572"
"Total Charitable Expenditure: £58,572"

EDIT (13:22 21/4/2010): This was only Restricted Funds, Total Charitable Spending was £116,000

Looks like once the Charity was set up, it got a lot more efficient at spending the donors money on actual Charity works.

I assume PS's attack is based in this very old post.

EDIT: (13:24 21/4/2010): I assume the attack will come through the "high" wages paid by the Charity, totaling £10,904 in 2007 and £52,199 in 2009. It appears this salary is paid to the Chief Operations Officer and the Operations Manager, along with the Part-Time Project Co-ordinator, Administrator and Youth Worker.

Assuming that this is 4.5 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) workers, that works out at less than £15k each, not exactly a high salary for people running a Charity.

For reference, the Salary of the CEO of WWF (another Charity) has salary and benefits of over $250,000.

EDIT: (16:17 21/4/2010) This whole thing was probably kicked off by this article in The Times. Basically, the Charity has donated £15,952 without any records of where it is. The tone of the article suggests it's a case of bad accounting (as you'd expect from a Charity that increases its donations nearly ten-fold in two years), rather than fraud. That article also mentions Joanne Cash in a similar context (she used the word "Charitable" to describe a social action project run and funded by her Conservative Association) but there doesn't seem to be any financial allegations.

EDIT: (10:44 22/4/2010) No sign of anything from Political Scrapbook. Maybe they've realised there's not actually much in the Annual Reports worth reporting on.

EDIT: (16:34 22/4/2010) Looks like Political Scrapbook have finally got around to releasing their attack . As expected they're claiming that the amounts used for administration are far too high. This is principally around the 2008 expenses, when £76,657 was spend on "Administration". Persumably, we're supposed to feel that this is money that has been creamed off into Shaun's pockets.

Well, let's have a look at exactly where that money was spent. This photo was taken directly from this annual report.

Despite their 'subtle' suggestion that Mr Bailey has been creaming money towards himself, it appears that the two biggest parts of the admin spend were "rent" at nearly £23k and salaries at £28k (Assuming this is split between the 3 FTEs identified in the report, they're pulling down a salary of £10k each). This doesn't seem to be gouging to me.

Ah ha! (you might say). But those nice people quoted a professor saying that Charities should only spend 15% of their income on Admin.

Charity Facts also says:

"What is an acceptable figure?
This is a difficult question to answer. The structure of the organisation, the nature of the work it undertakes and it's accounting conventions will all play a role in this. Also, good management typically costs more than poor management, so seeking to reduce costs in this area may ultimately be counter-productive as talented staff move on."

I'm sure also that a Charity pulling in £100k will have much higher overheads as a percentage than one pulling in £100 million.

There is another local Charity, which I have no reason to believe doesn't do sterling work, called The Hammersmith and Fulham Refugee Forum. In 2006 they recieved £83,492 in Grants (and £50 in Donations). They spent £87,099 on Administration (£47,570 on Salaries). (source)

NOTE: This is a work in progress, I'm going to react to Political Scrapbook's attacks as and when they actually happen (or, at the moment, before they do!)

Disclaimer: I don't know Shaun Bailey, I've never met him. I'm not a member of any poltical party. I'm not working in Conservative HQ (or anywhere else for that matter). I don't run a Charity, donate to anyone in particular. Any questions can be sent to the email address over there --->

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Crap Photoshop of the Day Mk III

Anyone wants to steal this, or any other images (and do them properly), please feel free. Minimal credit required on my part (though not none, i'm a vain, vain walrus).

Monday, 12 April 2010

Crap Photoshop of the Day MkII


Reading the Labour Manifesto - Chapter 1

I decided to have a look at the Labour manifesto, to see if there was anything entertaining to see. Of course, looking at this election's would be pointless, so instead I thought I'd have a look what they said in 2005.

I've included a couple of pictures below I pulled from here:
As you can see, I didn't get very far into it before I started spotting some hilarious predictions.

Apparently, under Labour the country won't go "back to Boom and Bust". Where we were fourth in the world in terms of GDP, we've now slipped to 6th, behind both France and Germany (I could have sworn that we were "better placed" than them before this recession!).

It's now 2010 and Employment certainly isn't full, not even with Labour's "Economically Inactive" tricks.

Have a look at this next snippet:

Inflation at 2%? Over the past year it's varied from +5% to +1% and it's now back over +3%. That doesn't seem like something that Labour are doing so well on.

Even better is Labour promising to "Borrow only to invest" and keeping Net Debt at a stable and prudent level. Well, National Debt was £400Bn in 2005. It's now over £951Bn and rising by half a Billion pounds a day (Unfortunately I'm not joking, see my other posts for what else we could buy with this sort of money).

See here for a live tracker:

I'm only a few pages into their last manifesto and on these fairly basic promises Labour didn't just fail, they failed so catastrophically they've potentially ruined the countries finances for vast majority of the foreseeable future.

Would you really trust the man who set your house on fire to put the fire out?

Thursday, 1 April 2010

£12m Labour donor's company sign the Tory NI pledge letter

I was highly amused to read this post from Left Foot Forward.

Apparently, some of the people who signed the letter pointing out that Labour's planned NI rise might not be a good idea (not surprising, seeing as it will cost at least 140,000 jobs!) have donated to the Tories.

If you include their companies, this comes to the total of £2.5 million pounds.

However, one of the signatories was Justin King. He's the CEO of a small grocer called Sainsburys. One of his major shareholders is a chap called David Sainsbury, that's Lord David Sainsbury of Turville to you and I. Him and his family control about 15% of the company. Effectively, he's Justin King's boss!

Over the years he's been a great donor to Labour. If you trawl through the Electoral Commission's list of labour donors, you'll find he appears a few times.

In total, he's donated a phenomenal £12,582,808 to the Labour Party since 2002. Over £4 million of this was in 2008 and 2009. That's about 12% of Labour donations over those two years, much more than Lord Ashcroft has donated to the Tory party. Compared to this, the £2.5m donated to the Tories is just small change.

Why didn't Left Foot Forward mention this when they were castigating the Tory donors?

Even Labour's biggest donors know that this NI rise is bloody stupid.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Tory NI Tax Pledge - Protecting at least 150,000 jobs.

Recently, we've heard that the Tories are not planning on putting through Labour's proposed NI tax increase if they win the election.

Somehow this has been portrayed by Labour as a "Tax Cut", although it's clearly not. Apparently, by "cutting taxes" the Tories have shown their true colours and are obviously trying to help their "Rich Friends in Business".

What they are actually trying to do is cut the cost of employing people.

National Insurance Tax isn't a nice fluffy way of sustaining the NHS, it's a direct tax on employment. And, like all things in life, if you make something more expensive (say, employing someone) the amount of that something that is bought drops.

Economists have a funky tool for measuring this effect, it's called Elasticity. Simply, this just reflects what the change in the number of units of something are sold if the price changes.

For an Elasticity of 1, a 5% increase in price leads to a 5% reduction in units sold.
For an Elasticity of 2, a 5% increase in price leads to a 10% reduction in units sold.

Take a tin of beans. Tesco are selling a 415g tin of beans for 64p. Assuming the Elasticity of Beans is 1.3, if they raise the price to 70p (a 9.4% increase) they will sell 12.2% fewer tins of beans than they did previously. Obviously, as volume is falling faster than the price is increasing, this will mean their revenues drop and their shareholders get very angry (Obviously, Tesco's shareholders are actually interested in profit, not revenue, which changes the picture somewhat. This is irrelevant when it comes to jobs though).

We can use this method to look at what happens when the wages a company has to pay for a given job change.

Obviously if wages increase, employment will decrease. Effectively, this Tax Increase says that employers have to pay more to each employee. This will lead to a reduction in employment, which even the Chancellor has admitted.

What is quite interesting is that he's completely failed to say how many people will be made unemployed by this Tax rise. However, we can use the calculation shown above to provide an estimate:

There are 28.86 million people employed in this country, according to the latest ONS figures.

If the Elasticity of Jobs is 1, then for each 1% rise we will lose 1% of the workforce. Darling says this is manageable. 1% of the workforce is 288,600 people. Over quarter of a million productive, tax paying workers will be fired. These people generate approximately £1,700 million in Income Tax, £700 million in National Insurance. Their companies pay just over £700 million to employ them. If they all sign up to Jobseekers Allowance, that's another £1,000 million each year to cover all these job losses. We're looking at a total of about £4 Billion pounds, just to pay for the fall-out of these Tax rises.

If the actual Elasticity is 0.5, we're looking at "only" 144,300 people unemployed and £2Bn of costs reflected in this. If the Elasticity is 2, it's double, with 577,200 people losing their jobs and £8Bn of costs.

The problem we have (and probably the reason Darling hasn't admitted to how many jobs will be lost) is that we don't actually know the Elasticity of Jobs. It's bloody hard to measure. It changes based on which country you're in (some are more likely to keep you around even if you cost more: Japan for example) or how much you earn (Those who earn the most turn out to be quite elastic).

Estimates vary from 0.5 to about 1.5 (looking at people who are highly paid).

What this means is that among the 288,600 people fired (assuming an Elasticity of 1) we'd actually expect a lot more of the high earners to lose their jobs (afterall, an additional £100 per year for someone earning £10,000 is a lot less than the £10,000 for someone earning £1m). This means the estimates above, which are driven by UK average wages, could even be too low.

But, in amongst all these figures, we're missing the important thing, the Human element. Even if we take the low-end estimate of an elasticity of 0.5, if Labour are re-elected they will then condemn nearly 150,000 people to lose their jobs. Do we think these will come from the Public Sector?

This means that the Tories have pledged to protect at least 150,000 productive, private sector jobs. Won't these be the exact people needed to drive the recovery?

Saturday, 27 March 2010

A Future Fail for All

What Labour's pledge card should have said...

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Government Borrowing "falls" to £5,126 a second

Good News Everybody!

The BBC are reporting that Government borrowing is "only" £12.4Bn in February. Apparently this "isn't as bad as some have feared".

Just to summarise this new debt being forced on us:

  • Every second in February, the Government borrowed £5,126
  • Every minute in February, the Government borrowed £307,540
  • Every hour in February, the Government borrowed £18,452,381 (yes, over £18 Million)
  • Every day in February, the Government borrowed £442,857,143
Let's assume that Lord Ashcroft decided that he should now pay UK tax on all his overseas earnings from his entire life (currently estimated at £125 million) then this will cover UK borrowing for less than seven hours!
If the latest UK winner of the Euromillions Lottery decided to give all their money (all £56 million of it), it would account for only three hours of borrowing!

At the bottom of the linked article, the BBC journo states that: "Moody's agency said the UK's top rating was secure."

Actually, what Moody's said was that: “On balance, we believe that the ratings of all large Aaa governments remain well positioned, although their ‘distance-to-downgrade’ has in all cases substantially diminished”

I.e.: The longer Labour are in power and continue to borrow our grandchildren's money, the more likely we're going to find ourselves stuck in a spiral of debt we'll be unable to control.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Labour Rats Abandoning the Sinking Ship

Following on from the list here showing all Labour Donors (who've donated a total of more than £100k since 2001). I decided to have a look through and see how donations to Labour have changed over time.

The following graph shows donations in 2008 compared to 2009 from Trade Unions, Individuals and Companies.

  • Donations from Companies have fallen from over £1 million to just over £750k, a drop of 25%
  • Donations from Individuals have fallen off a cliff from £6.6m to £3.7m. This is a massive fall of 45%
  • Whilst Donations from Unions have risen by 4%, this is hardly enough to counteract this massive shortfall in Labour's funding

Whilst in 2008, private individuals may have supported Labour to the tune of nearly £7m, these people have all realised what the true chance of Labour winning the election is and have chosen to take their money elsewhere. Rats off a sinking ship, anyone?

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Taxpayers are Bankrolling Labour!

Following on from this list of Labour Donors, I noted how frequently Unions were appearing on the list.

Recently, a PQ has detailed the cash Unions have received from the Union Modernisation Fund, written about by Iain Dale here. I've decided to not just focus on Unite, but see how much each union has given Labour and see how much they've received.

Whilst these figures do not include FY06-07 where Unite apparently received over £4m they do provide a little colour to show how Taxpayers money is being given to the Unions, who hand it straight back to Labour.

(If the image is unreadable, just click on it for a larger version).

The RMT recieved £194k and managed to scrape together £276k to donate.
The Communication Workers Union donated £151k and were given £166k.
Even the Musicians Union (who donated £281k) got in on the act and were given £47k.

As we can see, the government have given these Unions nearly two million pounds over the last few years. These are the people who have provided a massive proportion of Labour's Finances. In effect, Millions of pounds of Taxpayers money has been directly channeled from the Treasury to Labour's pockets.

Does anyone really believe that if this money hadn't been given to the unions by the government, they wouldn't just have donated a little less to Labour?

EDIT: Updated 17th March to reflect error in donations - caused by not counting donations from Mid-2007

Sources: The above PQ for the union funding by year and the database of party donors from here

Resource: Labour Donors over £100k

DonorNumber of DonationsTotal Donations
Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers3778,471,326
Transport and General Workers Union2846,721,215
Lord David Sainsbury56,061,808
Unite - AMICUS Section2585,258,720
Communication Workers Union (CWU)5345,193,968
Unite - TGWU Section852,662,979
Lord Sainsbury of Turville22,505,000
Nigel Doughty92,305,201
Sir Ronald Cohen102,300,000
Lakshmi Mittal22,125,000
Lord David Sainsbury of Turville52,016,000
Lord Sainsbury12,000,000
Lakshminiwas Mittal12,000,000
Unite - AMICUS371,531,477
UNITE - Transport and General Workers Union131,329,160
Amicus AEEU1001,311,486
Lord Paul Drayson21,005,000
Sir Christopher Ondaatje CBE21,000,250
Lord Paul Hamlyn21,000,000
Jon Aisbitt41,000,000
Joanne Rowling11,000,000
Mr William Haughey OBE3990,000
Communications Workers Union (CWU)158953,445
Mahmoud Khayami4830,000
Union of construction Allied Trades & Technicians68742,057
Communications Workers Union93693,361
TBWA London Ltd35692,763
Sir Christopher Ondaatje2600,000
Graphical Paper & Media Union56587,454
Transport Salaried Staff Association89582,252
Sir David Garrard2552,278
The Co-operative Party280534,768
Saatchi & Saatchi Group Limited4446,037
Sir Sigmund Sternberg22427,633
Derek Tullett CBE3400,000
Co-operative Party197356,915
Amicus MSF16356,532
Communication Workers Union CWU37341,942
Sir Gulam Noon6323,826
KPMG LLP23314,266
Muslim Friends of Labour8312,000
Lord Sushantha Bhattacharyya10306,594
Transport & General Workers Union11303,591
Sir Frank Lowe12300,000
Mr Nigel Doughty5288,000
Musicians Union62280,719
Mr William Bollinger3260,725
Mr Michael Watt2260,000
William Bollinger1250,000
Ronald Cohen1250,000
Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians22208,317
Sir Alan Sugar1200,000
Derek Tullet CBE2200,000
Bill Kenwright1200,000
Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP2184,193
Sir Maurice Hatter3176,000
Thompsons Solicitors74172,399
Unite - AMICUS Section - Sponsorship22171,207
Sterling Capitol Plc1160,000
Fire Brigades Union46158,948
The Co-operative Group11153,508
Mr David Abrahams (originally reported from John McCarthy)4152,125
Communication Workers Union11150,551
Mr Peter Coates2150,000
Mr Mahmoud Khayami - Sponsorship1150,000
Mr Derek Tullett CBE2150,000
Charles Peel2150,000
Bet365 Ltd2150,000
Mr David Abrahams (originally reported as from R. Ruddick)4147,850
Mr David Abrahams (originally reported as from Janet Kidd)6147,000
Picture Production Company Ltd2136,400
KPMG UK Ltd4135,000
National Union of Mineworkers54132,129
The Video Meeting Company Limited1131,930
Tait Communications9131,112
Croydon Labour Group30126,960
Denise Gleeson2126,750
Steve Lazarides1121,600
Rail, Maritime, Transport40121,454
Peter Thompson OBE2120,000
Haringey Labour Group34111,114
Mr Amin Hemani2110,200
Gulam Noon5109,000
Transport and Salaried Staff Association22108,640
Ceramics & Allied Trades Union20105,359
River Front Properties Ltd40104,073
Mr Christopher Ondaatje3102,500
Vera Archer1100,000
Thomas Marsoner1100,000
Sir Gulam Noon MBE1100,000
Mr William Archer1100,000
Mr Tom Hunter1100,000
Mr Derek Tullett1100,000
Mr Charles Peel1100,000
Hillside (New Media) Limited1100,000
Dr Paul Drayson2100,000
Bob Murray CBE1100,000

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Gordon is lying - again!

I'm getting pissed off with Gordon constantly prattling on about how Defence Spending has risen under Labour. So I decided to have a look at the reality of his claims.

The best measure of Defence Spending has always been looking at total cash spend as a percentage of GDP. For the US and China this is quite high (some claim up to about 10% for the latter). For Belgium it's pretty damn low (about 1.3%). Countries that actually want to have an influence in world affairs tend to be spending more than 2.5% (which is what France spends).

So, lets have a look at how Defence Spending has changed under Labour.

To no-one's surprise Defence Spending has fallen dramatically for nearly every year Labour have been in power. The only occasion Defence Spending managed to actually rise was when they were simultaneously spending on a large war in Afghanistan whilst watching the economy tank (It's more a case of GDP falling than Defence Spending growing).

Ah ha! I hear you say! Gordon actually meant that Defence Spending has risen in "Real Terms". GDP is irrelevant, just look at how much the Defence budget was, correct for inflation and you'll see that Defence Spending has gone up in every year. Afterall, Gordon wouldn't lie to us!

Well, lets see what that gets us.
This picture looks much rosier. In real terms Defence Spending has generally risen . However, there have been four occasions since 1997 where Defence Spending has fallen in real terms. To make these clearer, I've coloured them red.

Gordon is clearly wrong when he says that the Defence Budget hasn't been cut whilst Labour has been in power (it's even been cut since he was PM). It has whether you're looking at percentage of GDP, or in terms of 2008 cash. Time for an apology to the house?

The interesting thing isn't actually that Gordon has been caught lying. Afterall, that can hardly shock anyone now. Look at the time of the two most recent cuts. These are in 2002-2003 and 2007-2008. This is where Brown's testimony to Chilcot was "disingenuous". As the military were gearing up for an inevitable war in Iraq (for all the "right reasons", remember) the core MoD budget was being cut in real terms. As our troops were increasing (remember, the initial deployment was only supposed to be less than 5,000. Now there's about 10,000 troops in theatre) involved in ever-escalating warfare in Afghanistan the budget was cut again.

Whilst Brown is factually incorrect to say that Defence Spending has consistently risen, it's the fact that he's chosen to slash Defence Budgets exactly when our troops need more funding that shows how he really views the Military.

EDIT: A reader has suggested I make it clear in this analysis that we're looking only at core Defence funding. Obviously, this does not include spending on wars, which should be funded entirely from the central reserve. This should also include all UORs, which are Brown's favorite counter-argument whenever Defence Spending is bought up. However, it should be noted from this PQ in March 2009 that even UORs are sometimes part of wholely funded from the core Budget:

"UORs are normally funded from the reserve and not subject to repayment. There are however occasions when an urgent capability will also bring long-term benefit to the MoD, and it is therefore appropriate for the MoD to contribute to the cost of the UOR. Equally, existing funded programmes in the MoD’s forward equipment plan may be brought forward for urgent operational reasons, and if reserve funding is provided to meet the urgent requirement, it may be subject to repayment. Exact proportions of any cost-share will vary according to the particular projects and final costs and are not held centrally. An exact breakdown of costs to the MoD and the reserve for all UORs could only be provided at disproportionate cost."

If the MoD are having to spend their core budget on UORs, then the effetive reductions we've seen above could be even larger than these figures above show.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Exclusive! Antique Photograph of Gordon Brown

Today Gordon Brown has landed at Heston Aerodrome. He has with him a piece of paper, promising "No Return to Boom and Bust!"

We thank him from the bottom of our hearts!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Labour is talking bollocks on Crime!

I've been pretty cheerful recently, so it's actually been quite hard to find something to get angry about. Luckily, with Labour in power, you never need to wait long until they do something so aggravating it should be added to the cost of running the NHS.

Today's entertaining ditty claims that the Tories are weak on Crime. This should be a fun one. Afterall, the Tories didn't start a policy of releasing convicted and sentenced criminals just because they needed the extra space. Let's not forget that this scheme released over 11,000 people who the law said should be behind bars in just the first four months.

Anyway, the point of Labour's new attack on the Tories isn't that they're Strong on Crime (which they're clearly not) but that the Tories are weak.

Alan Johnson's statement provides two key points.

  1. Tories want to limit the use of DNA by the police
  2. Tories have campaigned against CCTV

Clearly these Tories are mad! Everyone knows that CCTV and DNA are essential tools in fighting the crime waves we're facing!

Except, as we all know, Crime is actually pretty static (it's only fear of crime that's up and you can hardly say that Labour have reduced the need for 'fear' in this country). So let's just look at how effective CCTV and DNA actually have been.

DNA first. The Tories actually voted against proposals to introduce mandatory DNA collection for "Recordable Offences". Wikipedia tells me these include: "drunkenness, poaching, public order, begging, failing to provide a specimen of breath, and taking a pedal cycle without consent." Does anyone really think that these are the sort of offences that should dictate mandatory DNA capture? Are they really on a par with Rape, Murder or other more serious offences? It's worth noting that for Rape and Murder, crimes were DNA evidence should be a vital tool, the database was only able to solve less than 30% of cases where they already had a DNA match (source). That means even when they were able to find a match to the criminal on the database, they still only had a 30% chance of actually using that to solve the case!

In addition, there are 28,625 people on the database who volunteered their DNA. These people are mostly victims and third parties who could have been legitimately present at the crime scene. Once they have given consent for their DNA to be added to the database "it cannot then be withdrawn". Their data will be saved for 6 years. It was only with a serious fight this was reduced from 12 years! Even the bloody EU thinks this is illegal!

Currently there's over 5 million unique entries on the DNA database. Roughly that's one for each ten people in the country. Does anyone really believe that there are 5 million criminals in this country (and I mean real criminals, not people who drove at 33mph in a 30 zone)? Still, the size of the database is no reason to dismiss it. Maybe it is solving thousands of otherwise unsolvable crimes? Actually DNA helps (so, this includes many cases that would have been solved anyway) a mere 0.36% of crimes. Maybe it would solve more if everyone was on the database, but if that's the intention then Labour should be clear about this, rather than trying to get DNA records for every possible "crime". How long before speeding, or littering is added to the list of offences that require DNA capture?

CCTV is much easier to dismiss as a crime fighting weapon. This is even more useless than DNA evidence. We have over one million cameras in London. They were reported to require '1000' cameras to solve a single crime. Whilst the DNA database costs a 'mere' £4million or so. CCTV has had £500m "invested" into it nationwide. The cameras are nearly bloody useless and cost a fortune. At least the DNA database is relatively cheap!

Labour have picked DNA and CCTV as sticks to beat the Tory party with. Both of these solve very few crimes and have massive civil liberty issues attached to them. If I were a Labour voter I would be very concerned that a party that has traditionally stood up for Civil Rights is now doing it's best to trample these in the dust and is smearing any party that is trying to stand up to them.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

In other news...

Read this story this morning.

"The Ministry of Defence has been accused of giving "misleading" answers to MPs scrutinising its budget. ..."Witness denials at that time of the existence of such a gap now appear disingenuous." "

In other news this man is a Catholic!

Detailed spectrographic analysis has proven that when clear, the sky is blue!

The sea has been found by scientists to be overwhelmingly wet!
Many people are coming forward to claim that this man is a bully in the workplace:

OK, maybe that last one wasn't such a surprise..

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Joke of the Day

Sorry for the lack of posting - Have been quite busy recently. Shall attempt to resume previous behaviour shortly.

In the meantime, here's a joke:

An Aussie truckie walks into an outback cafe' with a full-grown emu behind him. The waitress asks them for their orders.

The truckie says, 'A hamburger, chips and a coke,' and turns to the emu, 'What's yours?' 'I'll have the same,' says the emu.

A short time later the waitress returns with the order 'That will be $9.40 please,' and he reaches into his pocket and pulls out the exact change for payment..

The next day, the man and the emu come again and he says,'A hamburger, chips and a coke.'
The emu says, 'I'll have the same.' Again the truckie reaches into his pocket and pays with exact change.

This becomes routine until the two enter again. 'The usual?' asks the waitress.

'No, it's Friday night, so I'll have a steak, baked potato and a salad,' says the man. 'Same,' says the emu.

Shortly the waitress brings the order and says, 'That will be $32.62.'

Once again the man pulls the exact change out of his pocket and places it on the table.

The waitress cannot hold back her curiosity any longer. 'Excuse me, mate, how do you manage to always come up with the exact change in your pocket every time?'

'Well, love' says the truckie, 'a few years ago, I was cleaning out the back shed, and found an old lamp. When I rubbed it, a Genie appeared and offered me two wishes. My first wish was that if I ever had to pay for anything, I would just put my hand in my pocket and the right amount of money would always be there.'

'That's brilliant!' says the waitress. 'Most people would ask for a million dollars or something, but you'll always be as rich as you want for as long as you live!'

'That's right. Whether it's a gallon of milk or a Rolls Royce, the exact money is always there,' says the man. The waitress asks, 'What's with the bloody emu?'

The truckie sighs, pauses, and answers, 'My second wish was for a tall bird with a big arse and long legs, who agrees with everything I say.'

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Labour spending on Advertising

I read an article in the Evening Standard a few days ago, which on reflection was probably nicked from this article in Guardian.

It stated two things I found quite interesting, one that the Government was now the largest spender on advertising in the country, beating P&G. The other was that this spend had risen 43% in the last year.

I've seen a few of the adverts the Government has placed and often they appear to be doing little more than telling people what a great job the Government are doing. Is it any surprise that spending on this rises before an election?

I've had a look at Government spending on advertising thanks to the COI (Central Office of Information). The Mission Statement for the COI is:

"The aim of COI is to enable central government and public sector bodies to secure policy objectives through achieving maximum communication effectiveness and best value for money."

Ah, that old trick: If no-one sees you do anything, it doesn't actually happen. If you tell everyone you're doing a great job, then even if the act itself was a failure, you've achieved your 'policy objectives'.

Well, with some serious digging I was able to pull up a few Annual Reports for the COI (some were obvious, other required entering likely URLs) which I've used to produce the following simple graph showing total spend for the COI from everything from consultancy to traditional adverts.

As you can see, total COI spend has risen from around £100m in 1997-1998 to over £500m this year. Yes, Labour are spending five times more on government propaganda now than they were at the beginning of their regime.

Does anyone really think that we should be wasting £500m just telling people what a good job the Government is doing? Couldn't that money be better spent, on Hospitals, Teachers, or Body Armour for our troops (As I pointed out here, this would be enough to buy over 300,000 sets of armour for our troops!)?

Another, possibly more pertinent point is looking at the timing of the spikes in spending. As mentioned above, spending has risen by 43% in the last year. On the graph I've marked on in black the years when elections took place. In every year before an election this Government's spending on advertising how good it is increased a lot before settling back down again the next year.

In 2000/2001 spending rose by 48%, more than even this incredible rise. The only reason this year is particularly obvious is that spending overall has risen by such an incredible level (16% year on year on average!).

Labour are not only wasting another vast pile of public money, they are actually using that vast pile of public money to promote themselves in the run up to elections! Is this actually legal?

Oh, if anyone wants the source data, drop me an email, address over there --> somewhere.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Labour has killed Manufacturing, not the Tories

I'm getting increasingly confused by all the #changewesee tweets talking about how manufacturing is in such better hands when there is a Labour Government in power.

Because I'm not a pillock, I decided to check the facts behind this whole situation. The following graph shows what percentage of GDP manufacturing has made up. My source was the World Bank. The Blue line shows a Tory Government (1979 -1997) and the Red line shows the current Labour Government (1997 - current).

Between 1979 and 1996 Manufacturing's share fell from 26.7% to 21.2% of GDP. That's a fall of -21% (or a CAGR of -1.4% / year). There is clearly some truth that Manufacturing didn't do very well under those 17 years of Tory power.

However, between 1997 and 2005 (my last data point I'm afraid) manufacturing fell from 20.6% to 13.6%. That's a fall of -35% (a CAGR of 5.2%), significantly more than under the Tory Government and in a lot less time (as the CAGR shows).

Whilst the Tories may not be good for manufacturing, Labour are a damn sight worse.

Fox at RUSI: Do the Tories 'get' Defence?

Yesterday, the Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for Defence gave a speech at RUSI laying out what the Conservatives are seeing for the future of Defence in the UK. The full text is available here, but I'll be pulling quotes that I feel are interesting.

This is a pretty important speech, as it gives us an opportunity to see how screwed the Armed Forces will be under a Tory government.

One of Foxy's earliest points is to point out that unlike the current governmental incumbents, he does not believe that the UK will always be fighting with allies. He states that:

"Second, we cannot accept the assumption in the Green Paper that Britain will always operate as part of an alliance. We have unique national interests and have to maintain the capability to act on our own if required."

Bravo that man! This is a fundamental tenet of the UK's armed forces. Sure, we're not the biggest, or the best equipped. But we should always be able to operate on our own, without missing any critical elements that we've relied on allies for (ISTAR, CAS, medevac, or anything else).

He even lines out a sensible structure for the upcoming Defence Review, which hopefully hasn't been too pre-judged by the Green Paper:

"As for the review itself, it must have a logical sequence. It must begin with our foreign policy priorities, outlining our national interests. We must then consider the threats which may affect our interests so that we can determine the defence strategy needed to respond to them. Only then can we determine the military capabilities we need to protect those interests in this threat environment.
Only then can we come to the equipment programmes that will make these capabilities a reality."

The traditional way of running a Defence Review has been to work out what equipment we can afford, then which threats that the equipment is capable of operating against, then whether we'd like to be able to meet those threats or not. Whilst at the moment, this process is just talk, it is at least the right sort of talk.

Foxy then moves onto some potentially unpopular (well, on Whitehall anyway) suggestions:

"We must be able to defend the UK against the threats posed to our interests within reasonably predictable limits...When required the Armed Forces must be able to augment and support civil emergency organisations during a time of crisis.

Defending the UK also means maintaining key strategic tasks like a continuous at sea submarine based minimum credible nuclear deterrent.

Secondly we must be able to defend our fourteen overseas territories and, of course, the main focus is on the Falklands.

Thirdly, when required, we must be able to come to the aid of NATO allies in a significant way under our Article V obligations.

Fourthly, we will need to be able to project power on a strategic level alongside the United States and France.

Fifthly, we will have to have the capacity to conduct extended stabilisation and nation building exercises

Sixthly... We will continue to work closely with countries with shared mutual interests and geo-strategic importance, like Norway and Turkey or Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States."

As before, this is all sounding remarkably sensible. I can't actually disagree with any of these points. This is sounding like a government who understands the point of actually having an effective Armed Forces. Foxy isn't talking in grey terms about "A Force for Good" but actually laying out the jobs he's expecting our servicemen and women to be doing.

He outlines an array threats, from the usual suspects (TERRORVISIONISM) to a few that are new but more likely and more threatening (Cyber-warfare, Nuclear proliferation, Piracy). He doesn't discount state-on-state warfare, whilst reiterating the importance of being able to operate as a counter-insurgency force. He even uses the phrase:

"This has led many to believe that we have to choose between fighting 'the war' or 'a war'-but this is a false dichotomy."

Bloody hell, that's one of the most sensible Defence comments I've heard since someone suggested that perhaps we should do something about this Hitler fellow.

He even mentions the Russian invasion of Georgia (is it me, or did the current government miss that game entirely?), drawing not just conclusions about the kinetic weapons employed, but also the broad range of information operations. Someone is clearly briefing him properly. And more spectacularly he is listening to them. This isn't something you normally expect to see amongst Defence focused politicians.

The next part of the speech is focusing on equipment. As mentioned above, this follows the structure for the Defence Review, first focus on threats, then what you buy to deal with them.

However, the good Doctor continues his sensible analysis. One phrase I saw was:

"In order to ensure we are able to respond to rapidly to changing threats we must have a vibrant defence industrial base. Without it we would have no operational sovereignty-thereby threatening our national sovereignty."

Is anyone else hearing the resurrection of DIS? Unusually for the Tories, with their previous focus on telling the Government they should have been buying American products, it sounds like they're actually starting to understand one of the basic rules: If you have no Defence Industry, you have no Defence.

Foxy then brings up and interesting and for Labour, distasteful point. Exports. He says both that: "The Conservative Party will use defence exports as a foreign policy tool and we will seek to increase Britain's share of the world defence market." and that new equipment programmes will: "have a high export demand". This is only common sense. A system that costs £1Bn a pop and can't be bought by anyone else is a lot less useful to our armed forces than a system that provides 90% of the capability for half the price AND can be sold to our allies, dropping the unit price further. Our constant gold-plating of pretty much anything we've built or bought has destroyed the ability for the UK Defence Industry to flog it.

Labour has talked at great length about how the Tories will turn their backs on Manufacturing. Here is a clear example that under the Tories, our largest manufacturing export industry will actually be encouraged, rather than seen as some dirty secret.

Brilliantly Foxy was even able to point out the truth that we've all known for some time: That under the current financial constraints operations aren't being fully funded from the Treasury Reserve as they should. Whilst this may be a complicated political point to the general public, it's a critical part of how our Armed Forces operates. The Budget only exists to give them the capability to go to war (the equipment, training and manpower required). To actually go to war (for example: replacing worn out equipment) the costs have to be funded by the Treasury. This hasn't been happening, so the Forces have been cannibalising training and equipment to fund the Government's war.

Foxy goes on to point out that financial constraints will provide a serious limitation (much of what he's quoted above is expensive) on the next Government to actually fund Defence properly. It will be very interesting to see how the Tories manage this problem over the next year. As he points out, the financial constraints may make it possible to drive through reform that would be impossible otherwise.

Right, my final thoughts on the speech. I think what he said was excellent. He sounds like a minister who has deeply understood the problems of his portfolio (one of the toughest available). He has detailed the threats that the Forces should be balanced to deal with and what capabilities are required (without demanding specific pieces of equipment). In fact, by staying away from equipment, he was able to keep the speech fairly force-neutral. He did mention both the Navy and the Army (with no mention of the RAF) but only both briefly and in the context of current threats. I imagine at the moment, he's steering fairly well clear of the minefield of inter-service rivalry. Maybe, with the upcoming review, he may be able to do something about it. From the intelligence contained in this speech it appears that he's smart enough to understand the value of some under-appreciated capabilities we have today, such as Fast Jets, ASW and heavy armoured units, which whilst not particularly useful against the Taliban have proved their worth time and time again.

To my mind, this is one of the best Defence speeches for some time. For all the talk that Brown has finally "got" defence there is no substitute for a minister who understands the issues and is able to eloquently defend his position. However, it is just a speech, it won't achieve anything on its own. I hope that it's merely the start of a sustained Tory understanding of the problems. Can Dave spare Defence from the worst of the cuts, listen to his minister and understand that there are votes in the UK being strong and able to stand with the rest of the world?

Monday, 8 February 2010

What are the Met Office playing at?

OK, it's just after 1330 on Monday 8th February. I've just gone and picked up my lunch. To my surprise it was snowing pretty damn heavily.

I decided to swing by the BBC weather feed (direct from the Met Office) to see what they had to say. Surprisingly they'd decided that it wasn't actually snowing outside (See the image below).

This being somewhat contrary to my actual observations, I looked at another weather site (Accuweather, which is based in the US). For whatever reason, they were actually predicting snow today:
Who cares? I mean it's only weather forecasting, it's not actually a serious matter surely? Well, as I noted a few weeks ago the Met Office don't seem to actually be doing a very good job of Long Term forecasting and I suggested that their computer models (biased towards warming, as even the BBC picked up) were affecting their forecasts.

Well, it's been a pretty cold winter so far. Sure we've had a week or so of slightly warmer weather, but the Arctic Oscillation is heading negative again. It wouldn't take a Rocket Surgeon to assume some colder weather is en-route and perhaps the odd warning of snow would be useful.

The belief currently is that the Met Office has only screwed up their long-term forecasts with their increasing reliance on models. As today's results show, it looks like they may be getting the day by day forecasts wrong as well. If an American company based in Pennsylvania can predict our day-to-day weather better then surely the Met Office are doing something wrong.

Incidentally: this is that company's prediction for this January. This was made in November. Looks like the Met Office is pretty much the only people who thought it would be mild

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Quick look at the Legg Report

Had a quick glance through the Legg Report.

I've even had time to produce an extremely rough and ready bit of analysis on the results.

Of the major parties, Labour and Conservative are tied with about 60% Troughers, with the Lib Dems trailing on a pitiful 40% of their MPs caught stealing our money.

However, the Tories are able to easily top the money stolen stakes: On average each Tory thief was forced to return nearly £3,400. Lib Dems about £2,400 with Labour showing a lamentable lack of imagination with a paltry £2,100 each. Gordon Brown was found out for nearly£13,000, truely showing the Labour laggards where they've been going wrong. If that's not leading from the front, I don't know what is!

Over half of our MPs were caught stealing to some degree. 19 were billed more than £10,000 with Peter Lilley leading the pack with a spectacular £41,000 of repayments! In fact all of the top five were Tory.

In total, over 180 stole more than £1,000.

Hopefully most of them won't be coming back in June.

This is based on a seriously quick peice of analysis, it may not be 100% right. You try replicating this if you want to check it.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Flicking through the Defence Green Paper

I've not read the new MoD Green Paper yet, I've only had time to flick through it.

However, I'm a great believer that you can get a really good idea for what the paper is saying by how it's presented. Each chapter is introduced with an image, showing our military doing what it does best. These are the sort of images to show the cool stuff you want your forces to be doing, they're supposed to blend into the overall impression this report is actually supposed to recommend.

I figure we can use these images to provide a fairly handy view of what the contents of the paper (and of course what the outcome of the Defence Review will actually be). Have a look at the picture below, which shows every single image through the entire report.

Let's have a look at what we've got here:

Intro: Soldiers carrying Afghan civilians - Army
1: Nuclear Deterrent - RN
2: Solders somewhere Dusty - Army
3: Looks like RN Sea Kings dropping off Marines - RN
4: Solider somewhere dusty AND helping civilians - Army
5: A Sailor - RN
6: You can almost imagine the problems with the sixth image. We've had three from the Army and three from the RN. Shit! We'll have to find an image from the RAF, but what can we possibly use? Typhoons look too expensive, VC10s and C17s are too busy to get a photo, Reaper is somewhere hot and sandy and everyone knows the RAF can't be there, so we'll have to use a photo of a Chinook. Besides, Gordon has announced that he's buying a few more, so lets stick a photo of that in.

Well, it looks like the future of defence has been decided. Lots of solders operating in sandy places. Submarines with plenty of nukes to keep the Russians / Chinese at bay and air-support only where it's directly transporting troops. Maybe a big ship or two (like HMS Ocean, a massive success) but nothing small and useful.

What's missing? A list of the top of my head would quickly include: ISTAR, Frigates, Armoured Ground Units (APCs would be useful and haven't we bought a huge number of those recently), anything that flies that's not a troop transport (so: CAS, AT, UCAVs, etc).

Can we use these images to come up with an idea of what the Defence Review will actually say? Of course not! It's several months away and under (hopefully) a different government.

Well, let's do it anyway. Afterall, if I'm completely wrong, I'll forget I ever wrote this post but if I'm right..
  • Looks like the Army have won the war between the services.
  • We're going to only be fighting in sandy places in the future - even the Marines are landing on somewhere sandy (though with some green trees in the background).
  • Lots of Hearts and Minds work in those sandy places, minimal focus on actually shooting anything
  • There will be no need for anything expensive, aside from maybe a big ship or two, particularly if they're built in Scotland (got to keep the Labour voters on-side)
  • Can the RAF, in fact can anything that's not directly related to keeping the soldiers on the ground happy. A2A is certainly right out, no-one has any advanced fighters any more and our friends the Russians would never sell the T-50 to anyone who doesn't like us anyway.
Generally, it looks like we're abandoning having balanced forces and any aim of being able to mount operations on our own.

I've gone through the "Partnership" part of the paper. It's quite short, only 1000 words long (so about my typical blog post).

NATO appears 6 times
Europe (or European) appears 6 times
EU appears 5 times
America appears once!
US appears once!

The exact quote for the last one is: "A robust EU role in crisis management will strengthen NATO. Playing a leading role at the heart of Europe will strengthen our relationship with the US."

So, let me get this straight, the best way of dealing with the Americans is rather than talking to them directly but instead hoping our European Allies let us talk to them occasionally in the context of a multinational EU defence force?

Guess the MoD is getting itself good and ready for massive budget cuts.
We should start getting ourselves ready for the day when we have to rely on France for our National Security.

Maybe this is the final act of Labour, finally screwing the economy so badly we can't even afford to defend ourselves any more.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

8 Benchmarks and what the Tories should be saying

I've been looking at Osbourne's 8 "Benchmarks for Britain" in this speech.

Well, first I had to actually find them, there was a lot of waffle in the speech and I'm still not sure I've got the right bits. I was always taught that when public speaking to use lists, rather than some ambiguous bollocks with an occasional point.

Anyway, as I understand them, here are the "Benchmarks", they're all taken as quotes from Georgie's speech with most of the waffle removed.

1: Cut the deficit more quickly to safeguard Britain's credit rating.
2: Higher exports, higher business investment and higher saving as a share of GDP.
3: Lower youth unemployment.
4: Improve Britain's global rankings for tax competitiveness and business regulation
5: We will raise the private sector's share of the economy in all regions of the country.
6: Higher public sector productivity and better value for money.
7: Create a safer banking system that serves the needs of the economy.
8: We will see lower emissions and a rising global market share for low carbon technologies.

Lets go through them one by one and see what use they are.

1. "Cut the deficit more quickly" - what does he mean that 'more' quickly. Quicker than Labour, Quicker than it's been cut over the past few years? Whilst I applaud the intent to protect Britain's Credit Rating (which I've talked about here) and I'm sure that cutting the Deficit is the way to go, a little more detail would be nice.

2. Higher exports - good. Higher Business investment - good, but from whom? Higher Saving - Well, perhaps people might be saving if interest rates weren't unprecedentedly low? Again, these are all lovely ideas, but are somewhat lacking in substance. Also, all of these are pretty much at record lows at the moment, and any improvement will be "Higher". Again, where is the detail? Why not "Increase exports as a percentage of GDP by 15% over 5 years"? Still, on the bright side, if the Tories cut Government spending (currently 44% of GDP) by 10%, all of these will increase without any work done. Easy, but somewhat pointless.

3. Well, it's at a record high at the moment, can't see this one being too tricky. Just got to give one 18 year old girl a job and you've "lowered" youth unemployment.

4. This one I actually quite like. Sure, there's no detail and under Labour we've slide from 4th to about 85th on both these counts. Logically the only way is up but the intent is decent.

5. Raising the private sectors share of the economy in all regions is another good one. Areas such as Gordon Brown's constituency where 75% of households are partially or totally dependant on the state are a sign of a failed administration. Roughly two thirds of the whole of the North East are in the same boat. It's about time those situations are changed. A smaller public sector can only help the country as a whole.

6. Higher public sector productivity is a lovely idea. It's also fairly easy to achieve. Even Labour increased public sector productivity by 2% over the last decade or so. Of course, you have to compare that to the 30% increase in productivity the Private sector managed. An increase is easy! Some detail would be great, like: "Increase productivity by a minimum of 75% of private sector productivity improvement"!

7. Safer Banking System - well, it's meaningless bollocks that sounds good, I suppose.

8. Ah, the good old Low Emissions and Low Carbon Economy and Exports game. The Tories had better seriously hope we're not heading for another Dalton Minimum. If we do, they're going to look fucking stupid, hitching their election bandwagon to Climate Change. Their problem is that whilst their mates in Notting Hill all passionately believe in the religion of AGW, the rest of the country, particularly in areas where they need a serious swing, are far less certain. I'd bet nearly any sum of money that a policy of "We need to wait and see before committing Billions to fight a problem" will drive many more votes than spunking money on an increasingly ropey looking theory (for Christ's Sake, even the bloody Guardian is slagging off Climate "Scientists" these days!)

Overall rating - meh.

These points are the right ones, but the lack of detail makes the whole thing rather pointless. I'm guessing the Tories don't want to be nailed to a promise they can't keep, but it never hurt New Labour to miss pretty much every target they set themselves.

Over the last few weeks the Tories seem intent on throwing away this election. I don't quite understand why. All they need to be doing is building on some simple solid policies (none of this crappy Policy a Day bollocks, I mean Prison Ships, who cares?).

Why don't the Tories say something like these:

"We will encourage the economy to grow by reducing taxation and regulation on Businesses"

"We will be careful with your money, cutting government spending and improving Public Sector Productivity, and driving economic growth through our private sector policies"
"We will slow Labour's immigration, to focus public spending on our current population"

"We will fight for the rights of the Victim, not the criminal"

"We will put Teaching back in the hands of Teachers and Headteachers, not bureaucrats with clipboards"

These would probably do far more to drive confidence that they're actually trying to win this bloody election. It would provide a simple message for Ministers, MPs, PPCs and all the rest to say whenever they're interviewed. If you're worried about people going off-message, then your message is either way too complicated, or wrong.

Come on Tories, drop all the bollocks and start trying to win this election!