Did you know the government is into making computer games for kids?
Obviously this is far more important than trifles like keeping up the numbers of police officers on the streets, or putting aircraft on our aircraft carriers.
Did you know the government is into making computer games for kids?
Obviously this is far more important than trifles like keeping up the numbers of police officers on the streets, or putting aircraft on our aircraft carriers.
The Nomenklatura Say No to AV
When the referendum on AV was first announced, I personally assumed that a “No” vote was a foregone conclusion. I am very sure that David Cameron did too. Now I am not so sure.
The weakness of the arguments put forward by the “No” camp has been astonishing. Recently they have been playing the fear card, claiming that AV would mean Nick Griffin in Number 10 and the end of civilised politics in Britain. Sayeeda Warsi, for the Tories, was the most recent one putting that nonsense about, as I blogged before. Such tactics smack of severe panic in the “No” camp – they are scenting the possibility of defeat.
The “No to AV” campaign really is quite extraordinary. Its website is well worth a look.
There is really quite an amazing amount of drivel on the site. Here, for example, is the main text highlighted on the home page of the site, complete with their emphasis:
Our current tried and tested voting system gives everyone one vote and delivers clear outcomes. The Alternative Vote is a complicated, expensive and unfair system that gives some people more votes than others. It might sound like a small change but the danger is in the detail – it’s a politicians’ fix.
Governments would be selected through backroom deals and people would have no control over where their vote goes. It should be voters that decide who the best candidate is, not the voting system. Defend one person, one vote. Vote NO to AV on 5 May.
Good grief. It’s hard to know where to start with that. It is a strange combination of scare-mongering, spin and downright lies.
The most blatant lie is the “AV gives some people more votes than others”.
Let’s recap the two systems, shall we?
With first past the post, the person with the most votes wins. That person may well have as little as one third of the votes, but if he has more votes than any other single candidate, he is elected.
With AV, voters rank the candidates in order of preference. The votes are first counted based on first preferences. If someone has over 50% of the votes, they are elected. If nobody gets over 50%, the candidate with the lowest vote is eliminated. That candidate’s votes (and only that candidate’s votes) are then redistributed to their second preferences. This process continues until someone gets over 50%.
So who gets more votes than somebody else with AV? People’s votes are only counted a second time once their first preference candidate has been eliminated.
And how about “Governments would be selected through backroom deals”?
First, that’s exactly how the current Government was selected. Second, even in normal times, the parties themselves do backroom deals. First past the post encourages “lowest common denominator” politics and policies. The major parties become huge coalitions of widely differing people, in order to give them the critical mass needed for victory under our current electoral system.
After the election, manifestoes are ignored and backroom deals within the parties are done. Many supporters of the major parties end up languishing on the sidelines, despite apparently being part of the winning party, simply because their faction has lost control. Does anyone think John Redwood, for example, is playing any real part in the current government? And yet he is a former cabinet minister and still in his political prime. He has almost nothing in common with David Cameron in political terms.
And how about the second blatant lie: “people would have no control over where their vote goes”?
Give me a break. People would have complete control over where their vote goes. Their vote goes to their first preference. And if their first preference is eliminated (because they were heavily defeated), their vote gets moved to their second preference – not to some random candidate.
And how about: “It should be voters that decide who the best candidate is, not the voting system.”
That’s a completely meaningless load of mush. The voters certainly do decide with AV. It’s just that their decision may not be to the liking of the metropolitan elite. Crikey, something might actually change in our country. That would never do, would it?
Really, if all this is the best the No to AV campaign can come up with, they really are sunk.
Baroness Warsi: Joining the No to AV Panic
Baroness Warsi, the Conservative Party Chairman, has claimed that a move to the AV voting system would help the BNP.
From her comments, it is far from clear that she even understands how AV works.
She claims that AV means that some people have their votes counted more than others. That is fairly typical of the increasingly shrill and panic-stricken approach of the “No to AV” campaign, which has also claimed that AV would cost £250 million and deprive soldiers of body armour and sick babies of treatment.
Just for the record, AV does not mean some people get their votes counted more than others. On the contrary, it means that people who vote for smaller parties get their votes counted – at the moment, their candidates are simply eliminated and that’s it.
Under AV, the party with the least votes gets eliminated, and its votes get redistributed to their second preferences. That process continues until a candidate accumulates more than 50% of the votes.
Under the current system, the candidate with the most votes wins, and people who vote for small parties get their votes ignored. Candidates who receive only a third of the votes can easily win.
Of course, it is true that the BNP is a small party. In that sense, it might be helped by AV, although the BNP itself is against AV.
Here’s what the BBC says:
She also argued that the system risked giving parties like the BNP “more legitimacy” because people would be able to register a “protest vote without considering the electoral implications”.
“The long-term effects of that are clear: more votes, more power, more long-term legitimacy for the BNP and other fringe parties,” she wrote.
Basically, Baroness Warsi’s approach boils down to this: we don’t like the smaller parties so we want to make sure they are comprehensively squashed. Her whole argument for keeping the present system is that it is useful in suppressing small parties.
Apart from being explicitly an anti-democratic argument, that is also a dangerous game to play.
The BNP is a small party, and most people would argue it is also extremist. It is far from clear to me, however, that having an electoral system that is deliberately biassed against it is the best way to combat it. In fact, at the moment the BNP can argue that it has real support, but its supporters are forced to vote tactically. It can claim that under a fair system, its vote would be higher. Baroness Warsi seems to agree that it would.
Under AV, nobody would need to vote tactically. Supporters of small parties could put their favoured party first, and a party they thought had a good chance of winning second. The true extent of support for fringe parties would therefore be laid bare.
There would be nowhere to hide. Nobody who got crushed in an election could blame the voting system.
UKIP believes its true support is much higher than it receives with the present system. Therefore UKIP supports AV. (And of course it is possible that this is the real reason why Baroness Warsi opposes it – that she fears losing votes to UKIP.)
The BNP opposes AV. Make your own mind up why that might be.
Baroness Warsi needs to be careful (not normally her strong point). Her argument boils down to saying that the BNP has widespread support and is only kept in check by the voting system. I beg to differ. The British people are more sensible than that.
It’s All Very Nice When You’re Part of the “In Crowd”
It would take quite a lot to create sympathy for the Libyan Government. But our leaders seem to be doing their best.
While NATO forces attack Libyan Government forces in support of the rebels, the BBC reports that a conference is taking place in London on the future of the country.
Some 40 delegations – from the coalition, the UN, Nato, the African Union and Arab League, but not the Libyan government – will be represented in London. Rebel officials have been invited for talks on the meeting’s sidelines, although not to the conference itself.
but not the Libyan government. That just about says it all. There is a civil war going on in Libya, and the entire world is talking about the future of the country. They are talking to the rebel side in the war, but not to the government side. That pretty much gives the lie to the official United Nations position that they are only trying to protect civilians.
What is happening is that the “international community” is doing its best to depose the Libyan Government. You can argue whether that is a good idea all you like. Regardless of the merits or otherwise of Col Gaddafi, who can say whether the rebel alternative will be better or worse?
The Libyan rebels of course are happy to have the support of powerful foreign military forces at the moment. They will find later, once they have been installed in power by the “international community”, that their freedom to govern their country as they see fit will be severely curtailed.
Ironically, the BBC also says:
Earlier, in a video conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Mr Obama had agreed that Col Gaddafi “had lost any legitimacy to rule and should leave power, and that the Libyan people should have the political space to determine their own future”, the White House said.
This is not about Libyans having the space to determine their own future. This is about determining the future on their behalf.
And let’s not pretend this is all about a United Nations Security Council resolution, giving a veneer of respectability to the bombing raids. That resolution talked about protecting civilians, not regime change, and it is blindingly obvious that the “international community” is now going way beyond that.
“Sovereignty” is a concept that does not seem to matter much – until it is the sovereignty of your own country that is under threat. Don’t think it doesn’t apply to us here in the UK. Our own sovereignty and self determination is under direct attack from the European Union at this moment.
Consider what happens in the future if the British Government does something that the rest of the world does not like. Perhaps it might decide to abandon climate change targets, for example.
Would we then see the rest of the world gathering to decide how best to get rid of our government, and talking about which country’s planes should do the bombing of London?
David Cameron looks like a statesman now. But he is helping create precedents for “international” control over countries, that could well come back to haunt us.
And Then I Pull His String Like This and He Gives Me All His Money
David Cameron says he is “frustrated” that the UK has to pay towards any emergency bailouts of Eurozone countries. (Portugal is widely expected to be next.)
He blames it on an agreement signed by Labour after the election but before the new Coalition government took office. He claims the Tories “strongly objected” at the time.
His “frustration” on this follows on from his being “sick in the stomach” about the European Court of Human Rights demanding that we give the vote to prisoners.
Meanwhile, Alistair Darling, for Labour, says Mr Cameron is being misleading.
The BBC quotes him thus:
“We did indeed agree that we should do everything we could to keep Britain out of the main part of the rescue fund,” he told MPs.
But he said he had talked to Mr Osborne about the merits of abstaining, rather than voting against, a proposal to require all EU members to contribute to the secondary European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism since it was clear the UK might be outvoted anyway.
Note that last phrase “since it was clear the UK might be outvoted anyway”.
Mr Darling and Mr Cameron are not arguing about whether Britain should contribute to the bailouts.
They are arguing over whether Britain should have voted against.
It didn’t really matter whether the British government actually agreed or not. We were paying anyway, because it was a majority vote. It’s a bit like a classroom full of bullies all voting that the one in the corner should pay for all their sweeties.
As with all things in Brussels, we don’t decide for ourselves. We are told. And there’s not a damned thing Mr Cameron can do about it, because he won’t countenance withdrawal from the Union.
Even John Major made some kind of attempt to stand up for Britain, with his “empty chair policy”. It did little good, but at least he tried.
Mr Cameron doesn’t even do that. He just rolls over and declares himself “frustrated”. Poor lamb. That’s what comes of being a puppet Prime Minister I guess.
Not All He’s Cracked Up to Be
As we contemplate the violence and thuggery that followed Saturday’s TUC anti-cuts march, here is a reminder of what we are up against.
In an idle moment today, I read the leaflet that was delivered with our council tax bill. It is a joint leaflet between the County Council and the Police Authority. It provides two very clear examples of what is happening in the public sector, and why those anti-cuts marchers were so misguided.
Exhibit 1: in the introduction for the County Council, the Conservative leader of the council is quoted thus:
With £136 million to save over the next four years, and £73 million in this financial year alone, we’ve had some very difficult decisions to make.
Later in the leaflet, the figures are shown for council expenditure:
2010/11 – £1,045 million
2011/12 – £1,032 million
Subtracting one from the other gives a reduction of £13 million.
And for those who are mathematically challenged, £13 million does not equal £73 million.
Exhibit 2: the Police Authority budget is split into three parts.
First, the “Crime and Justice Command”. This covers things like major crime investigations, forensics, the CID and Special Branch. The money for that is going down this year from £34.6 million to £33.6 million, a cut of £1 million or 3 percent.
Second, the “Territorial Command”. This covers local policing – things like bobbies on the beat, the emergency response teams and the Communications Centre. The money for that is being cut more, from £44.2 million to £41.2 million, a cut of £3 million or 7 percent.
And third, “Other Departments and functions”. This is described as “including HR, Finance, Training, Press and media, ICT, Corporate Development etc”. In other words, it is the back office staff. The money for that is being cut … no wait, it is being increased from £35.18 million to £35.20 million. A tiny increase of only 0.05 percent, to be sure, but an increase nonetheless while the front line policing functions are being cut.
Let me say right away that the local Police here are excellent – and that is precisely why I don’t want our bobbies cut by 7 percent while the back office staff don’t get cut at all.
A further clue as to what is wrong with government in our country can be found on the County Council’s budget page, which has a link to the “Budget 2011-2012 Equality Impact Assessments”.
This page has no less than 120 “Equality Impact Assessment” documents, each of which is a fairly detailed form solemnly filled in, each one supposedly assessing whether one of the cuts being made will hit any particular groups harder than others.
One of them has this:
GET THE DOCUMENT SIGNED OFF BY A DIRECTOR, HAVE IT AVAILABLE ON SHAREPOINT, AND KEEP IT ON FILE AS PART 1 EQUALITY IMPACT ASSESSMENT. COPY IT TO THE EQUALITIES TEAM.
What would the council do, after all, without an Equalities Team to make sure that the services being cut are cut fairly?
This, remember, is in a Conservative controlled council. It really is beyond parody.
DID YOU KNOW…
That this year the government is planning to spend:
£23 billion on transport
£24 billion on housing
£40 billion on defence
…and £50 billion on debt interest.
And did you also know that this year the government expects to receive:
£25 billion in business rates
£26 billion in council tax
£48 billion in corporation tax.
…but pay £50 billion in debt interest.
And did you know that £50 billion equates to more than £800 for every person in the country?
And did you know that the government expects the official national debt to go over £1 trillion this year? And that that equates to more than £16,000 for every person in the country?
And have you noticed that Labour’s “Red Ed” Miliband thinks they should be spending even more?
And that he’s planning to address the TUC anti-cuts rally tomorrow to tell them so?
(All figures, and the pie chart, from the 2011 Budget Report.)
It seems that even German commitment to the Euro is faltering.
EU leaders have agreed to restructure the emergency bailout fund, allowing countries including Germany more time to put their money into the fund.
Britain, of course, has to contribute to any bailout of countries in the EU – Portugal is increasingly looking as if it will be next. Without Britain’s departure from the EU, we will not be able to avoid paying into any bailout, no matter how much David Cameron squirms, or how much it may make him “sick in the stomach”.
Meanwhile, the Alice in Wonderland world of British politics continues. Tory back-benchers have protested at the prospect of British taxpayers bailing out other profligate countries when Britain is quite profligate enough all by itself.
Bernard Jenkin, for example, is quoted by the BBC thus:
Can I remind you that we have just had an austerity Budget?
Can you imagine how absolutely furious British voters would be if it turns out that the British taxpayer has to continue contributing to the bail-out of euro countries, even though we are not a member?
What austerity budget did he mean, I wonder? It was a fiscally neutral budget, continuing the Conservative policy of increasing spending in line with inflation, and waiting for economic growth to eliminate the deficit.
He was quite right, though, that British voters would be furious. Many of them will be furious enough to vote UKIP.
EU leaders are denying that Portugal needs help, but nobody believes them.
It seems that Germany is increasingly reluctant to bail out the spendthrift countries of Europe, and since that is the only way to save the Euro, prospects for the Euro are not looking good.
In a couple of years time, Europe could look very different. If just one of those weaker countries is either forced out of the Euro, or decides to leave, the currency is finished.
Obviously, European leaders are never going to admit defeat. So we would probably end up with a small core of a handful of strong economies, including Germany, supposedly still using the Euro, but in effect using the old Deutschmark.
And without the Euro, the dream of European Federal Union is also dead. Interesting times.
We Used to Believe in Tax and Spend. Now That’s Tory Territory
and We Believe in Borrow and Spend
Interesting, considering spending is up this year so far by 6% – even higher than the current inflation rate.
And as I said this morning, Mr Osborne is planning not spending cuts, but freezing spending in real terms and waiting for the economy and tax receipts to catch up. A bit like someone who is living way beyond his means, and decides to go on spending the same amount and hope that his salary rises enough to cover it.
So it looks like we have a clear choice – Borrow and Spend Labour, or Tax and Spend Tories.
Or I guess we also have the option of Look at Me I’m the Deputy PM Liberal Democrats.
What a shower. Time we looked elsewhere for our future.
George Osborne – Taxing Us to Pay for More Spending
Well, it was a pretty tedious budget. My mother used to ask whether one day a Chancellor would simply stand up one budget day and say, “I intend to leave everything exactly as it is.”
George Osborne did almost exactly that. The highlight of the excitement was a 1p cut in the price of fuel. I suspect that won’t have anyone dancing in the streets, welcome though it is. It should save me around 25p per week. I will celebrate with a Mars Bar. Every other week.
The Chancellor also announced increased taxes on North Sea Oil production, which sounds a bit of an odd way to encourage economic output to rise.
The ghastly truth of our public finances, and the degree of Conservative deception on them, is buried in the budget paper itself, however.
Remember those Tory promises that four fifths of the deficit reduction would be by spending cuts, and only one fifth by tax rises?
The budget paper reveals that from 2009/10 to 2015/16, spending will rise from £669.8 billion to £763 billion, an increase of 14%.
“What about inflation?” do I hear you cry? Let’s assume inflation averages 2% over that 6 year period, equal to the rate the Bank of England is duty-bound to keep it at. In that case, general prices will go up overall by 12.6%, giving a small real terms spending increase of 1.4%.
Over the same period, government receipts will go from £513.3 billion to £735 billion, almost eliminating the deficit. That’s an increase in government income (basically, taxes), by a whopping 43.2%. If you like “real terms”, then that’s an increase of 30.6% in tax receipts.
Holy Moses! Spending up 1.4% in real terms and taxes up 30.6% in real terms.
Which means all the deficit reduction, ALL OF IT, is coming from increases in tax receipts and NONE OF IT from spending cuts.
THERE ARE NO CUTS. The cuts are only to Labour’s planned increases.
Maybe a couple of graphs might make it all even clearer.
First, a graph of spending and receipts over the parliament. As you can see, tax receipts are rising to catch up with still-growing spending:
And in case you had forgotten that eliminating the deficit does not mean eliminating the debt, here’s a graph of debt rising throughout the period. (It is rising slower as the years go by, as the deficit reduces due to the increases in tax receipts.) The budget papers also contain GDP forecasts, and I’ve included them for good measure as well:
The rising GDP, of course, is the main reason for the rising tax receipts. If GDP rises more slowly than Mr Osborne is assuming, the wheels will come off his wagon faster than you can say, “Labour election victory”.