The Western Campaign to Undermine the Russian Government

Interesting article here on a website called Russia Insider, drawing attention to the campaign in the Western media against the Russian government.

The article reckons the CIA is behind it. Who knows. But anyone who reads Western media will recognise the picture they paint of a childish campaign to demonise Vladimir Putin and his government.

The EU Wants Another £1.7 Billion – Or Does It?

The EU wants another £1.7 billion of our money, apparently because our economy is going well(!) so we should help out our less fortunate neighbours. Amazingly, Greece is also down to pay more on the basis that their economy has done better than was expected since 1995. (In their case, it is just £70 million.)

The BBC this morning was saying that the political timing of this was inept (with the Rochester and Strood by-election due in a couple of weeks), and that the whole affair showed a lack of political awareness amongst the EU Commission and its leader José Manuel Barroso.

Apparently the Commission could find nobody to talk about the issue to the BBC, despite being asked repeatedly to do so.

I have a horrible suspicion that the Commission is not inept at all, and that Mr Barroso is more wily than the media think he is.

I have a horrible suspicion that we are about to see “Hero Cameron” riding to duff up those euro-Johnnies and bring back the bacon. I have a horrible suspicion that this extra payment will be abandoned, quite coincidentally, just before the Rochester by-election.

We are already seeing the beginnings of this:

“Mr Cameron interrupted a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels to express dismay…he told Commission boss José Manuel Barroso he had no idea of the impact it would have, Downing Street said.”

What a tough leader! Interrupting his fellow EU leaders, who apparently are unconcerned about the problem and were not planning to discuss it, not even the Dutch who have been asked for an extra £506 million. And he told Mr Barroso what’s what! No doubt he was standing up and wagging his finger. Perhaps he was shouting in righteous anger for his beloved country.

This is not bad timing for Mr Cameron. It is fantastic timing, because it gives him the opportunity to “fight for British interests” in Brussels. It is such fantastic timing that I suspect it is not coincidence.

It is interesting that Mr Barroso has been visiting the UK recently. Pure coincidence, obviously. Just a little tour before he gives up as leader of the Commission at the end of November. Nothing at all to do with British politics, no, of course not. On Monday he was at pains to tell us very publically that he did not think that Europe should move towards an EU superstate. (Oh look, there’s a porker flying past the window.)

And now this news about the £1.7 billion.

I suspect that the Commission are trying to help their friend Mr Cameron to deal with the difficult electoral position in which he finds himself. All these by-elections, the UKIP surge and the forthcoming general election are putting British membership of the EU in serious doubt for the first time in decades.

Remember that Mr Barroso and his friends have an Opposition to contend with within the EU, namely the Eurosceptic parties, of which UKIP is one of the most prominent. They will certainly do what they can to damage Euroscepticism and help those who are fighting it – including our Europhile Prime Minister David Cameron. If they can help him beat off the UKIP challenge in Rochester, that will be a great boost for the cause of Eurofanatics like Mr Barroso.

So you read it here first: if I am right, this extra EU contribution will be abandoned between now and the Rochester by-election, and David Cameron will be trying to claim the credit for getting our money back.

If that is right, I trust the voters of Rochester and Strood will be bright enough to see through it.

Is Yet More Money Really the Fix the NHS Needs?

A new report about the future of the NHS is issued today.

It tells us that the NHS will face a £30 billion shortfall by 2020 if it does not change. The report identifies savings of £22 billion that it says can be achieved by new ways of working, leaving a shortfall of £8 billion that will be needed in additional spending. The report does not make this clear, but I would assume that means a “real terms” increase of £8 billion, over and above inflation increases.

I don’t want to be too negative about the NHS. It has many good features, and of course many thousands of well trained and devoted front line staff.

But consider this: Labour, when they were in power, doubled spending on the NHS. When they first came to power, the NHS had been cash-strapped for years. Indeed, people came from other countries to see how we could provide our healthcare so cheaply. Labour therefore set about remedying that. They pumped money into the NHS in huge quantities, and over their time in office, spending on it doubled. I believe that most British people supported that.

What we saw though was the NHS becoming much less efficient. Even Labour themselves have acknowledged that much of the extra money was swallowed up by “the system”. Sure, services did improve. They certainly did not become twice as good though. The money shortage was removed, and the only remaining issues really were internal to the NHS.

Here we have this report, claiming that yet more extra money is needed. I am not convinced. NHS spending does need to be kept up. Demands on the service are rising due to the ageing population and higher expectations from patients, and those pressures will I am sure eat up any efficiency savings that can be achieved.

Any organisation though should be continuously finding ways to improve. Private businesses do that all the time, or they go out of business. The NHS needs to do that too – and that is the £22 billion the reports talks about I suppose.

But do they really need that extra £8 billion on top? Frankly, I do not believe it.

Just three months ago we had the Nuffield Trust warning that

another £2 billion a year may be needed to keep pace with demand.

£2 billion, £8 billion, £30 billion… name a figure. They just want more cash.

The BBC report unwittingly gives us a glimpse of what the problem is here:

The report – produced by NHS England, Public Health England, the regulator Monitor, the NHS Trust Development Authority, Care Quality Commission and Health Education England…

That is the NHS in a nutshell. Lots of overlapping bureaucratic bodies, with unclear remits, all trying to work together. I bet there had to be a large number of committee meetings between all those bodies to produce this report!

All those organisations have chief executives, personnel departments, finance people, office buildings, car fleets with maintenance budgets, glossy strategy documents and annual reports and the rest.

How have we ended up here?

The NHS started life in the 1940s as a monolithic hierarchical organisation. That did have disadvantages, notably the lack of incentive to improve over time. But it had one key advantage: it eliminated the waste that is inherent in competition, and it made responsibilities very clear. It also enabled the government to mandate a certain standard of healthcare, which was then delivered relatively uniformly around the country.

Over time, the disadvantages of this approach began to weigh heavily. NHS efficiency began to fall, at the same time as demands rose inexorably.

Margaret Thatcher’s Tories wanted to cut public spending. The NHS was a large component, and it was clear that there were efficiency savings to be had. But how to deliver them? They began the process of introducing the NHS Internal Market. That was an attempt to introduce the pressures to improve that come from a free market, without removing the “free” healthcare delivery.

Tony Blair’s Labour party hated that idea – the word “market” was anathema to them. I remember during the 1979 election campaign Tony Blair saying in a speech:

The NHS is not a supermarket! It is a public service.

On coming to power, Labour swept away the internal market. There would not be competition between hospitals to provide operations for example. But they kept what they called the “purchaser-provider split”. We ended up with “commissioning bodies” buying services from monopoly providers, and all within the same NHS organisation – overseen by regulators, strategy bodies and the Department of Health.

In other words, Labour made the deliberate decision to abolish the market and all its advantages, but to keep all the disadvantages of a market. I suspect that was because they never really understood what a free market was, or what the NHS internal market was designed to achieve.

Be that as it may, the result is the dog’s dinner that we now have. The NHS is completely fragmented in its organisation – and yet also still a monopoly without competition, internal or external.

Yes, it certainly does need “new ways of working”. There is a problem though: the NHS is run by the same bureaucrats half of whom need to be swept away.

I wrote a long time ago on this blog that Andrew Lansley’s NHS reorganisation was the last chance to save the NHS. That reorganisation was designed to put GPs clearly in the driving seat, and introduce competition between health providers for the GPs’ business. It was an amended version of that original Tory “NHS internal market”.

Unfortunately, Andrew Lansley did not have the sheer nastiness that was needed to drive the changes through in the way that was intended. The reorganisation was hijacked by the bureaucrats. Most of the people who used to run the old bureaucratic bodies invented new ones and put themselves in to run those new bodies.

The CCG’s (which were originally intended to be autonomous groups of GPs) have ended up looking remarkably like the old Primary Care Trusts that they replaced. Bodies like NHS England exist to “oversee” them. And NHS England acts a lot like the old Health Authorities. Far from GPs being in the driving seat, those centralised bodies commission GP services, and are in control.

In short, nothing has changed. The NHS is now beyond repair – and we are hearing ominous rumblings about private companies coming in to provide healthcare in Britain. Under the TTIP proposals being discussed by the EU with the United States, many of those private companies may be American.

There is one other way forward that is still open to us. We could localise the NHS, driving management responsibility down to local level. County Councils are steadily losing their responsibility for education, but they already exist as democratic bodies with considerable capability to deliver services. They are already taking on responsibilities for public health, and as that beds in, the need for national strategy bodies like Public Health England will be increasingly questioned.

Why not, over time, give County Councils responsibility for actual healthcare delivery too?

That is (roughly) what UKIP have proposed, with their elected local health boards. I think it is likely to become the new consensus on healthcare, as few in Britain have the apetite for moving to an American-style private healthcare system. There is now no alternative, in truth.

As in so many things, UKIP are blazing a trail that others will follow in coming years.

There is one caveat: we have to stop all the nonsense about “postcode lotteries”. Locally managed health services means health services that are different in different places. You might as well bemoan the “postcode lottery” in food distribution that means there is a larger range of food on sale in London than there is in a typical market town. A locally-managed health service means that the service available will differ from place to place. That is as it should be, after all, because the services that are needed differ from place to place.

The prize of this new type of NHS would be that the NHS would actually be accountable to the people whom it serves. And about time too.

Why George Osborne is a Failed Chancellor

More awful figures from the Treasury today.

The government has claimed that it will reduce the deficit via its austerity programme. It has claimed that the deficit will fall by 10% this financial year. In fact, so far this year (and we are now half way through the financial year), the deficit is up by 10%. They are easily on track to borrow well over £100 billion again this year.

No, actually, it’s even worse than that. Going back to 2010, the Conservatives claimed they would eliminate the structural part of the deficit by next year. Given that the economy has now been growing for several years, the cyclical part of the deficit should by now be gone. Therefore the deficit should be gone too.

In short, they have missed their targets by £100 billion a year.

The national debt is now £1.4 trillion (double the level when the Coalition came to power), and growing fast under this “austere” Conservative-led government.

As usual, the media and the government are spinning this as a problem with tax receipts. The BBC for example says:

Weak income tax receipts are behind the rising dependence on borrowing, in the first half of the fiscal year receipts were up just 0.1% compared to the same period last year.

The Telegraph meanwhile chips in with:

Analysts have both cited weak wage growth as responsible for the UK’s poor fiscal position, as income tax receipts have fallen far short of the OBR’s expectations.

Looking at the figures, it is hard to agree. The truth is revealed in the Guardian, of all places.

True, over the first six months of the year, tax receipts were down 0.4% (but up in September).

But government spending was 3% up in the first six months.

During Mr Osborne’s austerity programme, government spending was up by 3%.

The Guardian mentions the reasons:

Higher welfare spending, increased spending by government departments, higher debt interest payments, and increased investment contributed to the rise in government spending.

I guess we can all understand the higher debt interest payments given the government’s failure to control its debts. And I guess you could argue at least credibly that increased investment is a good idea (although it should be substituting for revenue spending, not in addition to it).

But “higher welfare spending”? With unemployment dropping at the fastest rate on record (at least according to the government)?

And “increased spending by government departments”? Austerity, what austerity?

The fact is that Mr Osborne’s debt problems are the government’s own fault. Not because austerity is a mistake but because they have not implemented it, only talked about it.

To the public sector, “austerity” means grabbing more of other people’s money in taxes. To the rest of us, it means cutting out the fat from the public sector itself.

Local authorities have faced serious and severe cuts, and many are struggling. The rest of government has continued with business as usual.

Why? Why has this government, with its solid mandate for austerity, failed so abysmally?

The answer, I believe, is this. They have allowed themselves to be sucked into debates about which government departments are deserving and which are not. Obviously every department always has a reason why it must be spared.

Cut health? Oh no, the sick would suffer.

Cut defence? No, our country would be left unprotected.

Cut overseas aid? No, think of the world’s poor.

Cut welfare? No, think of our own poor!

There will always be a sob story from every single department.

History shows there is only one way to cut the public sector down to size. You cut every department across the board, ignore the squealing and let them get on with it.

That is exactly what Eric Pickles has done with local government (and my goodness, how they have squealed). Mr Osborne has not followed suit nationally.

And that is why George Osborne has utterly and completely failed as Chancellor, on his own terms, by the standard he set for himself.

David Cameron Claims He Will Restrict EU Migration – Here’s Why He Can’t

Freedom of movement of workers within the EU is governed by the core EU treaties. The British government denies this and pretends it can restrict these rights without leaving the EU. Since that is not correct, I thought it would be worth quoting the relevant parts of the Treaties.

The full texts can be found on the EUR-Lex website, which provides access to all EU law.

So here are the relevant pieces:

Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (the “Treaty of Rome”, 1957, as amended)

Article 45

1. Freedom of movement for workers shall be secured within the Union.
2. Such freedom of movement shall entail the abolition of any discrimination based on nationality between workers of the Member States as regards employment, remuneration and other conditions of work and employment.

Treaty on European Union (the “Maastricht Treaty”, 1992, as amended)

Article 3

2. The Union shall offer its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers, in which the free movement of persons is ensured in conjunction with appropriate measures with respect to external border controls, asylum, immigration and the prevention and combating of crime.

Article 45

1. Freedom of movement for workers shall be secured within the Union.
2. Such freedom of movement shall entail the abolition of any discrimination based on nationality between workers of the Member States as regards employment, remuneration and other conditions of work and employment.

Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000, made legally binding by the Treaty of Lisbon, 2009)

Article 15

2. Every citizen of the Union has the freedom to seek employment, to work, to exercise the right of establishment and to provide services in any Member State.

Article 45

1. Every citizen of the Union has the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States.

As you can see, it really is cut and dried. To amend the freedom of movement provisions would require amendments to these core Treaties of the EU. None of the other member states are going to be up for re-opening the negotiations on these core treaties, just to help David Cameron with his difficulties managing his divided Conservative Party. Indeed, it would be as ridiculous to suggest it as it would be to suggest that California should control migration of people from Texas.

Mr Cameron reckons he will produce proposals by Christmas. Good luck with that one, Mr Cameron.

José Manuel Barroso Goes Out in a Blaze of Mediocrity

PM welcomes José Manuel Barroso
Who’s Influencing Who? David Cameron with Jose Manuel Barroso
Image by G8 UK via Flickr

José Manuel Barroso is the outgoing Chairman of the European Commission. The Commission proposes all new law in the EU, so its Chairman is probably the most powerful man in Europe.

Mr Barroso has just been interviewed by the BBC.

He said that Britain would have “zero influence” if it left the EU. An interesting position to take, if you think about it. It implies that he and his friends take absolutely no notice of any countries outside the EU. Very revealing. I hope the Prime Ministers of Canada, Australia, South Africa, Brazil and Russia are taking note.

Mr Barroso said Britain could not negotiate with the US and China “on an equal footing” on its own.

Yes, Mr Barroso lives in such a dream world that he actually believes the US and China see him as an equal negotiating partner. I suspect the truth is that the US see him as a pawn and China see him as pretty much irrelevant in global terms.

We should remember once again how important an independent Britain actually would be. Certainly not a superpower, so not able to play superpower games. Not in the same league as Mr Barroso’s wannabe superpower, it goes without saying. But still important. Don’t believe me? Tell you what, let’s compare Britain with Canada.

Canada is an independent country living in the shadow of a more powerful neighbour, just as an independent Britain would be. In Canada’s case, it is the United States. In the case of an independent Britain, it would be the European Union.

The figures below are in dollars, because they come from the CIA World Factbook, unless otherwise stated.

First, the size of the economy. The figures for GDP are:

Britain – $2.4 trillion
Canada – $1.5 trillion

Britain’s economy is quite a bit bigger then. In fact, the UK has the ninth biggest economy of all the countries in the world.

Next up, population:

Britain – 64 million
Canada – 35 million

Britain has getting on for twice the population of Canada.

That brings us to GDP per head – how rich are individual Canadians compared with Brits? (I’ve used figures based on Purchasing Power Parity here, which takes out the distorting effect of exchange rate fluctuations.)

Britain – $37,300
Canada – $43,100

Fairly close. Canada is narrowly ahead here – as an independent country remember.

That is the economic picture. But what about military power?

Here are the figures for expenditure on the military:

Britain – 2.49% of GDP, amounting to about $60 billion
Canada – 1.24% of GDP, amounting to about $19 billion

We spend a lot more than Canada on defence then – in fact, three times as much. Do we get some bang for that extra buck? For that, we can get some figures from Wikipedia:

Britain – 205,850 active personnel (387,570 including reservists); 77 warships and submarines in the Royal Navy; 1169 aircraft in the Royal Air Force.

Canada – 68,250 active personnel (119,000 including reservists); 33 warships and submarines in the Royal Canadian Navy; 391 aircraft in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Obviously these figures don’t give the full picture, but you get the general idea. Britain is one of the strongest countries in the world, militarily speaking, lagging only behind the world’s superpowers. And we are, of course, a country with nuclear weapons. (Some of us think that is a bad idea, but that’s another story!)

For what it’s worth, we also have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, complete with a veto. That will not last if we stay in the EU, because eventually we will be forced to give it up in favour of the EU’s having the seat itself. But an independent Britain would have it.

Mr Barroso also said that free movement of people within the EU is an essential principle of the EU. In that he was of course absolutely right. After all, since the EU is a new country in its own right, not having free movement within it would be as absurd as not having free movement between California and Nevada.

Meanwhile our own government yet again were showing the extent to which they misunderstand the nature of the EU.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening told Sky’s Murnaghan programme: “Free movement of labour was never meant to be an unqualified principle, irrespective of how it might have worked on the ground.”

Wrong, Ms Greening. It absolutely was, and is, meant to be an unqualified principle. People should always have the right of free movement within their own country. If the EU is a country, and it is, expressly, by EU treaty, then of course there should be free movement within it.

People like Ms Greening really do believe the EU is a free trade area gone wrong. They actually believe it. They clearly have not read the EU treaties, or listened to EU politicians.

“Britain is stronger in the European Union,” Mr Barroso said, pointing to the Ebola crisis as an area where Britain would not have the same level of influence if it was outside the EU.

“David Cameron wrote to all of us about Ebola… What would be the influence of a prime minister of Britain if it was not part of the European Union?

“His influence would be zero.”

Being in the European Union, our Prime Minister can write to the other EU member states! And the result of Mr Cameron’s letter? Nothing, zero, zilch. It had no effect at all. In fact, Ebola is a case in point where Britain has acted, albeit weakly and insufficiently, and the EU has done absolutely nothing. It is also a case in point where British “influence” in the EU has had little effect.

You saw from the comparison above that Britain compares very favourably with Canada as far as economic and military importance are concerned. Consider then: does Canada have zero influence? More important, does Canada have more or less influence than Britain-in-the-EU? Or is it about the same?

Mr Barroso’s comments were demonstrable nonsense, unless they are interpreted as a pure threat to the recalcitrant people of the United Kingdom.

There you have it.

Britain in the EU: very little influence and destination to be part of another country.

An independent Britain: influence in the world likely to be comparable to Canada’s today.

True, we do not have a future as a superpower either way, even if we wanted it. But a future as powerful and influential as Canada is today is not half bad.

That is in the short term of course. There is another, wider picture too. Britain has strong links, resulting from our history of Empire, with the countries that are now in the Commonwealth. Those countries include Canada, South Africa and Australia, but also, crucially, India.

India was the “jewel in the crown” of the British Empire. India is growing almost as fast as China. As it develops economically, and with its population of more than 1 billion, India will in the future be the jewel in the crown of the Commonwealth as well. Perhaps it already is.

India will be one of the world’s superpowers, without a shadow of doubt. And here we are, uniquely well placed to have a “special relationship” with that country, similar to the one we had in the past with the United States.

Today, locked in the EU, we cannot talk with India on an equal footing. Outside the EU, we could. Suck it up, Mr Barroso. The Indians would do business with us in preference to you any day of the week.

The Commonwealth today has the potential to be much more significant in the world than Mr Barroso’s beloved EU. And we have the potential to be a truly leading member, at the heart of it, with people whom we understand, and who understand us.

That is where our future lies. It is a positive future, full of prosperity and yes, influence in the world. It is a much more attractive future than as a vassal of Mr Barroso’s inward-looking and declining fiefdom.

Why I Left the Tory Party Four Years Ago

A friend drew my attention to this article by Simon Heffer in the New Statesman.

How interesting to see Mr Heffer, who is a robust Conservative, writing in the traditionally Labour New Statesman!

The article is an analysis of why so many Conservatives have deserted the party for UKIP, and of the crisis in the Conservative Party brought about by the mistakes of its current leadership. It certainly struck a chord with me.

I thought readers might be interested to see my response to my friend, and I hope she will not mind my reproducing it here:

Thanks for sending that link. It’s a very interesting article, which even talks about me:

“people who have abandoned the party over disillusion with its policies and its failure to be more robustly and unapologetically conservative”

Yes, that just about sums it up.

There is one more point though: once somebody like me breaks with the Conservative Party, something happens. After a short while we stop thinking of ourselves as Conservatives. Our “tribal loyalty” is gone. That means winning us back will take much more than undoing the mistakes that drove us out in the first place.

The other problem that David Cameron has is this: he is facing a leader (Nigel Farage) who has far more charisma than he does. Once someone like me becomes part of Nigel’s army, the tribal loyalty is now to him. That means the Conservatives will not win me back whatever they do from now on. It is therefore too late for them to consider how to undo their mistakes.

Actually, it goes further. We have been treated as enemies (not even just as opponents, but as enemies) by the Conservative leadership. They hate us. With every UKIP victory, they hate us even more. “Fruitcakes, nutcases and closet racists” is not the language you use about your political opponents. Those are not criticisms or expressions of opposition. They are words you direct at people you hate.

The Conservative leadership hate me and everyone like me. I do think there is a “class” component to that hatred. Our response is twofold: to attack them and seek to bring them down, and to reach out to our former colleagues who remain in the Conservative Party. Many of them think like us and remain in that party only because of that tribal loyalty.

I do not know where this will all end. I do know that I despise David Cameron much more than Ed Miliband. Mr Miliband is an opponent, someone I disagree with. Mr Cameron is someone who has gone out of his way to turn me into his enemy.