Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Change of luck for the Irish?

Some good news for the Irish cricket team...

I blogged two weeks ago about the fact that the next Cricket World Cup was due to be made up of just the 10 member nations with no qualifying competition.  This would lead to the ludicrous prospect of the team ranked 10th in the world, who have beaten at least one team ranked above them at each of the last 2 world cups, not even being considered for a 10 team competition, where as the team ranked 11th gets in automatically.  

It seams the ICC has come to it's senses and is looking again at the proposalsAn ICC statement read: 

"After receiving representations from the associate and affiliate members of the ICC, the ICC President Mr Sharad Pawar has decided to request the ICC Executive Board to revisit the issue in Hong Kong in June."

With any luck this will at least lead to a qualifying competition if not an expanded tournament (12 would be fine in my opinion).

The US debt downgraded...

For all those people who think the government's current deficit reduction is incorrect maybe they should look over to the US.  There, indecisiveness is taking hold as a budget fails to go through congress.  As such ratings agency Standard & Poor's (S&P) have downgraded the outlook for the US debt from "stable" to "negative".  This means S&P estimate that there is a 1 in 3 chance that in the next 2 years they will downgrade the country's credit rating.

"More than two years after the beginning of the recent crisis, U.S. policymakers have still not agreed on how to reverse recent fiscal deterioration or address longer-term fiscal pressures"

 The US is now the only one of the 17 countries with an AAA rating to have this outlook.  The response to which was a fall in the FTSE as well as the Dow Jones.  

The UK's position remains as stable.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

I see what you've done there Ed...

I hate to bring up the Tuition fees debate again, irrespective of whether or not it's a good policy the Liberal Democrats don't come off well in the eyes of the voters with regards to this.  However I've just seen a snippet of a speech by Mr Miliband.  He makes a couple of claims, firstly:

 "...David Cameron looks set to break his (promise) that £9,000 fees will be the exception.  And what's more this incompetence blows a hole in the claimed savings from the tuition fees policy.  Last year they claim that cutting University budgets would save the tax payer £2.9 billion.  Even then it was apparent that the cost of subsidising more loans for higher fees would reduce savings by the end of the parliament to just £1.3billion.  Now with most fees between £8,000 and £9,000 the Government will have to pay out even more in loans.   So the saving to tax payers will not be £2.9billion, or even £1.3billion, if fees come in at the average we are currently seeing the cost of loans could be up to £0.5billion more annually.  This would reduce the savings to well under £1billion."

Okay what you've done there Ed is typical short termism and confusing expenditure with an asset (i.e. a loan).  One will sit on the Government's books reducing the surplus/increasing the deficit with regards spending, one will be an asset that is anticipated to be clawed back.  You are just looking at this from a cash flow perspective rather than an overall effect.  I am not going to deny that this may be more expensive in the long run, there is a good chance of that (given the below point), however you can't look at it over the life of this parliament as I don't think any of those who will graduate under this system will have done so until 2015 at least.  What you have to do is look at it over the life of the average student - the cost of providing that qualification.

  "And some experts suggest the system could cost more not less in the long run because they fear many of the loans may never be paid back."

 Yes, an excellent point to highlight, this is exactly the progressive part of the policy.  Many of the loans will never be paid back.  No student will pay before the point of entry, they will subsequently only repay anything if they go on to earn over £21,000 (and then will only pay back at 9% on anything over this figure), should they ever be out of work they wont be repaying it and after 30 years the debt dies.  This means that the only people who will pay it back are those who will benefit most from their University education who go on to make the most money.  This is effectively the government subsidising these people to attend university but still expecting them to contribute if they are able once they have finished - just like a graduate tax (which you appear to advocate), the only real difference is that it is finite - it can reach an upper limit on what they can pay, which is effectively the government saying that your degree didn't bring about the expected benefit so we don't think you should pay any more.

Monday, 18 April 2011

£66k a year yet still can't afford a home...

I am pleased that Stephen Gilbert MP for Newquay and St Austell has been raising the issue of the difficulty of getting onto the property ladder.  As someone who is currently renting I know how annoying it is.  

People argue that there shouldn't be such a massive push to own property, however at the end of the day would you rather be paying off a mortgage, which one day will cease and be reflected in the possession of an asset or to pay rent in perpetuity?  It's a no brainer really!  On top of that you have the restrictions renting gives, the lack of changes you can make to your home, either cosmetic or less so.  The house we currently rent requires a whole new plumbing system, if it were my house then I would be saving up and having one installed, however my letting agents are not willing to do this.  When something goes wrong you have to wait for the letting agency to do something about it (normally they have to run it by the landlord).  The a few months ago we had the following situation:

On the Friday the letting agents sent someone round to inspect our boiler (without telling us and therefore breaching their contract), this person then condemned our boiler, switched it off leaving us without heating or hot water - again without telling us.  By the time we were home on Friday the letting agents were closed so nothing we could do until the next morning.  On Saturday we contacted them and asked them to send someone round to see why it wasn't working (as we were unaware of the previous days events), they said their guy would be round about midday.  In the mean time they ran this passed the landlord who vetoed it on account that they would have had two bills to pay.  When 12:30 arrived and nobody had been round we contacted them again, they agreed to send someone over.  This person arrived a bit later and explained what had actually occurred.  He then performed a thorough investigation, before deciding that the boiler shouldn't have been condemned, however it wasn't in his mandate to change anything.  This meant all we could do was phone our letting agents, who then informed us that their services had finished and they wouldn't be able to get anyone out to us until Monday morning.  

Anyway, that's my rant regarding my letting agent over, now to the more pertinant matter.  Mr Gilbert has been critisized in some quarters with people claiming that he should be able to afford a house on his salary and that he should stop complaining as there are people a lot worse off than him.  I take one letter from the metro today as an example:

"How can someone on a salary such as that which MP Stephen Gilbert earns not afford a mortgage? I'm on less than a third of his salary and I manage - and with no hand outs." (Lindsay, Leicester)

This completely misses the point.  Firstly Mr Gilbert has only been an MP for less than a year, whilst £65,738 is a very nice salary it wont provide him with instant wealth.  The actual point being made by Mr Gilbert was not about being unable to afford a mortgage but that with the deposit requirements it is so much harder to obtain one.  As someone else pointed out the average property price in his area is £187,806, this would require a deposit in the region of £37,561 (20%) from most mortgage providers.  I for one would have been shocked if an MP would have been able to save 57% of his gross salary in his first year in politics in order to afford this.   

Now for people to assume that he has that sort of wealth from his prior work is ridiculous.  This is at a time where we are trying to encourage a more diverse range of Members of Parliament, however when we get them people just automatically assume that they are cut from the same cloth as the others.  Mr Gilbert didn't attend a private school and was the first in his family to attend University.  I would wager he's had to work a lot for little reward to get into a position where he can become a candidate and subsequently an MP.  Even if people are correct and saying that he shouldn't be complaining they should look at his subtext - he his saying just how ludicrous it is that he can't afford anywhere, so imagine the situation others in his constituancy find themselves in.  I think he is quite right to be raising this issue and I hope he does manage to bring in some reforms in housing policies.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

ECHR give the goverment 6 months...

I was very pleased to read yesterday that the European Court of Human Rights has given the UK 6 months to put into place plans to allow prisoners to vote.  I have blogged before that I do not believe anyone should ever be able to remove your right to vote, this is illiberal and one person's criminal is another's freedom fighter.  As such I really hope that this will come to fruition.  It is disappointing that the ECHR aren't insisting on all prisoners voting, just some, which could lead to some ridiculously small number being given the right.  I would argue that a fairish compromise would be any prisoner who is likely to be free within the next parliament should be given the opportunity to vote.  I wouldn't see this as the ideal, but a lot better than current.  

I have to wonder how the Europhobes in the Tory party will react to this.  I am not expecting any legislation to come rushing through however, especially after Labour kept the blanket ban in place after a similar ruling.  Still I am hopeful that Nick and Co can put pressure on the Tories to come up with legislation.

For those who think this is a crazy idea, we are actually in good company: Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary and Romania also don't allow their prisoners to vote.  Nothing against these countries however I think it illustrates just how wrong the blanket ban is.

As I am in a Tory/Lib Dem area there has been a big surge in UKIP propaganda through my door.  Their main argument appears to be against Europe sticking their noses into our things like this.  However, I for one am glad that there is a body there that isn't swayed by scaremongering of the press or political one-up-manship to do what is the right thing for the citizans.

Political opportunism is always wrong...

There was an interesting piece in the Lib Dem voice on Tuesday relating to the Derby local elections.  This related to the Labour candidate admitting that they had previously served a two year prison term for being in possession of heroin.  Frankly I'm angered, not that someone with a criminal record could run for local council, but at the reaction of the Lib Dem candidate Dawn Gee:

“If we are talking about honesty in politics, the whole point is to clean up politics. I believe that anyone convicted of a serious crime should not have the opportunity to represent the people of our city. The candidate should immediately stand down.
“In addition to this, the nature of this crime is also very worrying. We are wanting to eradicate drug crime within our city and I do not believe that the way forward is to be represented by an individual that has a background of serious criminal activity in this area.”

 Now, where to start.  It is still, as far as I am aware a Liberal Democrat belief that people can be rehabilitated and this works better than out right punishment.  She appears to be of the opinion that drugs are bad, which is fair enough, but a conviction for a drugs related charge TWENTY SEVEN YEARS AGO does not mean that the candidate would assist in the growth of the illegal drugs market as Ms Gee appears to imply.  I read the second paragraph as assuming that should Mr Sandhu be elected he will be using it as a platform to increase drug use in the town, which is pretty nonsensical.

I would go as far as to argue that his "mistake" that he made aged 25 years old make him a much more rounded candidate than most due to his more varied life experiences.  I would fancy that he has a fairly good idea of the pressures that younger people can be put under by their peers and also it would appear he has the knowledge of what is needed to turn a life around.  I am not saying that he should be elected just because he was once in jail and has subsequently changed his way of life, far from it, but I am arguing that this should not be something that necessarily makes them unsuitable for office.  I would be more worried about some of the comments on the website which appear to question his business dealings, if I were a voter I would look into these accusations to see if they may have had any validity before casting a vote.  

One final point, it appears that Ms Gee is making a point regarding honesty in politics in her statement, surely this is more honest than almost every other political figure and Mr Sandhu should be applauded for voluntarily providing this information before the election.  To me the response stinks of political opportunism, which I hate, of course Ms Gee may have been misquoted, in which case I sincerely apologise. 

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Monday, 11 April 2011

Highlighting the good things in Government...

I've just come across a superb post by Richard Kemp written about a week ago, I think he has it spot on.  Since being in Government we've too easily taken the apologetic route, saying sorry for the bad things that we are being forced to do without enough emphasis on some of the very good things we've done in Government.  Richard highlights two in particular that he believes (and I agree) wouldn't have happened without Lib Dem ministers being part of the Cabinet:
  • Increasing the personal allowance thresholds to lift a total of 1.2million people out of tax all together.
  • Restoring the earnings link to pensions - in fact triple locking them along with inflation so that they will never rise by less than the highest of inflation, earnings or 2.5%.
These are excellent points to be highlighting, I am pleased to see that he has put space on his local leaflets to draw attention to these issues.  There is also so much more that could be pointed to, particularly in relation to civil liberties.  It is good to see so many people still out on the streets campaigning not just for themselves locally but also nationally.  It is for reasons like this that I am proud to be giving up my time to help spread the message.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

(Bad) Luck of the Irish...

I mentioned in my blog the other day regarding the cricket world cup that the next World Cup is due to have fewer teams in it (compared with the 14 teams in this year's tournament).  Since then the ICC has confirmed that the next two World Cups (2015 and 2019) will feature just 10 teams.  My point about removing an incentive still stands, however it is worse than originally thought, for 2015 there wont even be a qualifying competition, the teams that will compete are already set in stone.  These are the 9 test playing nations and Zimbabwe.  This is incredibly harsh on all of the associate nations who now have no chance of featuring in the show piece event.  

The country who can feel most aggrieved is Ireland.  They performed admirably in the 2007 World Cup beating two test playing nations (Bangladesh and Pakistan) as well as tying with Zimbabwe.  In 2011 they performed arguably better, beating England as well as Holland and never disgracing themselves.  Currently they are ranked 10th in the world in One Day Internationals - one place ahead of Zimbabwe.  

By removing their chances of playing in the World Cup (They would be strong favourites to qualify for any competition) their players have even less incentive to stay with their country of birth.  There are many that get drawn to the bright lights of test cricket (which is still the pinnacle for most who play the game) and the opportunity to participate as part of the England squad.  There is already talk of a few defections to go with the likes of Eoin Morgan and Ed Joyce who have previously made the switch (although Ed returned to feature in this World Cup).  

Surely even in their ivory tower those at the top must realise that this is no way to encourage countries like Ireland, Kenya, Canada, Holland, Afghanistan and Scotland who all see the tournament as something to aspire to, to aim for.  I for one want to see cricket expanded into other countries and have as many people in the world playing and watching it as possible.  For too long it's been an elite club, revolving around the British Empire of old, as much encouragement should be given to them as possible. 

Why have more innovative formats not been discussed, the lower ranked teams could play a game first to try and qualify for the next stage where the higher ranked teams would be waiting.  It could be given as much media coverage (a condition on buying the rights to show the tournament) - even cheap tickets could be given (perhaps free to local schools) to ensure a big crowd.  There is also no reason for such a long delay between matches, at least two should be played a day (one day nighter one normal), but in reality you can play more than that, money shouldn't be the most important part of the tournament. I really think people need to pull their fingers out and start thinking through the consequences of their decisions.

Nick Clegg is NOT a hypocrite...

Photo used by the Metro when covering the story
Nick Clegg has been announcing plans to increase social mobility through internships to allow a greater cross section of society to enjoy the opportunities that he had.  The main criticism is that internships are often only available on an unpaid/expenses paid basis and normally your chances of getting one depends on who you know as such opportunities tend to only arrive for rich/middle class people (who can afford a job with little/no pay - often in London) who’s parents are well connected.  Nick Clegg knows this all too well as he was given work experience at a Finnish Bank as after his father 'had a word' with a friend.

For launching this drive he is facing claims of being a hypocrite!  Ridiculous!  How is it hypocritical to want everyone to have the same opportunities that you yourself received?  He has experience of how this works first hand, benefitted from it (as have most politicians - including those on the opposite bench) and he wants to change it.

Part of the hypocrisy claim is that he himself advertised for unpaid help two years ago and the Lib Dems routinely have 15 three month unpaid internships - which is similar to all other political parties.  They are screaming hypocrisy because he wants to change it, despite the fact that most of the people on the offensive have also benefitted from it (whether to get a lucrative journalism internship or their foot into a political party) and make use of it, at least he is trying to change it.  Others have spent years talking about reducing inequality, making society fairer, the living wage etc where as Nick Clegg has managed to get the Liberal Democrats into a power sharing position and within a year is trying to do something.  I think they are the real hypocrites.

Black Wednesday?

There is a lot of Balls coming out of a certain Ed's mouth regarding today being 'a "Black Wednesday" for families across Britain' as the changes to the tax and benefit system comes into place.  Yes the average family will be worse off - but if you take out the top 20% of families the average are BETTER off from today than they were under the systems yesterday.  I know there will be some losers, they may lose heavily, but they are in general those families who have had disproportionate help in comparison to their need.  

The IFS have looked at the figures and they say that the top 10% of households will see a net decrease of 2.7% of their income from today.  At the same time a two earner household with a combined income of £170,000 would be £32 a week worse off but a couple earning £25,000 a year and with two children would be £12 a week better off as a result.  If this isn't progressive then I must have an incorrect definition! 

Yes it is unfair that a couple whom only have one earner who just reaches the higher rate tax bracket will lose their child support whilst a couple whom have two earners just below this threshold (and therefore a much higher combined income) will keep theirs, however it could be argued that the second couple have more of a need for child care etc.

People are also trying to argue that people are worse off when rolled together with the earlier VAT increase and the decline in real wages - yes they are, but that is no reason to criticize the measures that have come in today that reduce this negative impact.

I'm not trying to pretend that everything is rosy, but I do feel that every penny the Government spends on interest is wasted money and even at the end of this Parliament we will still not be paying back our debt.  Some people are obviously going to be hit harder than others, but the lines have to be drawn somewhere, the important thing is that those most in need aren't left out in the cold, none of these measures coming in today adversely effect those who are struggling the most.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Congratulations to India...

Yesterday saw India crowned champions of the world by beating Sri Lanka by 6 wickets in the final of the Cricket World Cup.  I have to say, it was well deserved, they have the most intimidating batting line up in the cricketing world.  I did tip them at the start (and put my money where my mouth was - even had a small bet on it being an India vs Sri Lanka final!) so I am feeling quite smug today!  It has been really great to see the drama and excitement that this competition has generated which shows that the 50 over format is still going strong.  There has been plenty of talk about whether this format is necessary when the Twenty20 format is so popular, my personal preference is still for the longer version (Jonathan Agnew agrees), I think it provides a better platform for the players to showcase their talents and as Ireland showed against England it still produces the unpredictability.  As a big cricket fan I've thoroughly enjoyed following it for the whole of the past 6 weeks, but even though I love cricket even I admit this is far too much.  It is crazy to make every team play 7 games just to get to the knock out phase, especially as those 8 teams who reached the quarter finals were those that could have been predicted.  The teams had to wait far too long between games, I don't see why there couldn't have been a day time game and a day/night match every day?  The next world cup will have fewer teams in, however I don't think this is good as it removes a big incentive for the lesser teams to improve.  It would have been much better if they had just created more groups, maybe take in two more teams and have four groups of four - or one more team and three groups of 5.  I don't see how making the competition less inclusive is good for the game even if they are making the Twenty20 world cup more inclusive.

What about England?

I said at the start that failing to make the quarter finals would have been a disaster.  They almost failed to achieve this thanks to their shock defeats to Ireland and Bangladesh.  They simply were not good enough all the way through to win the World Cup - but I never expected them to be.  They had the problem of not knowing their best side and didn't look like a cohesive unit at all through the tournament.  When they won the Twenty20 world cup they were a team, everyone knew their roles and performed well, this team looked a shadow of that unit.  It is difficult to be too critical of them though, they have had an immensely hard winter and if you asked most English fans they would have much rathered win the Ashes in Australia than this tournament.  They were pretty much the only team worth watching in the group stages as well, every one of their games was interesting, there were no easy matches.  Stuart Broad was a massive loss for them, he seemed to be playing so well, if he'd continued they might have stood a better chance, but even then it would have been a big ask for them to go any further.  I am not so keen about the amount of Ashes cricekt that will be played in the next few years (makes it a little less special) but it is a positive for the team that they wont have the two big events straight after each other in future, hopefully the administration have learnt from this experience.

Final word though has to come back to India, and particularly the man himself - Sachin Tendulkar.  He may not have been Man of the Match, or even Man of the Tournament but his contribution to cricket has been incredible.  He is one person who is a joy to watch bat and I think it is really great that his illustrious career also now includes a World Cup success - oh to be in India right now.