Archive for April, 2010

Friday, April 30th, 2010


Well the debates are over. Last night they all fought their corners. Cameron was at his best so far, Brown was passionate and determined but looked worn out, Clegg held his own in the crossfire. Nobody had a run away win, but neither did anybody crash out. We will have to wait for the weekend polls to see if there has been any significant change but I begin to think maybe not.

I cannot be certain, but I think the Lib Dems have pushed as far as they can and the Tories are about as far as they can get. This  assumes Labour will not fall further.  If I am right ( it would be no surprise if I were wrong), much will now depend on tactical voting and on the ability of the Lib Dems to pull support equally from both parties. If it all comes from Labour from now on, that may help the Tories.

We are also inclined to ignore UKIP, the BNP and the Greens. If UKIP pick up anti-EU Tories, this may help the Lib Dems. A BNP vote may also help the Lib Dems in marginals with Labour, but the Greens may take votes from the Lib Dems. This is not just an election where a credible third party has emerged. It is alo an election where the impact of smaller parties campaigning on issues which arouse much passion, Europe, immigration and the environment, can also impact the outcome in all sorts of difficult to predict swings.

The election remains wide open and impossible to call. I may have gone too far already.

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

The Gaffe

Ooh what excitement for the media! Yesterday there were in a state bordering on hysteria.

One of the most interesting things about this general election is the inability of the media to suss what is going on. The commentators and the political parties are feasting at one table, whilst the voters are eating at quite another. It was like that with the financial crash. All the economists missed what was coming . If people saw the dangers, they were ordinary people.

This election is different. The people have been let down by the banks and the politicians in equal measure. The media too is no longer trusted. Many of them are overpaid. No longer will the voters do what the Sun tells them. There is a very different mood out there. I have not managed to find anybody, including among known Brown haters, who have thought anything of this gaffe, other than that it was quite funny. Everyone says ‘we all say things out of earshot ….’  

People do not care what Brown thinks of Mrs Duffy or what Mrs Duffy thinks of Brown. They both mean well in their own way. Some are beginning to discover that these mikes are faded remotely. Somebody forgot to fade Gordon’s. Oh? Who provided the mike? Sky, a Murdoch Company. Hmmmm.

Tonight’s debate should be fun.

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Trouble in Euroland

Whilst this is not good news, it brings confirmation to those who hold the opinion, as I do, that you cannot have a currency without a government. In the context of the Euro, this means not just a Central Bank, but a central Treasury and a central Finance Ministry. This would mean that there was one basic rate of vat, income tax, corporation tax etc all of which revenue would go the financial HQ in Frankfurt, with each country retaining only the local surcharges it may have added to the euro rate. The money would then be re-allocated pro-rata according to the Finance Ministry’s programme, through which all government borrowing would be organised.

Many in the Euro zone see this as the way to go and it would lead to a Federal Europe at the core of the EU very quickly. Those retaining their own currencies (or kicked out of the Euro) would retain a trading relationship, migration of workers, etc, but would be in the outer ring. This is where the UK would be likely to wind up. The inner ring would eventually become a federal republic dominated by a kind of Franco Germany. This would be an industrial as well as a military superpower and would eventually be joined by Russia, which would start in the outer ring. The UK, though in Europe, would  be close to America, Russia  China and India able to move freely between them, even if they did not move so freely with each other.

This is all a long way off, though not as long as one may think. Meanwhile there is worrying news at home. House price inflation has reached over ten per cent. There cannot be economic stability if house prices rise above inflation. Moreover there cannot be economic recovery based upon house price inflation. This is what took us into the abyss in the first place. It is worth noting that the countries in Europe with the biggest problems are the ones which had property as the foundation of their economies.

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Defence Review

This  has been touched on in the election campaign, mainly in connection with Trident, but it is not really a campaign issue, not least because each party plans to hold one if in government. This blog is now going to look at some of the considerations which ought to be on the table when the process begins.

It is not possible to look at defence requirements without looking at Foreign Policy. This Blog has repeatedly argued against clinging to US coat-tails. Moreover under Blair and Bush the doctrine of military intervention to impose desired improvements became the bedrock of the joint US/UK foreign policy. Blair was willing to go to war whenever the opportunity arose. First Iraq air strikes, then Kosovo, then Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. We are still at war in Afghanistan and we have been fighting somewhere almost the whole of Labour’s thirteen years.

We cannot go forward like this. It does no good, mostly fails in its objectives or in solving one problem opens up another. We are not a superpower and all of those are now more restrained, even the US, if it could get out of Afghanistan. There are certainly problems but the military option aggressively used no longer provides a lasting outcome. Can you imagine the repercussions if the US decides to attack Iran? Al Qaeda bosses would fall off their chairs with laughter. The Americans would have dealt them a golden hand.

It must be established therefore that the days of our using force as an instrument of foreign policy are well and truly over. Defence means defence. Of our islands, our shipping lanes, our airspace, our infrastructure our communications technology and our energy supplies. That defence must be world class but not scattered across the world. I suspect we need a larger navy with more ships of the latest guided missile destroyer class, a more focussed air force and a better equipped army based in the UK. We need to give priority to anti terrorist forces and intelligence gathering and we have to up our cyber- war capability for our own security. We need to retain a nuclear deterrent, but a smaller more flexible system could follow Trident as that comes to the end of its useful life.

We also need to put uniforms back on our service personnel when they are out and about among us. Putting them in mufty in public was a victory for terrorism which should never have been conceded.

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Eight Days to Go

I have looked at the latest polls. The best for the Conservatives usually pop up in the Murdoch press. Today’s Times works out at Con 292 Lab 246 LD 83. The worst, ComRes, works out at Lab 285 Con 244 LD 92. Another, YouGov, is almost the same, Lab 286 Con 248 LD 87. In all of these polls the Tories have the highest percentage of votes 33-36. The LD’s have 28-29 and Lab 27-29. So all the figures are pretty constant with the Tories coming second in seats in two out of three. This makes Cameron’s opposition to meaningful electoral reform all the more surprising.

However you look at these figures, or indeed the mood in the country, there is no sign of a majority opening up for any one party. There has been a slight Tory recovery in one poll, Labour seems to have steadied and the Lib Dem surge has taken hold but is not advancing. Tomorrow’s debate may produce a breakthrough, but if like last week, will change the position very little. The joker in the pack is tactical voting. This is hard to assess as it is as yet unclear whether the purpose is to keep the Tories out, defeat Labour or help the Lib Dems on their crusade for change. Each of the parties is now fighting hard for its credibility. We shall have to watch for clues.

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010


This post is a wide ranging view of the meaning of change, looking not just here but also in the U.S.

Cameron is busy campaigning that if you want real change, go with the Tories, yet not only has this not worked, but the notion has been snatched by the Lib Dems and become their clarion call. The Tories current poll ratings are barely higher than their score in the last General Election. Why should this be? It is something to do with the muddled messages and controversial proposals they are putting forward, but there is a much more fundamental issue now in play. People do not just want a change of government. They want real and fundamental change of how we are governed, by whom, with what objective and by which method of democratic selection. Voters sense Clegg, his party untainted by government for nearly a hundred years offers this. Not everyone thinks this way, but so many now do, they may well call the shots on May 6th.

In the Presidential election in 2008 Americans went for change. The Democrats could have chosen Hilary Clinton, but in the end they did not because she was not enough change. Had she become President the country would have been led by a Bush or a Clinton since 1988. This was not real change, although Hilary would have been the first woman. Obama was a black African American. He really was change.

To understand how fundamental that change was we need to go back to the founding of the United States. The Union which lived from 1789 when George Washington was sworn in as the nation’s first President, was not quite the same as the one which rose from the ashes of the American Civil War, on a foundation laid in blood by Abraham Lincoln. The first saw itself as a Union of independent states; the United States are… The second saw itself as one country; The United States is …. Both versions saw the State as a sovereign entity, but the old version saw that sovereignty as supreme, where the new saw it as subsidiary. Philosophically Americans are against big government, high taxes and federal authority.

The old Confederate interpretation of the limits of the powers of central government is surprisingly in evidence all across the U.S today, though in a different form. Its champion is now the Republican party, which was founded to oppose it, and its challenger is the Democratic party which fought to defend it. Its manifestations are the Tea Party movement and Christian fundamentalism, both of which lean into the Republican party. By electing Obama, America turned from the federal laxity of the Bush years and the ham fisted foreign policy which made their country the most unpopular in the whole world, to a new disciple of Lincoln to pull the country back from the brink of calamity. At every step of the way, his big government we can change things programme has been harried and blocked, not just by Republicans, but by conservative Democrats too. But the tide, though ebbing somewhat, remains with Obama.

Here in this country our problems run very deep, though they are quite easy to solve. Unlike America whose democracy was born of two wars and a written framework, ours just developed over the centuries and is still not based on a defined, written Constitution. It remains  in its basic form, as it began, an absolute Monarchy working through Parliament, but with a few enfranchising acts to give an element of quite crude democracy. Parliament is divided into two Houses. One for the aristocracy or ruling class, the Lords. The other, the Commons for the ordinary people, often represented by the gentry, but certainly not the ruling class. Both are there to check the power of the Monarch and her Government, to whom all her Royal Prerogatives have been assigned.

The people now know for certain as the result of the historic expenses scandal, that none of this is working as it is supposed to, it is a hopelessly out of date structure, power has been userped, to exercise at will by a ruling elite in both the established political parties and if this is ever going to improve, it will not do so until a people’s champion rises to engineer root and branch reform to create a modern inclusive democracy. At the moment voters think they may have spotted a champion. The next few weeks will reveal whether Nick Clegg is equal to the greatest historic shift in the tectonic plates of our government since the Glorious Revolution.

Monday, April 26th, 2010


One of the greatest mysteries of the Tory campaign (the weakness of which is itself a mystery) is the element of the education policy proposing parents and charities set up their own schools with public money. This is a deeply flawed concept now causing controversy even among the Tories themselves.

We already have Academies, Trust schools and Foundation schools, as well as Faith schools, all of which operate outside LEA control of most of their activities. These are good developments to provided diversity, but it would be pointless to diversify further. There is indeed a problem, but not correctly identified by the Tories.

The problem is Local Education Authorities no longer have any power in the management of even their own schools. What is needed, to complement the independence of the other reforms, is the restoration of full LEA powers to manage their own schools, together with much greater authority over the allocation of money.

In the school into which I was parachuted as an emergency governor the only requirement to arrest the decline in academic standards was a change of headteacher. The LEA had no power to do this (!), only the governors could act and the majority would not. The solution was the disruptive rigmarole of an OFSTED report, putting the school into Special Measures.  This finally allowed the LEA to act and replace the Head. Unfortunately the process of complying with all the procedures this stricture demanded together with the bad publicity, caused a loss of pupil numbers, which in turn caused the income of the school to drop. The only way to get more money to avoid closure, was to become an Academy, the current results of which are very disappointing indeed.

What should have happened (and would have before excessive involvement of Whitehall in the detail of eduction, a process begun by the Tories under Thatcher) was for the LEA quietly to retire the deficient Head and allocate some extra resourses to support the improvements set in train by the new Head. An every day management adjustment taken in an easy stride. But the LEA had neither the power nor the money.

What parents want is a good school in their neighbourhood which will take their child as a matter of course and which will deliver a good outcome at the end. This is neither difficult to organise, nor requiring of any scheme, other than to restore to local government the educational power and budgetary control which both Tory and Labour governments sucked to the centre. Properly controlled LEA schools would provide the educational rigour to every neighbourhood, rather than just those with pushy parents and aspirational elbows.

In the end it is in the interests of this nation’s future to recognise that it is the children without parents who care about education or who have no aspiration for themselves or their offspring, who depend upon the community school being run by dedicated professionals with the power to deliver. Help them today and we help everyone tomorrow. The Tory plan will do a lot more harm than good.

Saturday, April 24th, 2010


The UK economy has continued to grow in the first quarter, but by a tiddly amount, confirming the dampened state of economic activity and the remaining threat of another dip. There are encouraging signs of a revival of British manufacturing and the G20 Finance Ministers meeting in Washington think that worldwide recovery is moving faster than they expected. There is clearly good news here, even if optimism must be cautious.

The hidden problem which nobody really faces up to at any level is the fact that the crash came from too much borrowing in the first place. By borrowing their way out of it, Governments now add their own vast debts to those of individuals and the private sector. Greece shows what happens when the burden becomes unmanageable. We have yet to see whether the overall burden now carried at every level of the Western Economies can be both serviced and repaid without a savage fall in living standards for everyone.

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

Good Tory Move

I support the Cameron proposal to require an incoming leader of a governing party who becomes Prime Minister to go to the country within six months. I put this forward in my book, especially as today all the parties give their membership outside parliament (in Labour’s case the trade unions as well) a say in electing a new leader. When this process was restricted to MP’s this was not so critical, but now it is. I would cut the time period from six months to three.

However this alone, without reform of the voting system is pointless. Things are in too much disarray now and general constitutional reform will be demanded once the current general election is over. This will reveal a disparity between votes and seats which will be unacceptable as well as the need for each MP to gain a majority of votes overall. For the record, since the WW II there have been six  changes of PM by the governing party. Eden, Macmillan, Home and Major were Tory; Callaghan and Brown were Labour, so the Tories have done the most PM changing in the past.

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Two Down, One to Go

The general view is that the second debate between the party leaders was more closely matched. Brown did better and so did Cameron. They both went for Clegg but he held on. Polls show them very even,  but with most giving Clegg the narrow lead and Brown in the rear but not by much. Polls on who was best at the debate, are not polls on how people will vote. For these we will have to wait for the weekend.

What has I think been established is that this is a three party race. I cannot tell for sure, but I would not be surprised if there were not much change in opinion polls between now and polling day. The Lib Dems will hang in there but not go much further, the Tories will hover round their baseline in the low thirties and Labour will settle in the high twenties. This is not bad for Labour, very good for the Lib Dems and a disaster for the Tories. The price of their catastrophic campaign may well be  awesome. The figures below illustrate.

The most favourable poll for Cameron as I write, is YouGov for the Sun today. Tories 34 Labour 29 Lib Dem 28. Using a computer calculator of seats, this produces Lab 284 Con 253 LD 84. This is not a Labour victory but it is a big Tory defeat. Unless there were a grand coalition they would not even be in government. These are the best figures for them, but they do not deliver the best result.

If we take another poll, LD 33 C 32 L 23 we get Con 261 Lab 208  LD 152. Although on a lower percentage, because Labour is really down in this sample, Cameron heads the biggest party. If he did a deal with Clegg he would be Prime Minister, but Clegg and Brown could still form a government excluding the Tories. Something like this happened when the Tories did a recovery in 1910, after their 1906 earthquake defeat. They had to wait another twelve years before they formed a government. If we take a poll where Brown does better at 28 with Cameron on 32 and Clegg on 31, this is what we get: Lab 276 Con 236 LD 109.

These figures show that with three parties in play in an uneven sized constituency electoral system it is not just who is in front, but which of the other parties are placed where. The case for electoral reform is clear. So is something else. It is now virtually impossible for Cameron to get a majority on his own. For that to happen there would have to be some very fancy tactical voting to get rid of Labour. At present there is just as much chance that such voting would be designed to keep the Tories out. Then again, suppose it is organised to try and get the Lib Dems in?

This election is now impossible to call and wide, wide open.