Monday, 31 May 2010

House Building Targets Scrapped... Grrrrr

From the BBC:-

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said councils would now be given the freedom to make their own decisions, not be "bossed around" by central government.

So, presumably all those councils that the Conservatives' High Speed Rail line will be going through will now have the power to refuse to allow it? Or will the government still be bossing them around when it comes to that matter?

It will no longer be possible to concrete over large swathes of the country without any regard to what local people want.

Jesus. The Barker Report was to build on something like 1% of the flipping greenbelt. The people using the greenbelt for its required purpose (city dwellers having green spaces which was the whole point of the greenbelt) would hardly notice.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Good Column from India Knight

Well worth 10 minutes of your time...


Wednesday, 26 May 2010

From John Redwood's CGT Letter

26th May 2010:

The government has said it wishes to assist a substantial private sector led revival, and wants to see the enterprise sector create more jobs and homes for rent.

28th April 2010

The Conservatives have stated that if elected to government they will abolish regional planning quangos and the regional housing targets that require Wokingham to build on this scale. The Council would under these proposals be free to draw up a new local plan with less development in it. I would urge them to draw up such a plan keeping the sensitive greenfields adjacent to the existing settlement free of new building, and to take into account transport and flooding constraints on housing numbers.

So, John Redwood wants more homes for rent, just not in his back yard.

One of the reasons I supported centrally imposed regional housing targets is that no-one wants to have houses, nuclear power stations or sewage plants built in their back yard and left to local authorities, you'll get never get any of those built anywhere.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Funny Video

OK, in terms of the British economy it's a bit simplistic, but lots of good stuff about some of our neighbours...

Childish Gesture Politics

I'm probably going to be going against the grain on this one:-

£10m savings on cutting down on first-class travel and £5m from restricting ministerial cars and drivers and getting members of the government to walk, use public transport or a pooled car. David Laws, the chief secretary to the Treasury, is the first ditch the personal car and driver he is entitled to.

The first-class travel for MPs I broadly agree with, but I'm really not sure about restricting ministerial cars. The issue strikes me as ticking 2 boxes: the public who are angry about expenses and the eco nuttters.

Because whilst I like the idea of MPs remaining grounded, the fact is that most of us don't have a billion or more of spending under our control. Are we really to expect that when Michael Gove goes off to a school in Devizes that he'll take a tube across to Paddington, a train to Swindon and buy himself a Wiltshire Rover ticket and sit on the bus there?

It's daft penny-pinching which will save something close to piss all. Closing down the DCMS or DBERR would save far more money and do far more good.

Wanted: World's Smallest Violin

Mike Ockenden, Director General of AHIPP, comments on the Government’s decision to suspend HIPs with immediate effect:

"We are hugely disappointed to hear that Grant Shapps has reneged on his promise to review the packs before any other action was taken. Over 3,000 jobs will go and 10,000 will be affected as a result of the suspension of HIPs and £100million revenue will be lost to the Treasury in VAT receipts."

Monday, 24 May 2010

Silly Article From Peston About Business Cuts

From The BBC:-
Business leaders have been arguing passionately that the public sector needs to become more efficient. You'll recall that the equivalent of a plane-load of them publicly backed the Tories' general election campaign to make additional savings in public expenditure this year - in order to avoid that national-insurance rise they hate.
Well, it'll be interesting to see how they respond, now that their dreams have been made a reality.
Because a good proportion of the savings announced today will hit them directly.
So, for example, the Treasury has announced £1.15bn of cuts in discretionary spending by Whitehall on items like consultancy and travel.
Who receives the bulk of such largesse? Well, it's private-sector consultants and travel companies.
There'll also be £95m of IT savings - again a squeeze on monies handed over to private-sector contractors.
A further £1.7bn will be saved from delays and cancellations to contracts and projects - which is probably £1.7bn of revenue that won't be received by companies.
On top of all that, there are the reductions in funding for regional development agencies, which could have an effect on financial support received by many thousands of businesses.
In other words, the harsh reality of making government more efficient may not be quite so appealing as the theory to the many business leaders who sell goods and services to the public sector.
Is Peston an idiot, or just spinning a leftist line here about spending? We'll assume he's not doing that, seeing as how the BBC are so unbiased.

The businesses that signed that letter were the likes of Sainsburys, Diageo, Marks and Spencers, Easyjet and HMV. Their sales to the public sector are almost non-existent and is certainly outweighed by tax cuts and the resulting money being put into people's pockets.

Some other businesses are entirely agnostic about the state or the private sector. A friend of mine runs a software recruitment agency to both private and public sector. A cut in public sector means more spending in the private sector.

Then there are businesses that supply to the state that are entirely necessary. If you're in the heavy arms business, you aren't likely to see much difference as that government spending isn't going to be cut.

The types of businesses that will be affected are those who have attached themselves to the state. Either they supply something that government doesn't need and the private sector won't buy either (like contemporary art) or they are so wedded to government that they can't restructure quickly enough.

But "business" is neither in favour of less or more government. It's not about business, and being "pro business" is not better than being "pro state". It's markets that matter.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Acronym of the Week: ABBA

One of the few columnists worth reading in the Independent, Simon Calder (travel):-
Normally, July and August are peak months for British Airways – the time of year when the airline expects its aircraft to be full of passengers paying high fares.
The longer the uncertainty continues, the stronger the ABBA principle ("Anybody But British Airways") becomes. Prospective travellers are switching in ever-larger numbers to BA's bemused yet delighted rivals, such as Virgin Atlantic and easyJet, rather than taking the risk of being grounded by a clearly dysfunctional airline where the customer-facing staff and management are trading insults.
Sounds about right. I won't be booking with BA for the forseeable future. Not that I liked them much when they were flying.

From this "Coalition Document"

We will stop the deportation of asylum seekers who have had to leave particular countries because their sexual orientation or gender identification puts them at proven risk of imprisonment, torture or execution.
A couple of points about this...

  1. That's a lot of countries. Africa (with a few exceptions), quite a surprising amount of the Caribbean, most of the Middle East, most of Southern and South East Asia and some bits of Polynesia.
  2. How do you know if they're homosexual/bisexual? Answer: you don't.
I'm sure there's some part of this that I'm missing, but it strikes me that this is going to be a fantastic way for economic migrants to claim asylum. You live in Pakistan, Jamaica, Saudi Arabia or Nigeria? Turn up at customs, show them some Kylie records and in you come.

(I'm not actually against the idea in principle, I just don't think they've thought through the likely consequences).

A Question About Unions

I've been thinking about this BA/Unite strike and the seemingly suicidal nature of Unite's actions.

There are 3 ways out of this strike situation:-

  1. BA grind Unite down to the point where their members are getting broke from it, quit striking and don't try it again.
  2. Unite and the staff keep fighting on. More and more passengers stop flying BA, the money gets tougher, the union get more entrenched and they end up in a situation where the airline goes out of business.
  3. BA give into Unite. The staff get what they want, it costs the airline a lot more money, they have to raise their prices, profits suffer, the management get fired and replaced with a tougher management and it all starts again.
None of these options are in the interest of BA staff in Unite. In every case, they either lose now, or lose soon.

The thing is, I can't see much that's in the interest of Unite either. If BA collapsed after a strike, it would be completely asset stripped. No-one is going to want to hire a 50 year old air hostess on BA pay with a trade union attitude. So, Unite would be shut out as a union.

So... why? And the only answer I can come up with is that being a trade unionist often leads to success in the Labour Party, and so getting people out on strike shows some leadership. It's a favoured action by the left. Either that, or they're just plain stupid.

Friday, 21 May 2010

That Government Programme in Full: 3. Civil Liberties

  • We will implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and roll back state intrusion.

I'm going to give this a qualified "good". I suspect they'll only roll back Labour's stuff, not things like the Video Recordings Act or various terrible bills under Thatcher and Major.

  • We will introduce a Freedom Bill.

and? Why not just call it the Coco the Clown Bill. Blah.

  • We will scrap the ID card scheme, the National Identity register and the ContactPoint database, and halt the next generation of biometric passports.


  • We will outlaw the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.


  • We will extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.

Sounds promising.

  • We will adopt the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.


  • We will protect historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.

For every case? Please do.

  • We will restore rights to non-violent protest.


  • We will review libel laws to protect freedom of speech.

Very good.

  • We will introduce safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.

Sounds promising.

  • We will further regulate CCTV.

Probably needs it.

  • We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason.


  • We will introduce a new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

A bit blah because a subsequent government can come in and just change it.

  • We will establish a Commission to investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties. We will seek to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties.


That Government Programme in Full: 2. Business

  • We will cut red tape by introducing a ‘one-in, one-out’ rule whereby no new regulation is brought in without other regulation being cut by a greater amount.

That's absolutely bloody stupid. If a law is necessary, it's necessary. You don't remove a law just because you add one. You remove one because it's a bad law.

  • We will end the culture of ‘tick-box’ regulation, and instead target inspections on high-risk organisations through co-regulation and improving professional standards.

What the hell does co-regulation mean? And "improving professional standards" sounds pretty worthy, but what if people don't go along with it?

  • We will impose ‘sunset clauses’ on regulations and regulators to ensure that the need for each regulation is regularly reviewed.

I'll believe that when I see it.

  • We will review IR 35, as part of a wholesale review of all small business taxation, and seek to replace it with simpler measures that prevent tax avoidance but do not place undue administrative burdens or uncertainty on the self-employed, or restrict labour market flexibility.

This is just blah. For anyone who doesn't know about IR35, it's regulation to prevent tax avoidance where people would set up companies and then pay themselves dividends, reducing their NI contributions.

In some ways, the purpose of it makes sense, when you consider how Tax and NI work in consideration of dividends. The execution is terrible as it's highly arbitrary. There are no fixed rules about whether you're considered to be in disguised employment or not.

They can come up with some hard and fast rules, and tax avoiders will just play to the edge of them. And in the end it will ignore the real problem: how NI is different on earnings and dividends.

Of course, no party wants to remove NI. The mainstream press are too stupid to even look at it and getting rid of it in a tax neutral way would simply raise the tax rate visible by the media.

  • We will find a practical way to make small business rate relief automatic.

Which shouldn't even exist.

  • We will reform the corporate tax system by simplifying reliefs and allowances, and tackling avoidance, in order to reduce headline rates. Our aim is to create the most competitive corporate tax regime in the G20, while protecting manufacturing industries.


  • We will seek to ensure an injection of private capital into Royal Mail, including opportunities for employee ownership. We will retain Post Office Ltd in public ownership.

Firstly, "ensuring an injection of private capital" is an oxymoron. If you can ensure it then you must be prepared to either use a carrot to get it, so it's not really private any longer. Secondly, I'm all for employee ownership of private businesses, but when you have a monopoly it's pretty pointless.

  • We will seek to ensure a level playing field between small and large retailers by enabling councils to take competition issues into account when drawing up their local plans to shape the direction and type of new retail development.

Oh joy. Useless, inefficient small retailers remain in business, making the rest of us poorer.

  • We will give the public the opportunity to challenge the worst regulations.


  • We will review employment and workplace laws, for employers and employees, to ensure they maximise flexibility for both parties while protecting fairness and providing the competitive environment required for enterprise to thrive.


  • We will make it easier for people to set up new enterprises by cutting the time it takes to start a new business. Our ambition is to make the UK one of the fastest countries in the world to start up a new business. We will reduce the number of forms needed to register a new business, and move towards a ‘one-click’ registration model.

When I set up my company it took less than a day. Before the internet was around. OK, I wouldn't mind it being faster, but it's not that much of a problem.

  • We will end the ban on social tenants starting businesses in their own homes.


  • We will promote small business procurement, in particular by introducing an aspiration that 25% of government contracts should be awarded to small and medium-sized businesses and by publishing government tenders in full online and free of charge.

The better thing would just be to simplify the tendering processes so that small businesses actually have a chance of competing. Or just get government to do less which helps small businesses.

  • We will consider the implementation of the Dyson Review to make the UK the leading hi-tech exporter in Europe, and refocus the research and development tax credit on hi-tech companies, small firms and start-ups.

No. Government shouldn't be involved.

  • We will review the range of factors that can be considered by regulators when takeovers are proposed.


  • We will reinstate an Operating and Financial Review to ensure that directors’ social and environmental duties have to be covered in company reporting, and investigate further ways of improving corporate accountability and transparency.

Sod off. Businesses are there to make money, not to make yurts. If there are things businesses shouldn't do then make law against them.

  • We will ensure that Post Offices are allowed to offer a wide range of services in order to sustain the network, and we will look at the case for developing new sources of revenue, such as the creation of a Post Office Bank.

God that's stupid! The banks have used technology to CLOSE DOWN branches and reduce costs. Creating a bank just to subsidise the rural shops of  middle-class rural dwellers is stupid.

  • We will end the so-called ‘gold-plating’ of EU rules, so that British businesses are not disadvantaged relative to their European competitors.

I don't believe it, but would welcome it if it happened.

  • We will support the creation of Local Enterprise Partnerships – joint local authority-business bodies brought forward by local authorities themselves to promote local economic development – to replace Regional Development Agencies (RDAs). These may take the form of the existing RDAs in areas where they are popular.

Waste of money.

  • We will take steps to improve the competitiveness of the UK tourism industry, recognising the important part it plays in our national economy.

Like stopping the building of a 3rd runway at Heathrow?

That Government Programme in Full: 1. Banking

OK, I'm going to go through these. Some will just be omitted, because I don't know or take much interest in the subject. I will use a simple "blah" for meaningless statements.

  • We will reform the banking system to avoid a repeat of the financial crisis, to promote a competitive economy, to sustain the recovery and to protect and sustain jobs.
No. You won't. You won't change the ways that banks risks are underwritten. You won't do anything to prevent housing bubbles. The only reason that we'll recover is because prices of houses will eventually fall low enough that people will start buying again.

  • We will introduce a banking levy and seek a detailed agreement on implementation.
  • We will bring forward detailed proposals for robust action to tackle unacceptable bonuses in the financial services sector; in developing these proposals, we will ensure they are effective in reducing risk.
The bonuses were about incentives. The incentives were driven by the people running the banks, who are underwritten by the taxpayer and regulated by idiots. And "detailed proposals" are blah.
  • We want the banking system to serve business, not the other way round. We will bring forward detailed proposals to foster diversity in financial services, promote mutuals and create a more competitive banking industry.
This would be most welcome, but as it's "detailed proposals", probably blah.

  • We will develop effective proposals to ensure the flow of credit to viable SMEs. This will include consideration of both a major loan guarantee scheme and the use of net lending targets for the nationalised banks.

Stupid interference by idiot politicians and their appointees in deciding where lending should occur. Bad.

  • We will take steps to reduce systemic risk in the banking system and will establish an independent commission to investigate the complex issue of separating retail and investment banking in a sustainable way; while recognising that this will take time to get right, the commission will be given an initial time frame of one year to report.
Not sure. Actually sounds promising, but I somehow doubt that homeownerists like the Conservative Party will force banks to insure their risk.

  • We will reform the regulatory system to avoid a repeat of the financial crisis. We will bring forward proposals to give the Bank of England control of macro-prudential regulation and oversight of micro-prudential regulation.

More "bring forward proposals" blah.

  • We rule out joining or preparing to join the European Single Currency for the duration of this agreement.


  • We will work with the Bank of England to investigate how the process of including housing costs in the CPI measure of inflation can be accelerated.

Quite right.

  • We will create Britain’s first free national financial advice service, which will be funded in full from a new social responsibility levy on the financial services sector.

Which will be useless. It will be staffed by fakecharity types who wouldn't have a clue about how to decipher financial products.

  • We take white collar crime as seriously as other crime, so we will create a single agency to take on the work of tackling serious economic crime that is currently done by, among others, the Serious Fraud Office, Financial Services Authority and Office of Fair Trading.
If the Conservatives seriously believed this then they would have barred a lot more MPs from standing over the expenses scandal.

High Speed Rail: It's not going to Happen

It hadn't really occurred to me until George Monbiot's quite good piece about high speed rail, but I realised that it's not going to happen. None of the 3 main parties really cares about it.

How do I know this? Because there's no targets within the life of this parliament. No-one is going to be badgering them within a year or two about progress because journalists have no experience of being project managers so they don't get this. They'll just see the target a decade or more away and by the time we get there, the government can just blame it on someone before or circumstances or whatever.

In the mean time, high speed rail buys some votes from naive greens. At no cost. Genius.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Olympic Mascots

The 2012 Olympic mascots have been unveiled. Unsurprising, like so much produced by the state, they are terrible. However, I am less concerned with their artistic message than with the process of arriving at these designs.

When you look back at the mascots of other countries, you have Amik, the beaver to represent Canada. Greece named 2 after their gods, and referenced some archeological drawings. Barcelona took a catalan sheepdog and styled him after a Picassa painting which is just too smart by half. China picked 5 which were inspired by various native creatures.

In every case, they either took something of their culture and history.

Yet every part of these Olympics, from the closing ceremony in Beijing to the logo to the mascots is the establishment showing just how much the establishment want to disassociate Britain from its normal or historic culture. The result is something abstract and banal that says nothing about being British.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Stephen Fry on The Catholic Church

Stephen Fry gets completely badass on the Catholic Church. One of the best speeches you'll see this year.

A Disgraceful Statement

From The Times:-

Liam Byrne, the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, last week wrote a letter for his successor - the Liberal Democrat David Laws - stating: "I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left.”

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Mr Laws said: "When I arrived at my desk on the very first day as Chief Secretary, I found a letter from the previous chief secretary to give me some advice, I assumed, on how I conduct myself over the months ahead.

"Unfortunately, when I opened it, it was a one-sentence letter which simply said ’Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left’, which was honest but slightly less helpful advice than I had been expecting." 
I don't know what to say about that. At what point in Labour's election campaign did Liam Byrne not know that was happening? Did he, a couple of days before the election look in the computer and say "oh shit, there was loads in here yesterday, where's it all gone?".

The man and his party are a disgrace. They've presided over terrible economic mismanagement that means they deserve to be out of office for another generation.

OK - I'm officially a Liberal

From Peter Hitchens: 
But how many times do I have to explain that market worship is not the same thing as conservatism? It's liberals who elevate the market to the position which ought to be occupied by God (socialists do the same with 'History' which in their case means the inevitability of the socialist Utopia). I've been making this point now for more than a decade, and some people are still surprised by it.
The problem here is that for too long, I've been using the word "conservative" in the American, Barry Goldwater, small government position (look him up). Which really equates to what used to be called "classic liberal". So, I'm going to say it loud and say it proud: I'm a liberal. I believe that the state should get out of my wallet and my bedroom.

Back to Hitchens' point: What's interesting, I think he's right. But it doesn't really say much for socialists and conservatives, does it? One believes in something that can't be proven to exit. The other is dealing with yesterday's problems.

I mostly despise the use of the word "progressive" because it's such a catch-all. As well as being a liberal, I also declare myself as a progressive in the true sense of the word. To retry failed social experiments that brought about poverty is in no way progressive. To elevate manufacturing in a world where we've replaced CDs with MP3s is not progressive.

And as for Hitchens believing that God should be where the market is, well, that's just fine. I presume he has his own holy grail for when he gets sick and that winged angels carry him to where he goes. Personally, I have to use products created by men.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

UKIP Power

Conservatives like Daniel Hannan and Conservative Home are suggesting that UKIP "lost" seats for the Conservatives. And enough seats that they don't get a majority.

Mathematically, if you add UKIP votes and Conservative votes then this is probably true. However, that's very simplistic. UKIP voters aren't necessarily inclined to vote Conservative. Personally, if there wasn't a UKIP candidate I'd probably have been more inclined to vote Lib Dem. There's very little in it between the 3 main parties but at least things like electoral reform are more likely to happen.

Seriously, there's huge gaps in policy between UKIP and the Conservatives. Yes, the Conservatives might be slightly smaller government than the Conservatives, but not by much. Over Europe, they're basically pro-EU whatever meally-mouthed things they say.

And seriously? You're blaming UKIP? In 2005 you had a leader who was likened to Nosferatu fighting against a charismatic politician in the middle of a boom, and you got 32.3% share of the vote. Fighting a terrible PM in one of the worst recessions ever, and you got 36.1% of the vote. Maybe you should look in the mirror and ask why you couldn't get people to vote for you.

Friday, 7 May 2010

A Mixed Night

So, another election over, and with the current chaotic horse-trading going on, I suspect that we may end up with one before 5 years are up.

Overall, I'm very mixed on the night. With regards to my own outcome, my UKIP vote didn't get in the way of booting out the dreadful Labour MP to bring in a Conservative who is at least a little better (and I believe a better "local" MP). So, the UKIP share goes up at least. That's the 2nd best outcome (to UKIP winning which wasn't likely to happen).

It doesn't appear that UKIP did particularly well, and my feelings are that we didn't run a strong media campaign. UKIP have the best policies, but we need to get the message out more.

The interesting message from last night's polls was about the personality of candidates. Gisela Stuart stayed in power in Edgbaston because she wasn't afraid to be her own person, and local people trust when their candidates do that. Perhaps we can hope that parties will realise that they can't just parachute in candidates who've been carefully selected to represent the wishes of the party - they are to be the representative of the people first.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Election Night Drinking Game

OK, just for a bit of fun (and I know I'm going to be up), here's the election night drinking game.

  1. Exit polls show Labour are beat and the first results show this as likely and a Labour panellist in the studio says "it's a bit early to say that". Take a drink.
  2. Exit polls and early results show that Conservatives aren't going to get a majority and Conservative panellist in the studio says "it's a bit early to say that". Take a drink.
  3. Minister/former minister gets their arse kicked in a seat. Take a drink.
  4. It's Jacqui Smith. Take another.
  5. She comes third. One more.
  6. Jacqui Smith loses her deposit. Empty the bottle.
  7. The Monster Raving Loony party appears. Take a drink.
  8. Esther Rantzen appears. Take a drink.
  9. Mandelson loses his shit. Take a drink.
  10. Jeremy Vine says "just for a bit of fun". Take a drink.
  11. The BBC come up with a graphic for who is going to win that makes The Day Today look subtle. Take a drink.
  12. Nigel Farage wins in Buckingham. Open your best bottle of champagne.