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(no subject) [Dec. 12th, 2004|06:22 pm]
There is some fascinating (and I use the term loosely) reading on delivery and perception of delivery in the public services over at ICM. It appears to show that many people simply don't believe the Government is delivering - not only that, but simply don't accept the facticity of certain achievements which are facts beyond dispute.

Asylum and crime are, perhaps unsurprisingly, the ones where the Government comes in for the most criticism. I'm not sure why this is - what do you think, is it because they have addressed the key issues of ten years ago (health and education) so these ones have moved up the agenda? Is it because things really are out of control (I don't think there's been that much change) or is it because the media have chosen to focus on them - are people that influenced by their newspapers?

Meanwhile, how might we set about preventing politicians from falling in love, given that we know that this warps people's judgement in all sorts of ways? Will David Blunkett be the first politician to go to court in an attempt to prove that he did father a child? Isn't it (rather bad taste I though, someone at work said this to me) meant to be doing it on your own that makes you go blind?
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Dull ramble about the European Constitution [Aug. 2nd, 2004|02:39 pm]
I think elections are about three things. There are other ways of dividing them up, but this makes sense to me.


1) The past - Whatever the parties might set out in an election manifesto, it is fairly clear that a large part of individuals' voting decisions is played by the concept of an election as a referendum on the record of the incumbent party.

2) The present - At the same time, elections are obviously a choice between different alternatives, the programme put forward in a manifesto, the leadership team of the chosen party, and what they have to say about the key issues of the day.

3) The future - A manifesto exists only as a guideline document - in no modern political set-up is it considered binding, and a leadership team is transient. People need a feel for the party they are going to support, and a notion of how they are going to act in situations as yet unforeseen - to whom will they turn for advice? What considerations will be foremost in their minds?


The European Constitution referendum will be similar to this, I think most referendums are, when they are on 'big picture' issues. The question is, which will predominate, and how would someone with my point of view vote?

1) I am largely sceptical about the benefits which have been brought to the UK by membership of the EEC/EC/EU. Broadly, I think there have been social gains, and economic losses. That these are not inextricably bound up with membership is demonstrated by the Scandinavian countries, varying in wealth irrespective of membership or not, and with progressive social and environmental legislation before EU membership. In that sense our EU membership may have tamed the rougher edges of Thatcherism, but if the electorate were voting for Thatcher, who are the EU to save us from ourselves?

Not having been of voting age until significantly after 1975, I have never been consulted about our relations with Europe other than via the proxy of a general or European election, neither binding nor specific. In consequence, if the European constitution referendum is a vote on the past, I would be tempted to vote 'no', declaring my ex post facto dissatisfaction with the deal I couldn't express an opinion on, at Maastricht, Tampere, Amsterdam, Nice or what have you.

2) On the other hand, I like a lot of what the constitution actually says (which is not much). On a pure analysis of whether the constitution is better than what goes before it, I would give a qualified yes. It is likely to deliver a slightly more democratic, somewhat more efficient EU. Faint praise, I know.

At the same time, I have problems bringing myself to vote for something which repeats things of which I never originally approved. If I vote yes, am I accepting the clause which states that the Commission can order member states to cut public spending, and force them to keep the reason they are doing so a secret? Or am I merely accepting that it was previously agreed (at Maastricht)?

3) What is inclining me to a 'no' vote is the way in which this has been phrased as a referendum for the future - a once and for all vote on how we relate to our neighbours. Some more Europhile ministers have trumpeted this as an opportunity to 'settle the European question for a generation'. Sorry, but no. If I were inclined to accept that this were a vote on the here and now, you have talked me out of it.

Looking at the way the EU has changed since 1975, and the way the 1975 vote has been used to justify everything for a further 30 years, I am deeply uneasy about handing a 'yes' vote hostage to another 30 years of integration. The constitution is part of the process, not the final settlement. If I am to vote yes to this change, then one basic demand must be that it is about this change, not future changes, and that the next proposal means another referendum on that proposal.
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Irony [Jul. 8th, 2004|10:05 am]
From http://deadmenleft.blogspot.com/2004/07/back-to-gutter.html

The really fatal flaw here is this: the SWP press is nearly forty years old. It is expensive to run and maintain, and increasingly uncompetitive. Not using it reduces the cost of publishing our material. Socialist Review, for instance, has now moved to full colour throughout on the basis of outsourced printing.

Who'd have thought it, using an external private sector supplier for specialist services can result in delivering a better quality service at a lower cost.

Will the SWP be supporting this proposal across the public sector, come the revolution?
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Thoughts on this week's elections. [Jun. 14th, 2004|10:42 pm]
Today is the day Michael Howard lost the next General Election. Following on from two and a half million votes for a hardline Eurosceptic party, and a worryingly high 800,000 votes for a neo-fascist party, Michael Howard responded by...

... reshuffling the health and education portfolio in his Shadow Cabinet.

It is clear that, as I thought he would, he has been seduced by the misconception that British elections are won in the centre ground.

They are not, they are won in the popular ground. The Labour Party didn't perform badly in the 1980s because their policies were extreme, but because they were unpopular, and their leaders were poor communicators.

In making the next election about Health and Education, Michael Howard will win over perhaps a couple of percent of voters who are on the moderate right and voted for New Labour or the Lib Dems because the Tories were incompetent, had run out of steam, or they were disillusioned with Thatcherism.

He will lose to UKIP, further right, or to staying at home, all those who didn't vote Conservative in 1997 because the Conservatives didn't stand for anything, because Maastricht had given too much ground to Europe, because crime had risen uncontrollably, and because the Tories were no longer a party of lower taxes.

In addition, he has failed, with a nod to the left and a wink to the right, to realise how divided his own party is. They will not hold together in the centre ground, and they need a leader who will steer a clear course in one direction or another, and accept that it may result in half a dozen MPs defecting at the edges - and wave them off cheerfully with a smaller, but stronger, team.

This is of no particular importance to me - I have no desire to see Michael Howard installed as Prime Minister, but if he is, it will not be by fighting an election on the issues where Labour is most trusted. The shift is to the right - the Lib Dems did well in local elections, where their message was anti-tax, and badly in the European elections, where their message was pro-Euro, anti-war.

If you disagree, ask yourself whether you can imagine Tony Blair, at the start of the next General Election campaign, declaring that he wishes to make it a referendum on Labour's moderate policies on Europe, crime and immigration.
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(no subject) [May. 6th, 2004|01:36 pm]
UK interest rates now up to 4.25%, compared to European Central Bank interest rates at 2% - what does that mean for convergence with the Euro then?

Thoughts on the European Constitution referendum to follow when I've collected them properly. Life is busy.
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House Prices [Apr. 14th, 2004|07:35 pm]
I think the headline figures on house price inflation are exaggerating how high it is. This is rather important given that it's the main reason the Bank of England are likely to keep increasing interest rates - damaging other areas of the economy such as manufacturing and exchange-rate sensitive exporters. It just came to me today why, so I thought I'd set it down before I forget.

We know that there is some extra inflation factored in by the fact that a lot of people have been using extra cash from their mortgages since prices went up a bit to do their homes up, so we're not comparing like for like - the quality of houses has increased over the last few years, so the price logically will, a lot of people have also been buying cheap houses and doing them up.

That's not what's occurred to me though, I already had an idea of that. My concern is about velocity. A lot of the house price indices work out average prices in a very simple way. They add up all the sales, and divide by the number. An average. However, that's the average price of houses which are actually sold, not the price the average house would cost if it were sold.

What's the difference, you ask? A lot has been made in the media of the fact that first-time buyers are being priced out of the market, and indeed a smaller number of sales are to people buying there home for the first time than ever before. What does that actually mean? It means that a larger percentage of the market is made up of people moving from one house to another. Higher velocity at the top end of the market. This skews the average.

If flats cost 3x and houses cost 7x, then if 100 people buy flats and 100 buy houses, the 'average price' of a home is 5x, but if 50 people buy flats and 150 buy houses, the 'average price' of a home is 6x - without house prices changing at all, the 'average price' has gone up by 20%! This might be why the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which actually has some like-for-like data, is not recording such outlandish price rises.

The question is, what does this mean if prices start falling - if first time buyers come back into the market, then prices at the lower end of the scale will actually hold up, yet any increase in affordability for them will make it appear that the market is collapsing, and create a panic in which they actually do fall, especially as possible negative equity issues prevented existing home-owners from moving.
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(no subject) [Mar. 24th, 2004|08:23 pm]
I was looking at the results of the French elections last weekend (which show a shift to the left, but don't seem to be the landslide they were reported as - that is to say where they were reported at all), and I had a thought.

A lot of the names, well, frankly almost all the names, seem very familiar, I think they are people who have been around forever. The Fascist Le Pen has led his party for 32 years, François Hollande may be a sprightly half-centenarian, but fought an election against Jacques Chirac in 1981. Chirac himself is seven years beyond UK retirement age, and while President now, became Prime Minister of France before I was born. The current French Prime Minister took office at the age of 54, whereas Tony Blair was 43.

I'm interested in whether I'm right, and if I'm right I'm interested in explanations. Are the French more deferential towards older people? Is politics a longer-term career in France in a way it no longer is in Britain? Are younger French politicians directing their ambition at the EU institutions in a way young British ones aren't?
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Paying for Higher Education [Mar. 13th, 2004|09:00 pm]
In their wisdom, it appears that the students of Oxford University have voted that the best way to plug the funding gap in higher education is to reduce the number of people going in to higher education.

Where could these cuts be most efficiently made?

Here's how much each student costs (HEFCE, 1999 figures).

InstitutionCost per student per annum
Leeds Met£4,514
Open University£3,808
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The role and purpose of terror [Mar. 12th, 2004|04:35 pm]
The recent events in Madrid are simply tragic - per head of population Spain has lost almost half as many lives as the USA did in 9/11. I think everyone has said that, though I was concerned that someone on BBC News decided this was an appropriate occasion to explain how it proved that invading Iraq was the wrong thing to do (not sure how this follows).

Meanwhile I'm thinking, are these not the most incompetent terrorists in the world? It must take a certain amount of organisational skill to wage destruction on that scale, but I always thought the point of terrorism was to make people afraid of you. Yet to make people afraid, they surely have to know that it's you behind it all?

Hence the odd turn of phrase on the news saying that a terrorist organisation has claimed responsibility for some atrocity or other. Call me Orwellian, but I have always thought that the news media should be encouraged to use the phrase confessed to.
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Out of character [Mar. 10th, 2004|03:42 pm]
You will find that I am not given to conspiracy theories, however there is something worrying me. Two premises, and a possible conclusion.

The first premise, not too controversial - The man running George W Bush's re-election campaign is famous for his mastery of the political dark arts. Read about some of them, and ponder the sheer genius of the man.

The second premise, a simple fact as I understand it - General Wesley Clark, when announcing that he would seek the Democratic nomination for President, was not at the time a declared Democrat. He has in the past (Reagan era) voted Republican.

The concern, then. Is it possible that Wesley Clark was planted by the Bush campaign in order to destabilise the Democratic nominee?. From where I'm sitting (England, admittedly), he didn't run a very good campaign in the primaries.


1) What impact would a last-minute conversion by Wes Clark to a supporter of George Bush, (eg because of some revelation about John Kerry's past), have on John Kerry's chances?

2) Is this feasible? I heard it said that Clark had the support of the Clintons, and whatever else they are, neither of them are stupid (though if there really is a Hilary '08 plan, they surely wouldn't want a Democrat to win this year?)

Just thinking out loud.
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