Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Funnily Enough..

A little anecdote, a sort of antithesis of Ian Dale's

When coming back to the fine city of Norwich after myself and a group of friends had been visiting a friend in the Midlands, I was surprised that the other car had arrived home a little later, surprising since last time I saw them they were speeding off into the distance. Turned out that a policeman had pulled them up and on hearing their protests of ignorance had said "Slow down sonny, next time we won't be so lenient."

The point? Wrongdoing needs to be considered with a little common sense. Crime is not a binary thing. Doing 70 in a 30 zone and doing 35 are both breaking the law, but one would seem fairly minor whereas the other is seriously wrong. On a scale of wrongdoing, this business with David Abrahams is actually fairly minor.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Time for a little Humble Pie

In a recent discussion (on the fantastic Liberal Conspiracy site) involving the now infamous two CD's and 25 million names, I argued that it doesn't follow that ID cards will be insecure, I also argued that ID cards would still help in a situation like this. One point I made was in the way that biometrics made the system more secure.

This Saturday's Bad Science column did cast a fair bit of doubt on the security of Biometrics, pointing out the well known fake fingers story as well as several other pieces of evidence. More interesting though was the final paragraph on mentioning a paper on creating a fingerprint from the minutiae data. I did cast doubt as to whether it was possible to turn fingerprint data into a working fingerprint, clearly it is, so it appears that on that score I was wrong.

I don't think however that this is necessarily the death of biometric ID cards, getting hold of an ID card/creating a fake and also matching set of fingerprints is still going to be very hard to accomplish. It seems clear however that the amount of data stored on the actual ID card chip may need a rethink.

Friday, October 19, 2007

That 37% figure in full (well, mostly)..

Inspired by Chris Paul and Iain Dale.

With the recent furore over inheritance tax, an oft quoted figure has been that 37% of households are liable for inheritance tax. The have based this on the following calculation from Scottish Widows (link goes to the cache of the now dead http://www.scottishwidows.co.uk/documents/generic/2007_IHT_new_thresholds.pdf).

You Gov surveyed a sample of the population and found that 37% of people had houses worth more than £210,000. It then made an assumption that these people also had assets of at least £94,290.

The following breakdown was assumed:

£80,636 - Life assurance and pension funds
£28,907 - Non Financial Assets
£30,001 - Securities and shares
£41,838 - Currency and deposits
£7,837 - Other assets

Giving a total of £189,219, the £80,636 figure is discounted since Life Assurance and Pensions are not liable for IHT. This leaves £108,583.

Several financial liabilities are assumed, these are:

£0 - Loans secured on dwellings
£9,652 - Other loans
£4,641 - Other liabilities

Giving a total of £14,293. As if by magic, we get £108,583 - £14,293 = £94,290.

The real question is will this 37% of people really have this much non house based wealth. £41K in currency and £30K in shares. Scottish widows figures are from this ONS report (page 86). But these figures are simply summaries. They have assumed a uniform distribution of wealth, if we take a look at another ONS Nugget we can see that most non housing wealth (71%) is owned by the to 10% of people. Meaning that while the top 10% are likely to have additional wealth which take them over the IHT bracket, most of that 37% with houses over £210,000 are not likely to have wealth that pushes them over the limit.

In conclusion, the maths behind the Scottish Widows report makes a lot of assumptions, it is not the best statistical measure to use.

DISCLAIMER: I haven't broken down the maths as much as I'd like, thats because I'm off down the pub

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Against Globalisation

I am personally of the opinion that Globalisation in it's current form is a bad thing, it removes power from people's elected representatives and hands it to the multinational corporations. I have become more convinced since I started reading Bad Samaritans by Ha Joon Chang. It takes a detailed look at economic history and puts a new perspective on globalisation as it is currently seen.

It means that I don't like to see people in the Labour party accepting the current consensus on globalisation such as this post from Will Parbury.

My response is as follows:

Nations should not to be forced to integrate according to the neo-liberal consensus often posed by the multinationals, rich nations as well as the likes of the Economist and Anatole Kaletsky.

Nearly all rich nations got where they did using strict controls on foreign trade, working it to their advantage until their industries were ready to compete globally. The electronics division of Nokia made a loss for 17 years before finally turning a profit and this was at a time when the Finnish government considered excessive foreign investment in an industry "dangerous" and put in place incredibly strict measures to resist it. Many politicians in Japan wanted Toyota to give up on cars and return to making automatic looms.

I would urge Will, and anyone else not to be caught up in this supposed consensus on globalisation. Globalisation as it stands is not some amazing cure all for the world's economy, but a set of ideas based on reasoning that looks nice on paper, but doesn't measure up in real life.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Snap Election?

Chris Paul is thinking that a bet on there not being an election this year is easy money. Personally I think Chris may have spoken a little too soon. The Brown bounce is far better than anticipated, the Tories conference doesn't appear to have revived their fortunes. I'd say that gambling on an election would be the safer bet myself.

Of course, if a snap election is called I predict a 100% chance of Iain Dale gloating over his predictions.

PS: On the subject of the Tory conference, Tom at Lets Be Sensible has some amusing thoughts here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Why all this fuss about Inheritance tax?

The Tories are making a bit of a fuss about inheritance tax, personally, I really don't get why this tax is apparently so hated. It affects only six percent of estates and even those middle class families who have seen rising house prices nudge them into that tax bracket will likely only have to pay a very small amount. The arguments usually deployed in against it are also somewhat unconvincing when examined a little more closely.

It only brings in around £3 billion, small change when you consider that the treasury budget is somewhere in the region of £450 billion.
This argument could equally be deployed for most tax cuts, the total tax take is made up of a very large number of "small" amounts. In terms of teachers, doctors, schools and hospitals, £3 billion relly rather a lot.

I've already paid tax earning it, why should I pay tax again
Lets say I choose to spend my paycheck on an iPod, part of the amount I pay will be VAT. Should I not pay the VAT on this purchase? Taxation occurs at various points as money moves about the economy. To attempt to make an rewrite the tax system into one where money is only ever taxed once is close to impossible. To turn the idea that an individual should only be taxed once on their money into a matter of principle falls down on the fact that it is just not practical.

The super rich just avoid it anyway
This is an argument for finding better ways to deal with the super rich, not an argument for abolishing/reducing inheritance tax.

Inheritance is a redistribution from old to young
This is true to some degree, although it would seem to be more a redistribution from old to middle aged. It is also a distribution from rich old to rich young. Inheritance tax means that while inheritors benefit, a porition of an exceptionally large inheritance is used to the benefit of everyone.

Monday, October 01, 2007

In Iain Dales top 100

85th in Iain Dales list. I really was quite pleasantly surprised. It's a strange thing, but being in a top 100 list compiled by a Tory has given this flagging blogger a much needed injection of enthusiasm. I do have to admit that I've let things slip recently and filled this blog with nothing more than a long pregnant pause.

I suppose now would be a good time to admit that I think he has quite good taste in cars, I share his appreciation of Germany and I also read his blog.

A few notables from the rest of the list:
Kerron Cross is entertaining enough, but his blog tends to find itself a bit short when it comes to actual politics.

Chris Paul,
I feel gets the light hearted/serious balance a bit better. I'd say he's my favourite Labour blogger at the moment.

Grim Up North
is another favourite read of mine, entertaining with some very strong opinions. What you might call a "conviction politician". :)

Ministry of Truth, insightful, intelligent, agressive and incredibly verbose. I really admire the Unity cuts through the crap and gets right to the truth of the matter.

And finally.. the dear departed BBF, Hamer's posts were true masterpieces of political comedy genius.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Brief Criticsm...

From a comment by Bloggers4Labour on this post.

In Venezuela, Cuba, and so many other countries, the top priority for their governments is to open their economies, cede political power, tackle corruption, and stop blaming the country's problems on internal and external enemies. Only then will their social programmes be tenable, and only then should the international Left offer their support. As usual, the 'Decent Left' reference is a smokescreen used to conceal the accusor's abandonment of their commitment to liberal principles.

I'm picking this comment out, because it interest me far more than the actual post itself. I agree with a good deal of what's being said, but I have to seriously disagree with a couple of his prescriptions.

Open their Economies

Opening up economies is a prescription favoured by a large majority of economists, but this consensus is not without it's critics. There are also clear examples of countries that have followed this prescription and ended up economically worse off as a result (Argentina, for example).

Free markets and open economies are not necessarily the best way to encourage economic growth, in a recent Prospect article, Ha Joon Chang makes the point that Toyota would not be the gigantic corporation it is today without the Japanese government protectionism. The first Toyotas were not very successful and many thought that Japan should have just let in Ford and GM and left Toyota to making looms. Many economies have become successful pursuing policies other than those currently prescribed on the pages of the Economist.

Stop blaming the country's problems on Internal and External enemies

I suspect that B4L's actual opinion on this is a little more nuanced than the obvious literal interpretation. It's a fact that countries have enemies and their actions can have a clear effect. It would be foolish to deny that economic sanctions on Cuba have caused problems for Cuba's economy or that RCTV played a part in the 2002 coup in Venezuela. While we shouldn't let such problems blind us to creeping authoritarianism, we should be careful not to indulge in a one sided blame game.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Distinct lack of Balance

My opinion on this whole Phillip Lawrenct/Learco Chindamo business was forged by Chris Paul's excellent fisk of Iain Dale, the fact that Mr Chindamo was only 5 years old when he came to Britain swung it in his favour. Mr Chindamo is likely have barely any memory of Italy, it is only his home by a legal technicality.

What is bugging me though, is the lack of coverage the mainstream media has given to this fact, I've sat through the Radio 4 6'O'Clock news, and ITV news parading a number of it's citizen journalists giving their both barrels opinion on the human rights act. All the while I've heard no one even mention the fact that this man was only five years old when he came to this country. The omission of this fact has seriously distorted the coverage of the subject in the mainstream media.

I hate to accuse the BBC of bias, I really think the coverage they've provided could have made more light of this fact.

The Daily Mail on PCSO's

The mail recently had the story "PCSOs 'solve crime every six years", it's a fine example of the fact that when it comes to the Daily Mail, we just can't bloody well win. For years we have heard calls for "more bobbies on the beat" the government come back with Polics Community Support Officers as a solution.

As far as I can tell, these officers do exactly what you would expect from a bobby on the beat, patrol the streets, providing a visible police presence to reassure local residents. Now it appears the Mail is jumping on unfavourable statistics. Statistics it's all to happy to discredit when convenient.

Police out on foot patrol don't tend to detect crimes going on since most people on seeing a police officer or similar don't commit crimes. Thats just common sense, the effect of police officers on patrol is something that can't easily be measured. So it's not surprising that the statistics don't show very much.

Surely the fact that PCSO's are walking through crime free streets is a good thing though.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

We Can’t Turn Them Away

I suspect that few people haven't heard of this campaign by now, but it is one that deserves our support. Des Brown has said that there are 20,000 Iraqi's who have worked for our armed forces at some point, but among those there are those who are seriously at risk, interpreters being one particularly high risk group. As Idiots4Labour observed, interpreters are not the only people at risk but what matters here is not the colour of the collar, but the danger these people face. There are Iraqi's who are seriuously at risk and as the campaign says, we can't turn them away.

I penned a letter along these lines to Charles Clarke (my MP) last weekend. No response yet, but I'll be sure to post my repsonse when I get it.

In case people didn't know, there's a big list of supporters (courtesy of Tim Ireland) here, and some nicely constructed banners, courtesy of Unity here.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Unemployment is as high as it was under Thatcher in 1979

So says Guido Fawkes in some kind of quixotic prediction of the Tories victory at a snap election. Perhaps he's suffering a bout of madness brought on by some hangover from his drug fuelled youth. It's his £50 (after the state has taken it's necessary dues of course) I suppose.

Lest we forget though, perhaps a reminder is in order of what happened to unemployment after the year of 1979. This one should suffice.

Hat tip: Kerron's dim & distant past

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Iain Dale, David Davis, Professor Keith and the Labour Apology

Iain Dale is getting on his high horse over the comments of one Professor Michael Keith, with regard to comments about the Sonali Greens housing block, a housing block that David Davis supposedly suggested should be "burned to the ground". Of course, David Davis is unlikely to have ever said those exact words, so lets take a look at what's actually going on here.

A little digging reveals the following New homes block is for 'Asians only', Sonali Green also gets a mention in this paper on Ghettoisation in London.

What David Davis actually said was:
"There would rightly be outrage if a council offered a whites-only housing block.

"I firmly believe that we should look to achieve integration rather than segregation in our society. This is the sort of thoughtless policy that feeds extremism."


Key to this is the fact that the development provides specialist services, halal meals, Bengali-speaking carers and Islamic praying facilities. These facilities are needed, since the residents in this block will largely be old Bengali's who speak little English and are unlikely to integrate further into British society.

Looking at this from the council's point of view, it would seem sensible to have a housing block with all residents who need the same set of specialist services in one place. This would be the most cost effective and practical way of providing the services.

David Davis may not have said what he Professor Keith suggested, but he does stand accused of opposing a council's practical measure for no reason other than to score a few political points all in the name of "integration".

UPDATE: A clarification (for Iains benefit), David Davis adopted a position that opposed Sonali Green a position he presumably stands by and has not taken back and has certainly not apologised for. Any apology from Prof. Keith should be phrased something along the lines of "I apologise for saying that David Davis said he wanted to see this development burnt down, it is clear now that he was merely opposed to the idea of the council providing the best possible services to Bengali Senior citizens.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Saturday, July 14, 2007

On the importance of a 50-50 male female balance...

At the pub a few weeks ago, I was explaining to a few non political friends about the idea of all woman shortlists and how they tend to stir up a lot of debatewithin the Labour party. An argument I had trouble answering is why we should be striving to attain a 50-50 male female balance in parliament. My friend asked why achieveing this was anything more than a marketing exercise for the party.

Last nights General Comittee meeting gave me a clear example of why the balance is needed. It came with discussion on Baroness Hollis' amendment to the pensions bill, allowing people to buy back up to nine years lost National Insurance contributions. The main beneficiaries of such an amendment would be women who are more likely to have gaps in their contribution records.

This is an issue that affects mainly women, but will be decided by a parliament and an upper house both composed mainly of men. In answer to my friend at the pub. Achieving a 50-50 balance is more than just a marketing exercise because those who do the job of an MP have a say in the issues that affect everyone and those who make the decisions on these issues should also have an understanding of them.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Money for old rope, pt94. Stealing Corporation Tax

This Citizen has a capitalist streak meaning that he quite fancies the idea of making large amounts of money. His chosen method is through the creation of innovative software that enables organisations to conduct their existing business in more efficient manner. He is dissapointed to learn that there is a far easier way to make a big pile of cash.

1. Pick a large, reasonably profitable company
2. Borrow a very large amount of money in order to buy said company.
3. Buy the company, take a little cut for yourself just a few million or so for your "profesional services".
4. Transfer your newly aquired debts to your newly aquired company.
5. Offset the the interest payments against your new company's profits
6. Voila, with interest payments reducing your company's profits, the company pays far less corporation tax. Your creditors get their interest, you keep your fat bonus and the Treasury is left feeling empty and hollow.

Inspired by Pemira

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Alan Johnston released

Good news for all concerned I feel...

New button courtesy of Tim Ireland.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Farewell to Tony Blair

As of 1:40pm or therabouts Tony Blair is no longer prime minister. I'm going to miss his speeches, his performances and PMQs and more generally the way he always managed to speak with a kind of passion that always seemed to get my attention.

The last 10 years have had their ups and downs, but there have been many things to shout about, the minimum wage, tax credits, childcare, low unempolyment as well as investment in the country's schools and hospitals. Some people see no difference between the parties, but I'm sure may of the good things that the Labour government brought along would not have happened without it. Labour has been able to bring about a lot of good things in the last 10 years and for that it has Tony Blair to thank.

Farewell Tony, I'm going to miss you.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Monday, June 04, 2007

I would just like to say....

That the "Race, class, and candidate selection" debate on Bloggers 4 Labour is really good. Very much worth a read and a couple of pennies contribution.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Taxing the Rich, is there really much point?

This post was started before last nights newsnight hustings, the timing seems quite appropriate now. A few thoughts on taxation....

Let me start this post by saying that I believe that the wealthiest in society, as the greatest beneficiaries of our society should also be those who contribute the most towards it's upkeep. Let me also highlight my concern that the wealth of the richest is growing far faster than that of not only the working classes, but also the middle classes.

I think that taxation has a part to play in addressing this situation, but what got me thinking recently were a couple of numbers that were brought up on the subject in the run up to the leadership (non)contest.

These are....
1) A amount estimated to be between £97bn and £150bn pounds is lost due to tax evasion each year. (Source here, I believe it was originally sourced from a leaked treasury document)
2) The LRC proposed a taxation policy with a 50% rate on earnings over £60k pa and a 60% rate on earnings of over £100K pa. This would raise a total of £14bn (Source here).

What really surprised me was the sheer amount of avoidance that goes on, based on the figures I found on the Labour Left Forum the amount of money we are talking is huge, about the same as the NHS budget, more than either the education budget or the total corporation tax reciepts.

In comparison, the £14bn that the LRC's tax increases would have raised would been insignifigant compared to the the sheer amount that is avoided. This begs the question that, if the government were to implement an LRC style tax increase, how much of that £14bn would actually reach the treasury's coffers. Such an increase would only penalise those high earners who pay their taxes rather than those who avoid them.

The argument I would put forward is that rather than imposing additional taxes, the government must first consider what steps it could take to cut down the massive amount of tax evasion that currently goes on.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

A Return to Blogging...

It's been a while, I've not found the time to blog for a while. Hopefully, I can now announce a return to blogging. Not that frequent, maybe one post a week or so, but generally whatever I can manage.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The wonderful world of the blogosphere..

My first blog post for a while (sadly this citizen has been rather busy with matters of a little more import than blogging) concerns the subject of bloggers on bloggers. Not my usual fare, but this citizen feels the odd indulgence is permissible. He also played a very minor role in the ensuing chaos.

It all concerns the tory boy known as Dizzy and a little spat he had with Tim Ireland, after a rather heated comments exchange Tim masterfully took him to task here. Dizzy opted for the "wooden spoon" defense, maybe he was, either way one can conclude that either:

A) Dizzy was rumbled and as an excuse made out that he was merely being a sadistic wind up merchant.

B) Dizzy is a sadistic wind up merchant

Either way, it is safe to heed Tim's words:
"Any time you see Dizzy comment or post on any given subject, you know that you can deploy the 'partisan hypocrite' filter with confidence. You are also aware that any anonymous comment in support of Dizzy or his case should be regarded with suspicion."
That is all...

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Police and the National Identity Register

My apologies for not blogging much recently, this citizen has been rather busy. Thankfully the petition to objecting to ID cards coming to an end has given me some material to work with.

With the end of the petition, the Prime Minister sent an email reply to the 27,000 signatories. Within the email was a rather controversial paragraph relating to police access to the National Identity Register.
"They will be able, for example, to compare the fingerprints found at the scene of some 900,000 unsolved crimes against the information held on the register."
This has caused some alarm, the police should not simply be allowed to casually look up anyone's details in an attempt to match fingerprints to people.

Hopefully this is not the case, although it's hard to tell from what people are saying.

Blair's spokesman:
"If the police ask for fingerprints to be cross-checked, that has always been part of the intention of the bill."
So the NIR would simply be used for checks, but who exactly will be cross checked?

Joan Ryan:
"There won't be any fishing expeditions. That is complete nonsense. That is not what can happen. We've always said one of the real advantages of identity cards would be the fight against crime and protecting the public."

"If police want to check fingerprints found at the scene of the crime that they can't find on their own databases then they will work with IPS staff."

"And surely no-one would suggest that we should put obstacles in the way of police investigating crime and bringing offenders to justice?"
Joan doesn't shed any more light on the matter, will the police simply be able to run through the National Identity Register looking for a match or will it require a specific person? To my mind, it would be acceptable to perform a check on a specific person if they had reasonable grounds for suspicion. I hope that's also the Home Office's view.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Sunday, February 11, 2007

John McDonnell in Norwich

On Friday night, this citizen attended a speech in Norwich by leadership candidate John McDonnell. Attendance was a little on the low side although in fairness it was a pretty miserable night. Earlier in the day he had given a speech to a much larger group of students over at the UEA.

The gist of his speech was that leading up to 1997 we had built a broad coalition of supporters and over the next 10 years proceeded to alienate each section of that coalition. Public sector cuts have driven away union support, Iraq has driven away those who were anti war, and so on. He then went over what exactly he thought the current government had done wrong and what he thought a Labour government should do. He finished off answering a few questions, sadly this citizen didn't get the chance to ask any of his.

My Thoughts
While John quite clearly managed to express his disatisfaction with the status quo, his ability to put forward an alternative vision was not quite so clear. On questions of actual policy he was quite vague. For example, on the subject of taxation he didn't want to commit to any plans to change income tax.

Also missing from his speech was any mention of any wars other than Iraq, no mention was made of Afganistan or Kosovo, making it hard to determine where he stood on the subject of international politics.

A curious subject that was touched upon was the fact that there had been no media coverage of John's campaign

Conclusions
I have to say that I wasn't convinced by John's speech. Admittedly my own political beliefs lie somewhat to the right of John's, but I feel that a good politician should be able to win over people who don't entirely share the same beliefs. The meeting felt more like John preaching to the crowd than John trying to convince new followers. In conclusion then, John McDonnell will have to seriously up his game if he hopes to beat the big clunking fist of Gordon Brown.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Oh how things change..

It was a mere two years ago in December 2004, there was a Conservative backing for ID cards.

Two years and one lost election later and the Tories have hopped back on the fence, got off the other site and jumped on the anti ID card bandwagon. ID cards are now "Labours Bad Idea", as shown in this fine example of a Tory U turn.


citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

In response....

Many thanks to the poster who commented on my previous post, as promised, here is my response.

1) Why should I prove my ID? You say that ID cards are supported by iris recognition/finger prints etc and while chips can be cloned, body parts cannot. I have two thoughts on this matter. The first being Dolly the sheep. The second being science can do amazing things these days - anything can be transplanted and/or cloned from an iris to a face.
Firstly, on the subject of whether we should need an ID card to prove our identity, this I feel is part of the very large debate on the relationship between the state and the individual. From a practical point of view, I feel it makes sense that an individual should have to prove their identity and therfore their entitlement to be genuine when making use of services provided by the state.

On the subject of the possibilities of technology and cloning, I feel that what needs to be considered here is the amount of effort required to somehow make use of the technology in order to subvert an identity check. Attempting to fake an identity check requires a considerable amount of expertise and resources. Weighing this against the potential gains to be made from subverting an ID check, and it means that only small selection of high yield identity fraud based crimes remain viable.
2) They didn't stop Madrid. No they did not. This IS a reasonable arguement. Surely any bombing that falls through the cracks of "security" and is allowed to occur is one bombing too many. A simplistic view I grant you, but one that is still valid.
On this point, I feel that I should clarify my thoughts on this. The statement "ID cards did not stop the Madrid bombings" validates the statement "ID cards are not guaranteed to pervent terroist attacks". I don't feel that it validates the statement "ID cards will not prevent terroist attacks" because I feel that ID cards and the NIR will be a valulable tool for the intelligence services (I'll try and expand on this at some point). One terrorist attack is too many, but every terrorist attack prevented is a good thing.
3)The only way of stopping benefit fraud is by creating a system that doesn't allow defrauding in the first place. Either by being more severe with the culprits or by having a system that is not worth defrauding in the first place and therefore only aides the deserving. ID cards still wouldn't help with this problem - I refer you to the leaps in science/iris transplant scenario. After all if they are able to screw the system for millions, the small matter of an iris transplant is a mere drop in the ocean. Especially with the NHS in it's current state. I should know - I work for them.
On the subject of benefit fraud I feel that ID cards would increase the chance a fraudster being caught out, I belive that this increased chance of getting caught would act as an additional deterrent. On the subject of punishments, I see this as problematic since often benefit fraudsters might not be able to afford fines and jail as problematic since benefit fraudsters can not really be considered a danger to society and prison places are in short supply.

On the subject of getting millions out of the system, this is again a technical issue. In the recent tax credit fiasco, the thieves used the data (from Network Rail I believe) of some 15,000 people to claim tax credits, these tax credits were then sent to the thieves bank accounts. The thieves in effect posed as each of these 15,000 people and claimed tax credit for each one. In this kind of theft, faking 15,000 sets of fingerprints, or irises would be far more difficult.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Monday, January 29, 2007

An important point from yesterday's interview with the Prime Minister

Although yesterdays interview with the prime minister on the Politics Show could have been describes as something of an unenthusiastic performance, I feel that one particular point was made very well and could do with being repeated.
TONY BLAIR: We've built twenty thousand extra and we've got another eight thousand coming. But you've also got a situation, where today, people are in prison for longer and you've got of course the new indeterminate sentences where people can be kept in for indeterminate period, if they remain a danger to the public. Now I'm not saying that there haven't been big problems in the Home Office, but let's be clear, some of these things like foreign prisoners, or these offences that have been committed abroad by British people who then return back home, the reason we're dealing with these now is that for the first time there is a system in place to deal with them. You take asylum, right, when we came to office, it - the backlog of asylum claims was over 50,000. It took eighteen months to process a claim.

We removed one in five of failed asylum seekers. Today, you've got the backlog down to a few thousand, it takes most claims are actually done within two months and for the first time we're actually removing more unfounded claims than we're taking in.
I think the message is clear, the Tories made a hash of the Home Office when they were in power. When the Tories throw their accusations at John Reid and the Labour government it is worth remembering the state it was in in 1997. The Tories really are the last people to be telling us how to run the home office.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Friday, January 26, 2007

Conservative Cllr Lisa Rutter and ID Cards

Cllr Lisa Rutter is a conservative councillor recently taken to task by Recess Monkey and Mark Clarke for an article on ID cards where she wrote something that could be considered racist. Unlike Recess Monkey I prefer giving people the benefit of the doubt in cases of where something written (or drawn, created photoshopped etc) could be interpreted as racist. Instead I'm going to criticise the key points of her arguments against ID cards.
RFID Chips have been cloned
This is true, but the implication that this is a problem shows a serious misunderstanding of the technical issues involved here. The ID card is intended to work in combination with a biometic (either a thumb print or an iris scan). You need to provide both to verify your identity, you may clone the chip and the card, but you will also need to clone the fingerprint.

It is possible to alter the chip, but assuming that like the chip in the new ePassport it is digitally signed, a change would invalidate the digital signature. In order to change and alter an RFID chip, a potential ID criminal would have to obtain the private key used to sign the chip.
They didn't stop the Madrid Bombings, Dame Stella Rimington (former MI5 Chief) is against them.
Holding up a specific attack as an example misunderstands how ID cards will be used to fight terrorism. The key to prevention is identifying potential terrorists before an attack begins, the national identity register with it's audit trail can provide vital data that could be used to this effect.

As for Dame Stella, i'll see her Dame Stella and raise her a Dame Eliza
Only £50m a year's worth of benefit fraud is Identity Related
The first problem with this argument lies in a misunderstanding of the statistic, this statistic refers to case where a person has posed as a different person in order to claim benefit. It is wrong to assume that ID cards will only help fight this kind of fraud, the more coherent approach to identity management will make it far harder for people to get away with providing false details of their cirumstances (the vast majority of benefit fraud).

The second problem with the argument is that benefit fraud is simply one area where costs due to identity theft are a problem. The Home Office's estimate of the cost of identity fraud estimates a total loss £1.73billion a year due to ID fraud across the public and private sectors, far larger than the single figure she quotes.

The additional problem with this argument is the assumption that this £50m figure will remain constant. Identity theft is a growing problem, and identity based benefit fraud is likely to become a bigger problem in future.


citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Monday, January 22, 2007

Splitting the Home Office

John Reid has announced plans to split of the home office into separate entities, one handling Security issues (terrorism, policing and immigration), the other handling the justice system (prisons, probation, courts etc).

As someone who has been the victim of botched restructurings, with the accompanying structural diagrams, I have a healthy amount of cynicism about such ideas. An explicit separation such as this is likely to weaken communication links accross the divide (between Justice and Sercurity). The important thing to consider is how much communication across this divide occurs and whether the strategic advantages of a smaller, easier to manage department offset these communications difficulties.

My worry is that this plan, rather then being designed to do something about the problems at the home office is actually designed more to simply look like something is being done. I have an intense dislike of the media dictating the Home Office's agenda, and I hope this planned reform is not simply for the benefit of the media.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Nick Cohen on the Anti War Left

I greatly admire Nick Cohen as a very thoughtful left wing writer. His reasoning for his support for the Iraq war has well thought out and very convincing. He takes a lot of flak in his Observer columns from people who seem determined to take him to task on the subject of the Iraq war.

In response to his critics it appears he's written a whole book on the subject, including some rather good extracts in today's Observer.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Nice one Harriet!

The website launch of Deputy Leadership candidate, Harriet Harman has caused some not inconsiderable buzz on the net. The reason? A controversial post on the subject of prostitution, where Harriet appears to advocate that it becomes a crime for a man to pay for sex contains a misspelling of the word "heroin" (the drug) spelt "heroine". Picked up on by may favourite conservative thinker's favourite pedant, a wave of traffic, trackback and comment has ensued.

As a blogger who seldom gets the chance to boast about the size of his comments thread, I have to congradulate Harriet on a fantastic bit of blog marketing.

Well done Harriet.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Response From the Home Office

Just before New Years, I suggested that journalists at the Telegraph were creating something of a storm in a teacup over the £1,000 fine that could be imposed for failing to inform the national identity register of a change of details. I suggested that there may be a danger if a charge was imposed on every single change of details.

The response I recieved from the Home Office (I'm not sure if I'm allowed to publish it in full) is that any change that does not require a reissue of the ID card will be free of charge . In the situation where details on the card change (a change of name is the most likely reason for this), a fee is planned although the size of the fee cannot be determined at this time (I would assume it would be no more than the planned £30 application charge).

I would therefore suggest that the Telegraph is guilty of scaremongering and misleading it's readers.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Road Pricing

Bloggers4Labour has written a very interesting post on the subject of road pricing. On first reading it would appear to be anti car user, but I don't believe this was his intention. When someone starts using phrases like "cost to society of an individual's driving experience" it's easy to get that impression though.

A few thoughts from this citizen..

Big Brother
I'm quite keen on the whole ID cards thing, but I feel it's important to point out how in combination with road pricing it could give the government a significant amount of information on an individual. It would certainly be possible to join a car travel record to it's owners NIR record, I would hope that legislation would be put in place to ensure strict limits on who had access to these travel logs.

Stealth Taxes
Ministers have generally suggested that such a scheme would be revenue neutral, they might not be able to get the numbers exactly on, but I don't really think this is another excuse for the government to take money out of our pockets. For reasons I'll explain below, I'd like to see the cost offset with a reduction in fuel duty.

Markets
B4L suggests that the information gathered from such a scheme would allow the government to better assess the full cost of motoring, I would agree, but I also think there are some far simpler market based benefits.

Tax on fuel is a very simple way to discourage motoring, but I believe it disproportionately hurts poorer car users. First, the biggest single use of a car is for commuting, everyone, rich or poor needs to get to work. Second, most cars generally fall somewhere within the 1-2 litre band, those who are less well off tend to have older cars rather than smaller more economical ones.

With those assumptions in mind, I'll take a couple of examples based on my own experiences.

  • A couple of years ago, I worked at a company based in a small village in Suffolk, miles from anywhere. It was a 40 mile commute from Norwich and as a result my monthly fuel bill was around £200 (a pretty big chunk of your pay packet).
  • Now, I work in Norwich city centre, I am 30 minute walk or a 10 minute drive away. I try to walk although often laziness gets the better of me, so I use the car.

If we assume that a congestion charge is offset by a fuel tax reduction, the result would be the following.

  • My commute through the Suffolk country lanes would become cheaper, since the obscure country lanes would not carry much in the way of congestion charge.
  • My laziness would all of a sudden become far more expensive, since city centre roads in the rush hour will carry a pretty hefty charge.

And in Conclusion..
Road charging could be a far fairer way of assessing the costs of motoring, it could provide valuable information on transport usage in the country, ensure that people are not penalized for car use when there is no public transport available and provide incentive to use public transport where it is available. Assuming the civil liberties issues are addressed, I think that road pricing could be a really good idea.


citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

UK Offenders in foreign countries, a quick example

A recent story to do with UK citizens commiting criminal offences abroad has inspired me to put together a quick example.

The Situation
Criminal is caught in foreign country, goes to jail for a sexual offence, is released, returns to the UK.

Scenario 1
He shows his passport, gives his address it is noted down. This data is sent to the home office, the criminal records bureau (CRB) note down his passport number, name and address.

He returns to the UK, moves to a new house and applies for a new passport. He applies for a job at a local school. Gives over his passport and driving licence for a background check. CRB perform a detailed search and find nothing (his passport number is new, his driving licence was never noted, his addresss has changed) since there is no way of tyeing this person back to the crime abroad. He gets the job.

Scenario 2
He shows his passport, gives his address it is noted down. This data is sent to the home office, the criminal records bureau note down his passport number, name and address. They track down his identity record in the National Identity record, the CRB record his national identity number.

He returns to the UK, moves to a new house and applies for a new passport. He applies for a job at a local school. Gives over his ID card for a background check. CRB perform a quick search, find the record of the crime abroad. He is refused the job.

ID cards, keeping citizens safe.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

What's happened to Harry Perkins?

The figment of Chris Mullin's imagination who runs this rather entertaining blog. Outspoken on many subjects, always entertaining and with some very sensible opinions on Michael Meacher's leadership bid.*

It seems, however, that despite his vow to keep the red flag flying, the red flag has not flown since Christmas Eve and may possibly not be flying any longer. I hope this isn't the case.

*Something along the lines of "Nothing short of an act of god should allow him to be successful."

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Thoughts from a leading Conservative Thinker

There has been some entertaining discussion recently on the subject of how to annoy lefties and how to annoy righties. Annoying the right seems a little thin on the ground at the moment, so my own little contribution to the irritation of the black hearted Tories will be to refer to Polly Toynbee as a "leading conservative thinker".

Starting things off...

Leading Conservative thinker, Polly Toynbee is today making a full on attack religous opposition to the new equality act. The clause the religous leaders want inserted, that "Nothing in these regulations shall force an individual to act against their conscience or strongly held religious beliefs." will wreck the protection based on sexual orientation part of the bill, leaving it fairly pointless.

The best argument I've read against these laws is that there is little point in implementing since the homosexual community are not really that discriminated against. Personally, I think the attitude of the religious opposition to the bill shows exactly why this kind of law is still necessary.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Ditching a single ID Card database

Reported here and here. I'm thinking I probably should have covered this story a good deal earlier, although the delay has allowed me to gather my thoughts a little on the subject.

Essentially, all these stories were based on the release of the Home Office's ID cards action plan. On the same day, NO2ID put out a different press release also relating to this document. Having read through it, I now think I'm a little clearer on things.

Key points of the scheme are:
  • Data for the national identity scheme held across three government departments, the Deparment of Work and Pensions (DWP), the Home Office and the Immigration and passport service.
  • The ID scheme will still implement a single biographical record that will be associated with a set biometrics and essentially form a persons unique identity ticket.
  • Existing data held by the DWP and the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) will be used to validate a person's details when they first apply for an ID card.
Whether this should be considered a U-Turn is debatable, personally it seems a sensible clarification of the practical details. Rather than have a separately built system and then integrating it with other government departments, ensuring that the departments likely to make the most use of system are involved in the implementation from the beginning seems like a sensible move.

One of the main criticsms of the ideas laid out in the action plan is that the data in the existing databases is likely to be incorrect, and this might cause difficulty compared to constructing a new clean database from scratch. I belive this criticism misunderstands the way the process will work. Most of the bad data comes in the form of duplicate or false details (records for people who don't exist) rather than incorrect or missing details. As applications for ID cards are processed they will essentially be bound to existing records, duplicate and false records will become orphaned. Due to the checks involved in registration for ID cards, this would mean that implementing the NIR would assist in cleaning up the existing data belonging to the other departments.

From my point of view, the action plan indicates the government are moving forward on the scheme and have got some clear ideas of how the implementation will work.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Apparently..Gordon Brown's silence on the Iraq War is deafening..

Gordon Brown has a column in the Guardian today championing the rather admirable aim of providing global, free education. I think there are very few people who could object to the thrust of his arguments.

The CiF'ers still manage more than just a little criticism though, bringing up their favourite subject of the Iraq war. It irritates me, it really does.

There is a contingent of posters on CiF who really get on my nerves. They throw about impressive sounding terms like "intellectualy bankrupt" without having a clue what it means and like to invoke the Iraq war at the drop of a hat as way of stifling legitimate debate. I can't stand them.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk

The racist card..

Yesterday there was something of an online disagreement on the blog of PragueTory, a Tory Blogger who I actually quite like (so far, anyway). It revolved around the campaign of John McDonnell and suggesting that some of his policies bore a similar resemblance to those of another far more distasteful party.

Antonia Bance and Don Paskini, were somewhat irritated at the original post. Prague Tory later issued something that could be considered an apology. He stands by the idea that that there is some overlap, I agree and don't think it's that all that surprising. A political party needs to have policies to address all the issues facing the country, not all of it's policies follow a racist agenda. What the BNP is that when you scratch below the surface, it reveals a far more sinister, far more hateful set of opinions. In conclusion then, John McDonnell is most certainly not a racist, there is nothing sinister about his policies.

I dislike engaging in this kind of politics, although there was never any direct association made between John McDonnell and the BNP, it could have been implied that there was. The point is noted that both sides can engage in this kind of politics, those us on the left have been lucky that the BNP's politics have often been referred to as the "far right".

I believe the message is clear, we shouldn't engage in this kind of politics, if we do, we can expect it to bite us on the arse.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk