Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Goodbye ID Cards?

There's a lot of noise being made at the moment about the government potentially scrapping ID cards. Sunder is hopeful that recent headlines mark the end of ID cards, personally. Looking at the issues I'm not so sure.

Firstly, there's the question of cost, the £5.4 billion cost was over 10 years (although this detail was often omitted by the Porterites) and if we take the Home Office's claims at face value that 80% of the cost would have been incurred anyway for the implementation of biometric passports and the like, we are left with a saving of around £108 million a year. Given also that the scheme was intended to be self financing with a charge of around £30 (which would seem to roughly cover the cost) it's hard to see this as anything other than a £3 a year tax cut. As a pragmatic, cost cutting measure, scrapping the ID cards scheme would seem to be fairly minor in it's impact.

Secondly, there's the government's decision to scrap parts of the Interception Modernisation Programme. This could be an indicator that some of the more "database state" projects are first in line for aggressive cost cutting, although given that certain elements of the IMP will be kept. This would seem more like a cost saving measure than any kind of change of ideological direction.

Finally, we get to the political implications. The media don't seem to be rating it highly as an issue, although scrapping it would be bound to have a political cost since it is a pretty big U turn and a lot of media coverage will focus on money wasted so far. It might be enough to win some people back to Labour's banner, although I think that most people who feel pasionately on civil liberties issues would regard it as too little too late.

On balance, I'd have to say that it doesn't quite look like the government is going to call time on ID cards. There isn't much to be gained politically and it's hard to identify any great cost saving. Personally, although I've argued in favour of the the policy in the past, it's pretty low down on my list of priorities so I won't be shedding any tears if I'm wrong.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Collateralised Debt Obligations

This speech by Felix Salmon explains a little of the history of one of the financial instruments that have brought the financial world crashing down, it also explains how the worlds financial institutions managed to sleepwalk into this mess. It's well worth a read.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

High Taxes and Entepreneurship

Lots of Tories are talking about the new 50% tax rate and how it's going to be a restriction on entepreneurship. I happen to believe that this viewpoint is a pile of steaming horse dung, some might say that this is because I'm an socialist dinosoar who doesn't understand "aspiration" and "wealth creation".

So, instead, I'll repeat a point made by James Kwak, a silicon valley entepreneur and co-founder of Guidewire Software Inc, he's talking about estate (inheritance tax) but I believe it demonstrates the psychology of the entepreneur pretty well:

Like most Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, when I started my company, one of the motivations was the small chance of someday making a lot of money. Back in 2001, none of us looked around the table and said, “You know, I would work really hard at this startup, but since I’m going to have to pay the estate tax if we’re successful, I’m just going to phone it in.”


So, if any budding entepreneurs happen to be reading; Do you think you'll be packing it in simply because if you succeed to the point where you earn £150K you'll end up in a higher tax bracket?

Godwin's Law in Action

Honestly, you stick you name on a nice little statement about left wing (or if you prefer "progressive") blogging and the whole thing just degenerates. Right up until the point where people say:

The statement that the war saved, or indeed was ever intended to save, lives is, obviously a complete & total lie of the same sort of Adolf Hitler’s claim that he onvaded Polland to save lives.

Obviously had you honestly intended anything from the principles above you could not have claimed the Yugoslavs had put liices at risk. The moreso because you claim, ignorance of the allegations you are making.

I guess we should just accept that every single Labour party member is equally a fascist deliberatley involved in genocide on the basis that not one of them, Alice Mahon having quit, has acted otherwise. Drankly I don’t have the time to do the research on the whole racistm organlegging pro-nazi party but obviously there is no requirement that one do so.


Online debate, same as it ever was.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Why We Blog

The following is a what you might call a statement of intent for left wing blogging. I think it makes clear exactly what left wing blogging should be about. Anyone wanting to sign can do so over at http://www.changeweneed.org.uk/support.

On a personal note, since this might be mentioned: Yes, I have said occasionally said the odd impolite thing about Guido, to be quite frank; I don't like him, I do not think he is a positive force and politics and don't particularly feel that expressing my opinion constitutes any kind of breach of ethics.

Anyway, here goes...

We are a group of Labour party members and supporters who believe that blogging can play an increasingly important contribution to progressive politics. We are seeking, in different ways, to make our own individual contributions to that, and wish to set out the ethic which informs our blogging and the broader politics we are working for within the Labour Party and beyond it. Many of these are truths which should be self-evident. We are well aware that the broad spirit which we seek to articulate has long informed what most Labour bloggers do, as it also does most of those who blog in other parties and in non-partisan civic activism. So we do not claim any particular originality; still less do we seek to impose our views as a new regulatory code, or to attempt to police others. Our purpose is simple. We do not believe that new technology leads to inevitable outcomes, but rather that we must all make choices about how we use it and for what purposes. So we wish to set out why we blog and how we want the party which we support to change so that it can connect to new progressive energy for the causes we support.

1. Ethical and value-based
We believe we must act as ambassadors for the political values we profess. This applies to all politics, online or not. The Obama campaign's power to mobilise was rooted in supporters living its ethic of 'respect, empower and include'. As Labour supporters, we wish to ensure that our values of solidarity, tolerance and respect are reflected in how we do politics as well as the causes we seek to serve. So we oppose the politics of personal destruction. We believe that the personal can be political, where it reveals the hypocrisy of public statements, the wilful misuse of evidence, or breaches proper ethical standards in public life. Where it doesn't do that, it should be off limits. Politicians should be able to have a family and private life too. A politics of personal destruction violates progressive values and brings all politics into disrepute.

2. Positive about political engagement
We do not believe that the internet is inevitably a force for anti-politics. We reject the mythology of the internet as a lawless and ethics-free zone. Bloggers are subject to law, as well as to the ethical and civic pressures of our online and offline communities. We are clear that the left can never win a politics of loathing and mutual destruction, because the faith in politics that we need will inevitably be a casualty of war. The nihilistic approach practiced by a few online should not overshadow the greater energy and numbers engaged in constructive civic advocacy. We believe that we can challenge our political opponents without always questioning their integrity. We believe that there are big political arguments to be had between the left and the right of politics, and the left has every reason to be confident about our values and ideas, which have done much to change Britain for the better over the last century and which are in the ascendancy internationally after three decades in which anti-government arguments have often dominated. We also believe that what is pejoratively called 'negative campaigning' has a legitimate place in politics. Scrutinising the principles, ideas and policies of political opponents is an important part of offering a democratic choice. We should challenge the ideas, claims and sometimes the misrepresentations of our political opponents, just as we would expect them to challenge us. We believe that this is effective when it is done accurately, and that this will become ever more important as the internet makes politics more transparent. So we will point out where there is a mismatch between professed principles and policies, or where the evidence does not back up what is claimed, but we will try not to assume our opponents are in bad faith where we do not have evidence to support that.

3. Pluralist and open
We believe that pluralism must be at the heart of the progressive blogosphere. We believe that debate and argument are what brings life to politics. We want to promote a cultural 'glasnost' of open discussion within our party, to show that we understand that the confidence to debate, and disagree, in an atmosphere of mutual respect helps us to bring people together to make change possible. We believe we must change the culture of Labour's engagement with those outside the party too, including those who were once our supporters but who are disillusioned, and new generations forming their political opinions. For us, democratic politics is about individuals working together to create collective pressure for change, but also about the need to continue to talk even when we disagree deeply. We believe in engaging with all reasonable critics of the Labour government and Labour Party, wherever we can establish the possibility of taking part in democratic arguments in a spirit of mutual respect.

4. Independent spaces
We believe that attempts to transfer 'command and control' models to online politics will inevitably fail. Labour must show that it gets that - in practice as well as theory - if we are make our contribution to the progressive movements on which our causes depend. The government and the political parties should use their official spaces to contribute to and enable these conversations. We also want to see Ministers and MPs having the confidence to engage in political debate and argument elsewhere, while being clear that there is no value for anybody in seeking to control independent spaces for discussion.

5. Participatory and cooperative
We believe in a cooperative ethic of blogging, because the internet is most potent when it harnesses the creativity, ideas and expertise of many people. The internet is a powerful tool for individual expression. We believe it also enables citizens to interact and collaborate in ways that were never previously possible, and catalyse new forces for participation and activism. As citizens, and as bloggers, we believe in asking not only what is wrong with the world but how we can work together to improve it. We hope that others will offer ideas and responses - supportive and critical - about these ideas and how they can help to inform the future of our politics. We know that the outcomes of politics matter deeply, that politics is about passion and argument, and that we may ourselves sometimes fall short of the values and standards that we aspire to. But this is why we blog - and what we hope to achieve for our politics by doing so.

Sunder Katwala, Fabian Society www.nextleft.org/

Nick Anstead www.nickanstead.com

Will Straw www.changeweneed.org.uk/

David Lammy MP www.davidlammy.co.uk/

Rachael Jolley www.nextleft.org

Jessica Asato www.progressonline.org.uk and labourwomen.blogspot.com

Karin Christiansen labourwomen.blogspot.com

Paul Cotterill www.bickerstafferecord.org.uk/

Laurence Durnan www.blackburnlabour.org/blog

Alex Finnegan www.abigblockofcheese.blogspot.com/

Gavin Hayes www.compassonline.org.uk/

Mike Ion mike-ion.blogspot.com

Richard Lane www.politicana.co.uk/

Tom Miller newerlabour.blogspot.com

Carl Nuttall www.blackburnlabour.org/blog

Anthony Painter www.anthonypainter.co.uk/

Don Paskini don-paskini.blogspot.com

Andreas Paterson citizenandreas.blogspot.com

Asif Sange www.blackburnlabour.org/blog

Stuart White www.nextleft.org/

Graham Whitman gtrmancfabians.blogspot.com

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tory Green Policy, It’s Awful

The Conservatives are making some very bold statements about their new Green plans, a more detailed PDF can be found here, the guts of the plans come in the form of ten policies which they call on the government to adopt. They believe that these policies will bring a total of £30 billion in private sector investment (although they neglect to mention that this will over the next 10 years), they also claim that none of these policies would add to government debt.

Let's take a look shall we..

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Change of Heart

Having been rather annoyed at the way that emails detailing a few nasty rumours have been elevated to the level of most important story in the entire world, I have to say that I've had a change of heart.

I'd like the story to continue a little longer. I'd like the Tories continue demanding that Gordon Brown commit seppuku before David Cameron in order to atone for the sins of Damian McBride and Derek Draper and I'd like to Guido to continue deperately grasping at straws for a Tom Watson angle on the story.

I'm getting the impression that the sheer level of coverage being given to this story is beginning to set off an awful lot of bullshit detectors. People are beginning to ask why the Tories are creating all this fuss over a bunch of emails. They'll be wondering why the Tories aren't talking about how they'll be running the country. (sorry, couldn't resist)

Small is Beautiful

Let us move on from the irrelevance that is "smeargate" and write something serious about the economy, for no matter how irritating I might find the duplicitous machinations of the Tory spin machine and it's pretense that the Tories are polishing their halo's, politics should be about issues. So, today I'm going to talk about banks and whether small is beautiful.

Last week, George Osborne spoke to the RSA about the idea of breaking up Lloyds TSB and RBS suggesting that the existence of such large banks allowed them to behave irresponsibly. I have to admit that I have a lot of sympathy with this view, indeed I suggested the idea way back in July last year (although I first got the idea from this book). More recently, Simon Johnson, former IMF Chief Economist suggested the idea saying that any organisation too big to fail is too big to exist.

Splitting up the banks is, in my view, a good idea. A small, failing bank is less likely to get a government bailout and therfore less likely to take gigantic risks, but this alone is not going to save the financial sector and would not have prevented the current crisis. This was a far wider reaching crisis affecting most of the banking sector.

This is one thing that I don't think has been understood about this crisis, the idea that a number of banks would all take excessive risk is a crazy one, and that's because far from believing themselves to be taking risk, they thought they were taking steps to mitigate it. Credit Default Swaps, one of the main financial instruments that caused this crisis are essentially insurance policies against loans, the idea is that the lender pays a small amount to insure the loss should the debtor be unable to pay and the outstanding loan isn't covered by whatever the loan is secured against (e.g. a house).

It's not that the banks took excessive risk, it's that they fooled themselves into thinking that they weren't taking any risks. It's only when US house prices started to fall that the banks suddenly realised the level of their exposure. It's not just that the banks are too large, it is also a matter of regulating to prevent the kind of activity that allowed this risk to be taken and then hidden away.

Finance should ultimately be a means to an end, the unfortunate problem is that it's grown way beyond that. As Felix Salmon says on the US finance sector:

Financial services companies are meant to be intermediaries, middlemen. And any time that the middleman is taking 41% of the total profits in what’s meant to be a highly competitive industry, there’s something very wrong.

What we need is not just smaller banks, we need a smaller financial sector and this is where I think the Tories are in trouble and why I don't believe they can be trusted to put the finance genie back in the bottle. Labour's deference towards the city has always been reluctant. The Tories on the other hand are the party that set finance free, making policy changes that restricted the finance sector would be an admission that they were turning their backs on Thatcherism, something I'm not sure that they would be willing to do.

I do think that there is quite a lot to like about George Osborne's speech, it's clear that for all we might say about him, he does have a good grasp of the issues. The ultimate worry though is whether the Tories will be able to do what's necessary given the political capital they have invested in the status quo.

Crossposted on Common Endeavour

Sunday, April 12, 2009

...but at least it got better

Following on from my earlier rather dreary post, a quick leaflet round on a lovely sunny day and the discovery of a surprising little cluster of small mansions hidden among the streets of Norwich (it's amazing how much you can live in a place and never discover some of it's hidden streets and avenues) followed up with some well deserved tea and biscuits has lifted my spirits a good deal.

I was interrupted by the posting of something through my letterbox which turned out to be feedback from our latest leaflet suggesting entirely positive and constructive things (far too often the feedback section seems to be used as an excuse for individuals to vent their spleens). Life aint good, but it's not too bad either.

Not a good day

On reflection, maybe getting out of bed this morning was a mistake, the details of _those_ emails appeared to have been talked up by Paul Staines to a massive degree, the whole story being about a bunch of old ideas that quite sensibly never saw the light of day, then I came across was Iain Dale's Daily Mail article, which had me reaching for the sick bucket.

I do hope it gets better.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Farewell Damian McBride

Well, it appears that Damian McBride's position has become untenable and he's had to resign. Personally, I find this incredibly worrying. I can't judge exactly what he did because I haven't seen the emails and have little more than Guido's account on the BBC (and Derek Draper's counter story) to go on, but the question really has to be asked whether this has deserved all the media attention it's received.

As far as I can tell what was sent were plan's for a negative campaign against various Tory figures, a discussion of potential ideas. A lot will depend on whether any of these ideas saw the light of day (there's suggestion that a smear against Nadine Dorries MP did, although I'm not sure what the actual details are), if they didn't all we have is a series of private emails (that should have stayed that way) discussing hypothetical stories, not something that I'd say deserves major news coverage.

What I find more worrying is (and I know, it's becoming a recurring theme in my posts) that the media and a Tory blogger have managed to control decisions in government. A worrying aspect of news stories is the way that they are often considered in terms of volume of coverage rather than weighted according to their details.

For example, the recent stories about Geoff Hoon, Tony McNulty and Jacqui Smith are stories of government figures maximising the benefits they gain from the various perks that their jobs provide. These stories have generated considerable public anger, but in terms of seriousness can be considered minor matters next to the recent allegations about members of the House of Lords taking money in exchange for particular changes to the law, a story that appears to have died a death.

The media and bloggers like Guido have been shaping political debate in this country to surprising effect and while politicians have been put under ever more scrutiny, rather than restoring trust in politics it hs simply made it far easier for this unaccountable group of people to further undermine trust in politics.

Doesn't anyone else think..

That running what is essentially a very dirty smear campaign against people on the basis that there might be evidence that they were planning a very dirty smear campaign is more than a little duplicitous?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Electric Vehicles

I wrote a post suggesting that Iain Dale's spin about Boris and electric cars didn't quite add up over on Common Endeavour, what I didn't realise at time of writing was the extent of the electric vehicle industry in the UK.

Indeed, thanks to the nice folks at The Oil Drum, I'm now a little more enlightened, knowing as I do about Smith Electric Vehicles a firm producing electric commerical vehicles up in the North East. Looks like interesting stuff, the minibuses seem to have a range of around 100 miles which doesn't strike me as amazingly useful, the trucks have a range of up to 150 miles which might not be up to the task of long haulage, but could be useful in combination with rail freight or as part of a freight consolidation scheme.

Once upon a time..

Being an MP was a presitgous job, it had a few perks that, it could be argued reflected the status of the job as a lawmaker. It provided a generous wage, not so generous as to allow a person to become independently wealthy, but generous enough to ensure a good standard of living. It also provided a number of expenses to allow a member to maintain an office and staff as well as a second home. Since the cost of all this was approximately 0.1% of the total tax take, no one really questioned the allocation of such a small amount to the essential business of governance of the country.

Then along came the unaccountable scoundrels of the fourth estate, they shone the spotlight on parliament and declared these mildly generous conditions an affront to the people of the country, they whipped up rage with their distortions and judgements and all of a sudden nothing was more important than the way this tiny proportion of tax revenue was spent.

And the politicians, did they ask: How is it these unscrupulous, unaccountable news grocers can get away with all this? Why should they be the ultimate judges of right and wrong?

Not at all, they rolled over and did the media's bidding, proving once again that it's media not the politicians who call the shots in this country.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Fiscal Stimulus and Family Metaphors

A quickie before I hit the hay, something I noticed on Baseline Scenario. Now, as we know many people when talking about Gordon Brown's irresponsible debt make the comparison to a household budget and talk about our children and grandchildren inheriting the debt. To quote Thatcher:
Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to
understanding the problems of running a country.

Anyway, I've found a far better household budget methaphor, courtesy of an excellent article by Nancy Folbre in the New York Times and I wanted to share it:
Think of the United States economy as a family farm in need of modernization.
Energy prices are going up, but all the tractors are gas guzzlers. Some of our
fields have accumulated toxic levels of pesticide, and we need to develop new
and better technologies of sustainable production. Our grandchildren want to run
the farm, but will need good health and a college education to do it well.
The legacy we leave to future generations, it should be thought of in far broader terms than simply money a sustainable future is worth far more than a few quid in the bank.