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!