Wednesday, July 30, 2008

That Milliband Article

I'm mostly a member of the "lets not indulge in stupid press fueled speculation" faction of the party. I'd also have to say that if a leadership contest were to arise I don't think Milliband would be my preferred choice for leader. Regardless of all that, I have to say that it was a very good article.

The Tories have been dominating the news agenda, they've managed to shape coverage around their ideas. David's article tackles the Tories head on, it exposes their broken society rhetoric as empty, it takes every Tory claim that's wormed it's way onto the tips of peoples toungues and rightly delivers a factual smackdown. It finishes off by making clear exactly what it means to be Labour.

Every member of the Labour party carries with them a simple guiding mission on the membership card: to put power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many, not the few.

This is, over and above everything else, what it means to be Labour. As one commenter says.

I'll be voting Labour at the next election and I'll tell you why.

I'm 85 and been in and out of hospital frequently since 1992. I can say categorically that things are infinitely better now . Back in 1992 not just a long waiting list but when you got a date you had to ring up on the morning to see if there was still a bed. 2 times out of 3 there was not. Now medical procedures have improved and speeded up. When the consultant says "we'll have another look in six months" you get an appointment in precisely six months. In the nineties a medical exam under anaesthetic meant three days in hospital now you go in at 8AM and sent home 4PM. Many internal examinations are now done by endoscopy and you only spend a couple of hours in hospital. I know because I served on a Health Service Committee that the long waiting lists were due to lack of funding.

I'm also voting Labour because I'm better off. Yes things are tighter than they were 12 months ago but I'm a damn sight better off than 12 years ago. Then my pension just about covered day to day living, now there is some over for the odd luxury.

No doubt the above will cause apoplexy among the majority who contribute to Cif. I get the impression they are nihilists or anarchists and anti-government and within six months of a change of government the bile and invective will be as OTT as it is now.

Btw will those who use the silly phrase "NuLabour" do so in the opening sentence. I can then skip to the next comment because I know their unoriginal contribution will be the same old rubbish that all users of "NuLabour" spout.

The same applies too to those who use BLiar, Broon Harperson et al. If you've got a constructive point you want to make it is not improved by unoriginal Private Eye name calling.

In conclusion then, what David said is exactly what we should all be saying if we want to win a fourth term.

Monday, July 28, 2008


A big database of the moment is the database containing records of phone calls, texts, emails and internet access. News coverage once again invoked the spirit of Big Brother, and Henry Porter was in full on criticism mode in his Observer column. While I normally regard this kind of crying wolf as reason to switch off, I think it should be said that in this case there is actually a wolf.

Regular readers will know that generally I'm inclined to defend the database state and generally think that the dangers are hard to pin down, so I think it should be made clear that I'm no liberal engaging in an anti statist rant when I say what I'm about to.

This IT system should not go ahead, it is dangerous and will allow massive potential for abuse. An unscrupulous government could snoop on the data and discover the confidential plans of political opponents. Political lobbyists and the press could use the information as a gold mine for blackmail information. From the looks of things, there is a clear case against this system.

A Small Caveat
Something missing from most of the stories on this subject is the exact nature of what's being held. For example with text messages will the database show the content of my text of just the fact that I sent a text at a certain time, ditto for emails. Either way, the system is open to abuse but a system that records occurences rather than actual contents would be far less dangerous.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Response to Daniel Earwicker

I got into an argument over at Sadie's place with a chap who seems to think my views that the city is in need of a good dressing down are some kind of mad rant. Here's his argument and my response.

..SNIP explanation of basic trade and capital flow..

Similarly, global currency trading performs the service of adjusting exchange rates. The US had a trade deficit for along time, spending dollars on foreign products. But as a result, the world is now awash with dollars, so the value of a dollar continues to fall compared to other currencies - dollars are easy to get. The result is that US goods appear cheaper, so American exports are booming, automatically fixing the original problem. This can only happen because currencies are traded so that we discover their real value.

Your original comment also mentioned the idea of a "real economy", compared to which financial services are supposedly like a barnacle or leech. In fact the economy consists of masses of interdependent sectors, none of which would make sense by themselves, so this quality of being dependent on something else does not in any way prove that one sector is somehow false or not legitimate.

Then there are the solutions you propose, which all feature the word "restriction" - somewhat ironic as we are on the brink of recession, meaning that economic activity is already starting to restrict itself. What problem are they intended to solve? There is almost no economic situation in which they would have a positive effect, but certainly against the backdrop of today's world economy, they would be severely detrimental, making it much harder for the economy to stay out of recession, and more likely to stay stagnant for longer - less able to borrow money to fund growth, less able to move money to where it would do the most good, less able to serve customers wherever they happen to be found.

Or are you merely recommending them as ideas that would be popular? No doubt they would indeed "go down quite well" with many voters. But that says more about economic awareness than it does about any positive effect such ideas would have. This is the main reason I'm glad you're not in charge, but the sad truth is that you'd make an excellent politician. Don't bother to think about whether an idea would do any good! Just think about whether it would make your supporters bay for more blood.

The central problem all those suggestions have, beside being solutions for problems that don't exist, is that they are based on the notion that politicians are special people who have an ability to decide things that far exceeds that of the millions of ordinary people who share those decisions today. Politicians, you think, can choose the right amount of lending, the right size for a bank, the right amount of currency to allow in and out of the country, and so on. The truth is they have been repeatedly proven to be unable to solve those problems, and the reason is simple: they are without the information needed to make the decisions.

The thing that would really help would be some kind of regulation on the growth of government spending, which in the end we all have to pay for (at exactly the same rate, whether rich or poor) due to the resulting inflation a few years later - precisely the problem we face now

Ok, moving goods around, trade, generally a good thing. Tea is pretty much worthless unless it's in close proximity to tea drinkers. Makes sense for other goods as well. So how about logically extending it to money? Again this makes plenty of sense, money needs to go where the good ideas are, where there's a need for a service that people want and are willing to pay for, again that's a nice sensible idea, no objections there.

Where I have a problem is the whole liberal world view that these things should not be restricted or regulated, my view of the financial sector is that it is needed, but that it has grown beyond being a healthy middle man for money into something altogether more worrying. Money is freely loaned to private equity companies who then proceed to load those companies up with massive debts, share prices no longer bear any reseblance to reality and Unrestricted lending of money has caused a massive surge in house prices. In addition to this,we have the credit crunch, caused by the irresponsible packaging up and selling on of mortgages. Financial institutions have moved way beyond simply acting as a source of funding to business.

As to whether there is a problem, Britain has not had a positive balance of payments figure for 26 years, the service industries that replaced manufacturing did not replace the lost exports. As a result, the British economy has been sustained on debt. This debt will one day need to be repaid. In addition there is the question of inequality, financial liberalisation has massively increased inequality, something I view as very negative.

I feel that both of these problems need to be solved and I feel that part of the solution is far stricter regulation on finance, which I believe has played a huge part in causing inequality. I think the revival of British manufacturing will also need to play a part.

On the whole individual choices point, I think this is basically dogmatic free market bullshit. Indiviual choices only lead to a short circuit decision, not any kind of perfect choice. The idea that politicians were "repeatedly proven to be unable" is incorrect.

For example, if I compare the GDP per capita growth of the developed world in the more regulated period from the 60s to the 80s (3.2%) with the same figure for the 80s to the noughties (2.2%) we can see clearly that the more regulated period delivered superior growth. Japan and East Asia adoped hugely interventionist policies relating to trade and finance after WWII, the results speak for themselves. The truth is that government intervention in the economy works.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Just Wondering,,,

But does anyone else think that the "Conservatives" page on Facebook is just a little over the top?

The whole pretty girl in "CONSERVATIVES YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU, JOIN TODAY" pose really just seems more like lifestyle marketing rather than politics.

Some say that the whole David Cameron = shallow salesman thing just doesn't seem to be sticking at the moment. But given that David Cameron is getting a pretty girl to pose on the bonnet of his party in order to sell it, maybe there's more than a grain of truth in this accusation.

Some things I just can't leave alone...

Great big rant on why "liberal economics" is a load of rubbish is currently in the pipeline. For now, I've noticed a post with one of those silly "ooh look at me I made a cunning point ID cards at the expense of a Labour party member" blog posts and I just can't leave it alone. I get annoyed by people thinking they are being frightfully clever when in fact they are being horribly stupid.

The story goes like this...

At the weekend an unpleasant [Mark Steyn]* at the Times wrote a not very nice article about working on the campaign trail for Labour in Glasgow. He explained that the campaign HQ was dingy (that's actually pretty normal), he's also explains that he wasn't asked for any kind of identification (a willingness to give up the day to knock on doors and deliver leaflets is generally a sign of a comrade).

Anyway scottish activist Kezia Dugdale, who encountered said journalist on the campaign trail was more than a little annoyed that the journalist left out details, misled people and generally wrote an altogether questionable bit of journalism.

One thing she said was:

He then writes in his Sunday Times article that he was never once asked whether he was a party member (lies) and that Labour can’t afford to be choosy about who campaigns for them (why would you?).He goes one to complain that he was never once asked for his Party card.

Is he inferring that when you rock up for a free curry at the SNP campaign centre you must produce your campaign card first? If so, that only cements the suspicious angry and resentful image that most snp activists are (unfairly) plagued by...

But I tell you something for nothing, it will be an incredibly sad day if you ever have to do that in the Labour party because we still believe people do things in good faith and for a common purpose. If the day ever comes that you’re viewed suspiciously for offering your own time and help, it will only be because too many people have been stung by the pathetic acts of journalists like Brendan Perring. A living breathing example of why the Sunday Times should have fewer supplements.

At which point LJ blogger loveandgarbage launches into full on smug mode.

And I thought, you know how this should be resolved? The Labour party should support the introduction of a little card that has someone's identity on it so that an attendee at a Labour party group could use this to establish his identity. That way fraudsters and rogues would be caught out and this sort of embarrassment avoided.

But, of course, if it's not good enough to use within the Labour party then clearly a little card with our identity emblazoned on it shouldn't be imposed on the rest of us.

Our smug blogger is commiting the sin of hyperbole, a favourite among civil liberties types. The introduction of an ID card system, is not the same thing as the introduction of a society where the police will be asking for identification every 5 minutes. An ID card, is not tghe harbinger of a society where we no longer trust each other and I do wonder how hard I'm going to have to hammer the point home before people realise it.

*I don't like swearing on my blog, take a look here if you don't get it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Belated "No State Funeral for Thatcher"

I'm more than a little late to the State funeral for Thatcher party, but I'm in complete agreement with Sunny on LibCon. Thatcher should not be given a state funeral. The criteria for state funerals are vague, but they generally seem to be reserved for leaders who save the nation from the jaws of annialation and in less enlightened times for leaders who gave johnny foreigner a damn good thrashing. Thatcher did none of these things.

Her record in power is questionable at best with no shortage of bad things to her name. Cuts to public services and benefits, the abuse of police power during the miners strike, the destruction of british manufacturing and of course, the poll tax.

Worse still is her economic record, which is built on a gigantic myth. Conservatives will say she swept away unproductive manufacturing and enforced seriously needed market discipline on british industry. The truth is that she left us with an economy that has been floating on a bubble of debt for the last 26 years (more on this in my next post).

Giving Thatcher a state funeral will reinforce the myth of Thatcher as a great statesperson, something she most surely doesn't deserve.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The thrifty Mr Cameron

Yesterday, David Cameron said that he didn't rule out the idea of raising taxes. It's been said that this will have angered some hardliners in the party, but as far as I can see the whole speech is part of what continues to be a work of PR manipulation.

The aim is to revive the ghost of Labour past, the idea that Labour are a fiscally irresponsible party. By suggesting that taxes may have to go up, he is implying that Labour are living beyond their means. This "no money left in the kitty" theme has been a continuing theme in his interviews, speeches and sound bytes.

The big danger with the current bleak economic outlook is that Dave's tactics stand a good chance of working. If he's successful he'll manage to pin much of the blame for the economic difficulties on the government.

As to the best way to fight the Smooth, Dark Lord. My view is that the government should be taking pains to point out exactly what he's doing. That should hopefully be enough to think things through a little more and get them treating Dave's remarks with a little more skepticism.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

This is about the Brilliantest thing ever...

Ok, maybe that's a bit over the top, but it's nevertheless very very good.

This Godless Communism

Those godless left wing communist types don't sound very nice at all.

(A doffed cap in the direction of Bloggerheads)

In Defense of Tax Credits

So many people seem to be saying get rid of tax credits, just raise the earnings threshold. It's a mantra that's repeated often but is nowhere near as effective a weapon as many people think.

If you raise the tax threshold by £1000 that's effectively deducting £200 from the tax bill of everyone who earns more than that threshold. That's everyone, from workers on the minimum wage right through to CEO's on million pound salaries.

Obviously, making such a tax cut carries an associated cost, a finger in the air guess is at around £6 billion. And here's the rub, that £6 billion is being spent making a considerable number of not so needy people £200 better off. Surely a better plan would be to concentrate that money where it's most needed.

Hence tax credits, clumsy and bureaucratic no doubt. But far more effective at putting money where it's most needed than the "raiding the tax threshold" panacea.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Stupidity on Liberty

This article is an example of exactly what is wrong with the current debate on liberties, the reporter decries the fact he was constantly asked for his papers while in Russia and then engaging in the ridiculous idea that introducing an ID card will lead to this kind of situation. It's exactly the kind of stupid hypebole I was going on about in my last post.

So, where to start. Perhaps even the fact that this is quite specifically excluded from the proposed legislation.
Perhaps the fact that those wonderfully opressive countries of Spain, or Germany have had ID cards for years and have not accidently become police states while everyone was asleep. Or perhaps the fact that Britain's Worst Prime Minister managed to impose exactly the kind of police control the author is referring to without the aid of an ID card system.

I really do despair at some of the debate in this Civil Liberties business, and while we're at it my own party doesn't seem to be making that much effort about it either. Needless hyperbole vs disinterest does not exactly make a great debate.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

A Little More Detail would be nice..

I've got in a bit of a scrap defending Jill Saward over at Libcon, although the discussion has led me to raise a point about one of the pro Liberty arguments currently being bandied about.

A major argument against state databases, CCTV and the like is that it creates an infrastructure of repression, a set of tools that might allow a future government to do certain sinister things. The other major argument, applying specifically to databases is that the data might be stolen and used once again for sinister things.

My problem is that I don't think that this argument is always valid. In order to make their case against the database state, the liberty lobby need to demonstrate situations where a future government might be able to abuse government data. It needs to demonstrate that if the data held by the state is stolen that it could be put to dangerous use.

A big problem here is that while we are told that we are sleepwalking into an Orwellian nightmare, few people ever take the time to demonstrate how it might happen. Simply put, we need fewer speeches about the Magna Carta and grand notions of Liberty and more clear demonstrations of what the clear and present dangers actually are.