Thursday, 30 December 2010

Top 10 albums of 2010

This year has been as average as last year was brilliant for new music.  Very few of the bands I love have released new stuff in 2010 so it has been disappointing.  However, the best in a bad year for me are as follows:

1) Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier
2) Alkaline Trio - This Addiction
3) KoЯn - KoЯn III - Remember Who You Are
4) Stone Sour - Audio Secrecy
5) Hole - Nobody's Daughter
6) Drowning Pool - Drowning Pool
7) Stone Temple Pilots - Self titled
8) Soulfly - Omen
9) Rob Zombie - HellBilly Deluxe 2
10) BuckCherry - All Night Long (also most disappointing album of the year, after how good their previous two albums have been this was a major letdown)

Hopefully 2011 will be better!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Things that are annoying me re tuition fees...

For the record, I would have voted no because in my view it sets a dangerous precedent, well continues one, but the following things have annoyed me recently:
  • The Reporting.  There has been minimal distinction between a debt that must be paid back and the student debt which is paid back only on your earnings and is written off if you haven't repaid it within 30 years (don't know the exact time frame).  In addition focus has only been placed on the maximum fees that can be charged.  Hardly any coverage has been given to the fact that the poorest will be able to go for one or even two years for free because of this headline figure.
  • The students protesting.  Students will be better off under this system until they start earning ridiculous amounts of money (the sort of money that makes a person more likely to vote Tory anyway).  Those who have traditionally voted Labour or Lib Dem will in general be better off, or at least better off for longer and again only in a worse financial position if they are earning significant amounts of money - the sort of people that students would probably say should contribute more.
  • The students who are protesting also will have nothing change for them.  You can't tell me that all of them are protesting because they know how it will effect those who come after them.  Of course they aren't! 
  •  The NUS.  They have fanned the flames of these protests without really thinking things through.  Their preferable system is one which is unworkable.  Even the shadow chancellor knows it is (though his party have to be opportunistic and say that this is what they would prefer, despite launching the Browne report).  They should have acted more maturely and looked objectively at the proposal rather than calling for instant protests.
  • Finally.  The thing that has annoyed me the most is the rationale of the politicians or how they are explaining their proposals.  I wouldn't have been angry if the Liberal Democrats had come out and said
    "we have looked at all of the options available, as our coalition partners are unwilling to remove fees and wish to follow the Browne recommendations we have done our best to make the proposed legislation fairer and more progressive.  Students will have an extra £6,000 of income before they start paying back a penny of their fees.  In addition this loan from the government to cover their fees will be written off after xx years, so if a person doesn't earn enough to cover the cost then they will not pay it back.  In fact this will have the effect of any person earning £XX,000 paying back exactly the same amount as they would have done previously, albeit over a longer period.  Any student who earns on average less than this will be better off, any who earns more (for instance bankers) will be worse off."
    What I can't accept is the rhetoric that they have been forced to make this decision due to the financial circumstances.  This is wrong for a number of reasons.  Firstly there is always a choice, winter fuel payments could have been means tested, the tax brackets could have remained the same etc.  Secondly, and most importantly, this does absolutely nothing for the amount of money the government needs to raise now.  All that happens is rather than increasing the debt by creating an expense they increase it by creating an asset (as in theory they are expecting the money back).  This looks better for the overall debt position but is exactly the same.  The government wont receive a penny back towards these fees until 2016, and even then it will be receiving back less than it would have done under the old system.  It will only start to see a benefit when the students reach the stage when they would have previously paid off their debt.  In fact, even then it will have taken them longer to reach this stage so when taking into account the time value of money it will be longer still.  In my estimations, if someone constantly earns £40,000 from leaving university (unrealistic I know), it would not be until 2028 when the government would start receiving more than they would have done from this person.  Hardly a solution to the current financial crisis! 
So when I say I would have voted no, that is not because I believe this is a worse proposition than the current one, I would have voted no because: It does nothing to reduce the deficit; Most of the debts will end up being written off (having been a source of discomfort for students for 30 years when they needn't be); And it will open the way for fees to continue to increase, where as I believe in a token fee level with the remainder provided by the state.  I would not have voted no just because of a promise, things change and each proposal should be judged on it's own merits - which is why pledging is misguided.

"This Government does not believe that liberalisation and legalisation are the answer,"

The above quote from the current Home Secretary Theresa May pretty much says it all.  It really is astonishing that a government which has a party with Liberal in the name and a partner of the Conservatives with a small "c" are more draconian than any previous government.  Make no mistake the latest policy is very anti liberal and erodes even further into social freedoms. 

I rant about drugs a lot, but today there have been a fair few articles on these matters all worth a read:
Mark Easton for the BBC.

Mark Easton I find very good at highlighting issues, but the one I like the most is the Peter Reynolds blog.  Highlights the absolute hypocrisy of particularly Theresa May, but also the government as a whole.  
I also really like Decca Aitkenhead's interview with David Nutt.  He really isn't the most liberal, he is just sensible and highlights the fact that current policies aren't based on scientific evidence.  He is often held up as the voice of decriminalisation/legalisation but is actually far from it.  He even states that he'd rather ban alcohol and restrict use of lesser drugs.  The part I really like is:

He describes a truly surreal exchange with the then home secretary, Jacqui Smith, who told him: "You cannot compare the harms of an illegal activity with a legal one." But don't we need to compare the harms, he asked her, in order to see if something should be illegal? "And there was this long pause. And she said, 'You can't compare the harms of an illegal activity with a legal one.' And this is the problem. Many politicians seem to think that once something is illegal, job done. She didn't understand the paradox of what she was saying. So I think the home office were angry with me, and from that point on there were people out to get me."

Total hypocrisy there from the former Labour government, the problem is this government are even worse.  In one of the pieces the question is raised "What would they do if a safe form of ecstasy is found?" That is an easy question to answer, they would ban it.  The problem is that government after government are just looking for ways to control their populous and manipulate them.  

The only reason alcohol and to a lesser extent tobacco are acceptable is due to social history.  Governments are reluctant for people to find new ways of enjoying themselves.  

Hypocrisy annoys me.  Several of the leading Tories have admitted drug taking (But I didn't inhale your honour... yeah and Mike Ashley is loved by the Toon Army, pull the other one!) yet are reluctant to even entertain the motion that it may be better for their minions to be allowed to partake in this.  As such they allow policy to be formed by prejudice, ignoring both scientific and cost benefit analysis.  

Maybe one day we can have a grown up and sensible debate regarding a person's free will and how the state should not interfere in matters effecting ones self.  Maybe one day we will have government policies formed on reasoning and logic rather than sensationalist emotive tabloid headlines. Maybe one day people will be free from prejudice and judgement due to how they chose to live their lives.  Maybe one day people with drugs problems will not feel victimised and therefore will be able to come forward and get the help they need.  Maybe one day governments will stop wasting money on a policy that is completely ineffective at acheiving their rediculous aims.  Maybe one day people will realise that the best way to tackle drugs is education, making sure that people are properly informed and allowing them to make their own decisions.  Maybe I shouldn't be holding my breath.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Unintended consequences

Mark Easton seems to post quite often about drugs, not that I'm complaining as they tend to be pieces that go against the grain of typical reporting in the area.  In fact most of what he says I find quite accurate.

His latest piece goes on the theme of unintended consequences.  The theory is that whilst mephedrone was legal people were taking this instead of cocaine and ecstasy and that this drug is actually less harmful.  Now that it is illegal people have moved from being able to buy it on the Internet to street dealers where the price is higher and the quality is less.

None of this is rocket science.  If you prohibit the use of a drug and target all of your resources in restricting the supply then prices will rise.  There is increased risk of the supply however the demand remains so people are willing to take the risk for the super-normal profits.  In addition due to the increased risk profit margins will be increasingly looked at with production made cheaper (and therefore a less pure and more dangerous product).  There will also be no legal method for the buyer to complain as the substance they are purchasing is illegal.
Prohibition continues to baffle me, people will always want to take drugs (unless there is a massive clamp down on the demand side but that is never going to happen).  As such by making them illegal governments put these people at risk by not regulating the substances on the market and allow criminal gangs to use these substances in order to generate profits.  If drugs were legal then large markets for organised crime would disappear instantly.  

My opinion as I have stated many times is that the best way to combat drugs use is legalisation, taxation, regulation and education.
A more educated population will have the facts at their disposal to make educated choices.  Regulation will ensure that the products are of satisfactory health requirements and not cut with other damaging chemicals.  Taxation will bring in vital revenue streams (coupled with the decreased costs of prohibition), allowing governments to spend money on counselling, rehabilitation and education.

This will also bring drug users out of the shadows of society in order for them to get help where necessary when required.  

I hope that Portugal continues with it's policies (as previously mentioned) so that they show the way to the rest of the world (to go even further).

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Tuition fees...

Okay, I said I'd post my alternative, I did, I changed my mind.  It just goes to show it's not easy!

I guess the debate is an ideological one, should students be paying for their degree or should they not?

It is socially desirable to have an educated population, but some treat it as an excuse to get drunk for three years knowing that their degree would play minimal role in their future career.  Also why should others pay extra tax to send people to university if they didn't go themselves?
A few things have pissed me off with the reporting of the proposed changes, mainly that they have lead to a massive misunderstanding.  Their was a letter into the metro yesterday that said something along the lines of "increasing fees to £9,000 will place a financial burden on the poorest meaning that they couldn't afford to go to university".  That is just wrong.  Firstly fees will be raised to £9,000 only if the university proves that it has made it equally possible for students of all backgrounds to access their courses and none of these fees will be paid in advance, they will only be paid back on earnings over £21,000.  If they don't pay it back in 30 years the debt will also be wiped clean.

Now I'm not going to say I agree with this system, however when I attended University fees were circa £1,000 payable in advance.  In addition I took out a student loan which has me paying back 9% on everything I earn over £15,000.  As such, someone leaving University who goes straight into a job paying the same as me will be £40.50 a month better off than me and have spent £3,000 less than me.  
I guess the difference is that most people are unlikely to end up paying this back.  Three years tuition fees (£18k - £27k) plus student loans (£9k? I haven't heard any detail of this) means they'll have a debt of up to £36k.    By my rough calculations (assuming a 3% rate of inflation) they would need to average around £41,000 in order to pay this off in 30 years.  Given the same salary my debt would be gone in 6, leaving me £1,800 a year better off than them.  (I can only dream of earning £41,000 at the moment but the point still stands).  The total difference would therefore be around £45,000 better off than them, but only £22,600 better off if all cash flows are discounted at a 3% rate of inflation, despite the increase in fees to an assumed £8k a year more than me.    This obviously is only the situation if they pay it back!  If someone earns my wage for the next 30 years their debt will be written off in full and will have paid back (discounted) £10,500 LESS than I did on £1k fees and a 3k student loan per year.  I know this is all really rough calculations but to me it does actually seem more progressive than the system I had.  In fact, given assuming that they still receive a student loan of £9,000 over three years they would actually have had a (discounted) net increase in cash of £7,000!  

It would need the constant wage to be £28,000 before I'd be paying the same as the hypothetical other person.

So I guess the question is is that fair?  
Is that fairer than someone who doesn't go to university and therefore is likely to earn less having to contribute to their education?  Probably.  
Should it be everyone's right to go to university? No.  It is not socially desirable for there to be 100% of the population educated to university level, as this will result in a discrepancy between what skills are needed in the country and what we have.
Should a person contribute to their education?  I'd say yes, they will benefit, though as a rule so will society.
The more I look at the figures students would be paying back, the more I think that actually it seems fair, as surely someone earning £22,000 a year can afford to pay £90?  However, had I been a Lib Dem MP I couldn't vote for it because the Lib Dem policy is for £0 fees and we ran on campaigns of no more broken promises.
The solution?
Well I obviously don't have all the answers.  It would take months of looking at the books and analysing ability to pay against actual costs in order to work this out, however here is my feelings:
  • Each University should undertake a comprehensive spending review.  Look at how much is spent and how much needs to be spent.  There is in my opinion a lot of wastage, too much emphasis is placed on research and not enough on teaching.  The actual cost per student should be accurately and independently calculated, so that no student pays more than their education costs, irrespective of the payment system in place.
  • Look at other ways a University can bring in money, I don't think they do enough considering they have thousands of students attending them, there must be more revenue streams available.
  • The length of each course should be looked at.  In my final year I had 10 hours face time per week, and two 10 week semesters (plus 3 week period for exams).  I would suggest altering the structure of some universities so that they are two year courses with  13 week teaching periods: September - December (3 week break for Christmas and New Year), January - April (3 week break for Easter), April - July, 7 week summer break.  There is no reason for a four month long summer as some currently have!
  • Socially desirable qualifications (medical doctors etc) should be free no matter what. These courses are long and there should be as much incentive for uptake in them as possible.
  • An investment into alternatives to study, so there are more options for people leaving school and sixth form, so that University isn't seen as the only way forward.  Apprenticeship programs that create skills that are actually needed.
  • Involve all relevant parties (as in the NUS, universities and the government) in open discussions on how best to meet the necessary funding, they all have their interests but surely they should all be able to see the others point of view.  Without seeing the figures I can't suggest what levels should be set, however perhaps a 50:50 split between students and the government to begin with?

Friday, 26 November 2010

The IFS answers… Is increasing VAT progressive?

Apparently yes... though my personal opinion is that this is a perfect candidate for John Rentoul's series.

I believe the main argument for it being a progressive tax is that those worse off spend proportionally less of their money on products with VAT attached to them and as such an increase in VAT will cost them proportionately less.

I can see this argument however I don't think this takes into account the actual effect on those lowest earners.

Low earners spend proportionately less on VAT related products because they have less money.  As a result they are on strict budgets, with many spending exactly what they earn each week/month/year and others spending more than that by utilising credit.

Higher earners however have a lot of discretionary spending and as a result are able to save money.  

I would argue that as a proportion of disposable capital available to spend (including income and capital reserves once essential expenditure is taken into account) a poorer person will be spending proportionally more on products with VAT than a more well off person.

Those living on a shoestring as a result are likely to have to forgo purchasing particular products as the rise bites and prices increase out of their range.  Those better off will easily be able to absorb the rise, hence it cannot be progressive.

I still think the Coalition (capitalised according to grammar Nazi John Rentoul as it has been around for more than 6 months) is doing some very positive things for the country but portraying an increase in VAT as progressive in my opinion is completely wrong, no matter what statistical data is thrown at it, the substance of the rise is the material effect that it will have on the real people who will be effected.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

No more broken promises.

Following my rambling blogs last month I've had a little bit of time to think about the tuition fee debacle now and for the Lib Dems it principally does come down to one thing.  A promise is a promise.  The image above is a still from our campaign video that was shown pre-election, showing all of Labour's broken promises with the slogan of "no more broken promises" (Fred Carver highlighted this on his post on the Lib Dem Voice).   Should our MPs vote for any motion that includes an increase in tuition fees then we shall be doing exactly what the previous government did.  I also feel that it will be the Lib Dem vote that will sway this as even those in Labour who back it can't let an opportunity pass where they could defeat the government.  

In my next blog I shall outline what I actually think of the policies themselves.

Monday, 1 November 2010

The Government believes the drug classification system works...

Mark Easton has posted yet another excellent blog (here) highlighting the absolute nonsense that is government policy regarding drugs prohibition, following Professor David Nutt's latest publication.  I am too tired to read the article (I shall do so tomorrow) by Caitlin Elizabeth Hughes and Alex Stevens (here) regarding their analysis of the Portuguese system, however they have drawn some interesting conclusions.  They found that following Portugal's decision to decriminalise illicit drug use in 2001:
  • small increases in reported illicit drug use amongst adults;
  • reduced illicit drug use among problematic drug users and adolescents, at least since 2003;
  • reduced burden of drug offenders on the criminal justice system;
  • increased uptake of drug treatment;
  • reduction in opiate-related deaths and infectious diseases;
  • increases in the amounts of drugs seized by the authorities;
  • reductions in the retail prices of drugs.
 Overall this points to the fact that prohibition just isn't the correct option.  It doesn't prevent much drug use and just pushes that use further underground, leading to people less likely to seek help when they need it and having to go to illegal sources to purchase their fix which will probably be of poorer quality and therefore more harmful.

Though I wouldn't care what the evidence suggested to be honest.  My stance on drug use is that of freedom of choice not on some cost benefit analysis.  I cannot see why a sane consensual adult should not be allowed to chose what they do in the privacy of their own home on the proviso that no other living creature is negatively effected by this.  I know I have expressed this opinion time and again but I am a Liberal in this sense.

Unfortunately it will be a long long long time before there is any reform in this area, the government's response to the research that has been published:

"The Government believes the drug classification system works"

Hopefully Portugal will continue their policies and this will show improvements that will allow other countries to follow, I wont be holding my breath for any improvement here though.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Not all the bankers fault...

Excellent blog from George Kendall today on the Lib Dem voice (link) which I think in many ways adds to my points regarding Labours mismanagement of the economy during our economic boom years.  He makes his points much more eloquently than myself, in particular there is the encouragement of the housing bubble following the bubble bursting which I had previously neglected to mention.

Over all I fear that despite the huge spending review today we will not be in a situation where we will have a budget surplus (and therefore able to pay back our debt rather than reissuing it) for the foreseeable future.  This means our interest payments will only go one way, though much slower than if this had been left to Labour.

I hope that the figures quoted today by Mr Osbourne are correct and that despite a reduction in the head count of public sector workers over the next four years unemployment will fall.  If it doesn't fall then our immediate economic future is fairly bleak and a lot of people will be left in very difficult situations.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The good and the bad of being in a coalition

Blog overload for today, three in one day!  Two very important pieces of policy have been released today, one good, one bad.  I shall start with the good.

Trident will not be recommissioned until at least after the next general election.  This is a massive win for the Liberal Democrats.  I, like most Lib Dems, am massively anti nuclear.  I cannot see any British Prime Minister ever pressing the button so to speak and giving the order.  I am in general anti war (there are some that must be fought, but lots could be avoided) and more to the point I am one for practicing what we preach.  It is one thing to tell Iran that they can't have nuclear weapons whilst still aiming ours at them, it is another to take the lead and disarm our own (the review today says that we are getting rid of 25% of our warheads, which is a start).  I am more than happy for USA, Russia and China to be armed, however I don't feel that there is a need for a country like Britain to have nuclear weapons.  It was clear Tory policy to renew trident, as such I see this as a big victory just delaying the decision - it wont be done on our watch! 

Now for the bad - Council House.  I will admit that I haven't studied this change in detail, however the headline that I see is that the government are removing the right to remain in a property goes against the supposed policies of encouraging stable families and is likely to hit those who need it most hardest.  The main benefit of a council house is that you have security, you know for the future whatever happens you have affordable housing.  I don't come across this much in Bath to say the least, but I know of quite a few low income families up north who rely on their council house and without it would struggle to get by.  If the policy is one of compulsory moves then I think it is fundamentally wrong and should be looked at again.  Doing this would break up communities just as DC is trying to promote his big society.  If however circumstances have changed and you give the people the option to say buy, or rent at the market rate then that may be different.  (Though for those renting you still have the problem of when they retire!)

So in my opinion today has been good and bad!

Spend Spend Spend...

Stephanie Flanders, the BBC's Economics correspondent has posted an excellent blog today.  I normally find her quite informative without always agreeing but this was particularly good.

The gist of the blog is providing a picture of how we have come to be in the position we are.  I think the graph she has included is quite telling.  I would have liked it to provide a trendline up to 1997 as a comparison, I think this would show much lower government spending come 2015 than is predicted.

This is the reason that I still blame Labour for our recession.  I know that this was a global crisis, however if they had been managing our countries finances better then this correction wouldn't be needed.  Labour were lucky enough to come into power in a period of economic prosperity (bar the period around 9/11) the conditions were there for consistent economic growth.  In periods like this the government shouldn't be spending everything that it receives, it should be holding a bit back for the inevitable storm that is to come.  I know I'm guilty of following along with this, as I did vote Labour in 2005 (in a Labour/Tory area).  It wasn't until the 2006 or 07 budget (after long enough studying economics) that I started to question whether Brown was as prudent as he claimed.  For as long as I could remember he had been talking about debt and how it would come down in the future, though it never seemed to.  It was this expansionary policy that has come around to bite the nation quite considerably.

It would be fair enough if we had been saddled with debt but find ourselves with state of the art services provided by the government, however I don't think we have.  The NHS eats money, and is totally inefficient (though fine institution).  Schools have improved in places, but not everywhere.  My mother works in a school, she recently had an office developed for her (was needed but it isn't front line).  She was told it had to cost at least a certain amount, if it was below that amount they couldn't class it as a capital project and get the funding for it (it would have had to come out of the normal budget - which would have reduced what could be spent on front line teaching).  Public transport is laughable.  As a commuter I have to endure delays on a regular basis, over crowded trains and spiraling prices.  The bus alternative would take much longer and just isn't feasible or desirable!  Whilst I applaud the concept of improving services it seems to me that much of these funds were wasted/swallowed up by higher wages, particularly at management level. 

I therefore blame Labour for letting spending get away from them, on things that shouldn't have been priorities (such as ID cards) or inefficiently spent and not saving enough when they had a chance.  If we had been running a budget surplus then we would have had no problems borrowing money to "bail out the banks", with that having the potential to make money rather than costing money.  It would have saved us a fortune in debt financing and we could have used standard Keynesian economics to spend our way out of recession.  It may not have been hitting us as bad, countries like Canada and Australia have come out of this fairly unscathed.  Although this is unlikely with our reliance on the banking sector, the government could have been better positioned to act.

What I have described, what Labour should have done is in an ideal world.  Unfortunately, we have a system where by a new government is elected every at least every 5 years.  Therefore there is no incentive for the party in power to actually practice fiscal prudence.  They know that their best bet on winning the next election is a generous budget (spending lots, taxing little), if they lose it's then on the other party(ies) to sort out.  The Labour government (as I have said before) were only concerned with power and did what they needed to do (or thought they needed to do) to stay in power.  Basic principal agent theory shows that governments will never be perfect, the principal (the electorate) and the agent (the government) have different utility curves/factors motivating them, however I think the way Labour handled their 13 years in power was incredibly short sighted and means I will probably never trust them again.

Policy that is just wrong!

There was an excellent article on the FT website at the start of the month, which can be read here (however it is behind their paywall).  I think it does an excellent job at removing some of the fallacies that surround immigration whilst at the same time admitting the problems it creates.

Firstly, there is the common complaint that people only come to our country in order to claim benefits.  According to the data in the article if a migrant (from one of the A8 countries) is in the UK for more than two years there is a 20.2% chance they will be claiming a benefit (that means 4 in 5 aren't!) this compares with 39.7% of "native" Britons, almost double.  In addition to this they are net contributors to public services, paying on average £1.37 of tax for every £1 of public service they use.  Native Briton's are net users at £0.80 of tax for every £1.  

These figures of course only from the A8 countries: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.  The government can do nothing about this migration.  

More importantly in my opinion was the details on the effect of income.  

Particularly of interest is the graph on the left.  This shows that there is a negative influence on wages of those who are in the lowest 20% of earners from migration.  I guess this is intuitive as migrants are often willing to work for less.  However above this figure it is actually positive.  Remember, the government cannot do anything about European migration and has already stopped unskilled migrants from entering the country, therefore the policy of reducing the skilled migrants entering the country makes no sense.  

The Tory policy is that of halving the net migration figures will therefore damage the economy.  We have seen it with scientists who have been unable to obtain a visa and as such have gone to prestigious universities else where to continue their research.  I am also witnessing it first hand at work, where a very hard working (normally the first into the office and almost always still there when I leave) and capable employee of Asian descent working for our Asia division is struggling to get a visa to continue to work in the UK.  This is despite her being here for numerous years, earning all of her money and spending it here, paying taxes, speaking perfect English and building a life here.  It would be wrong to say that a British person couldn't do her job, however I can't see them doing it better.  Our business is helped by the fact we are a multicultural firm, with native French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Chinese and Czech employees, as most of our business is done in conjunction with the EC and with projects carried out in countries where it helps to have the local knowledge.

These skilled workers are going to be squeezed even more when you consider how feasible David Cameron's proposal is.  Mark Easton posted an excellent blog on the BBC in August (here) which illustrates how much of our immigration is down to students.  In a time where tuition fees is a hot topic, can we really turn away people who already pay more than £10k a year to study in our universities?

My opposition to the Tory policy however doesn't boil down to evidence of what is good or bad for our economy (though I think the evidence proves that the policy will be bad), it boils down a matter of principle.  I am a liberal, I believe in people living the way they choose.  The Liberal Democrats claim to be working towards removing any misfortune of birth, I see this as one of the biggest.  There is a big wide world out there and I would hate for someone to tell me that I couldn't live where I wanted to just because I wasn't born there.  Protectionism may (or may not) be good for a country but it is not good for the planet.  All the divisions and secularism only builds walls between people, leading to discourse and hatred.  We should be working towards a world (in this globalised age) where we are one community that respect other people's beliefs, traditions and customs. 

Thursday, 14 October 2010

More thoughts on higher education...

Something I totally didn't consider in my last blog was the externalities of higher education.  I focused solely on the benefit to the individual.  My thoughts being that the most rewarding courses would probably cost the most.

However to society, the most rewarding courses are probably doctors.  As a career however they would not be as rewarding, the cost would also be much higher to train a doctor.  As such making people pay the cost of their course would have someone with a debt hanging over them throughout the majority of their career.  This would decentivise most people from entering the profession.  As a result the positive externality needs to be taken into account by the government.  Further subsidies need to be given to courses of social importance.
As such I reiterate what I've said previously, that I am yet to hear a fully workable and affordable policy on this that is also progressive and fair!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

A bright future?

The Browne Report has been issued and for the first time I find myself massively disagreeing with the coalition's stance and the Liberal role in the coalition.  My initial objection is not what the best policy is, I am yet to hear a policy that I think is workable and desirable, my objection is a matter of principle.  

The Liberal Democrat MPs, all 57 of them (including Nick and Vince) ran on a campaign of a plan to eventually reduce student fees down to £0.  They said this plan was fully costed and worked out.  They also signed a pledge stating that they would vote against any raise in tuition fees for the entire length of the parliament.  Therefore I don't see how any of the MPs can not vote against any measure (correctly or otherwise) and retain their credibility.
This isn't a make or break issue for me, mainly (selfishly) because I am no longer affected, however it will throw doubt on the party as a whole, it will also decimate our vote in the next election.  I haven't been too perturbed by our ratings in the poles as I fancied that if the coalition does a decent job, gets the deficit down and has a growing economy in 2015 we should be able to campaign on the back of a successful mission in government, however renege on this promise and I cannot see younger voters voting for the Lib Dems again.  This is an issue that is very close to their hearts because it matters to them.  People may argue that they don't get involved in politics but those who go to university are more likely to vote than those who don't.  

Take a town like Bath for example, the population is around 85,000, of that there is around 16,000 students.  I'm not naive enough to think that every student votes for the Liberal Democrats, but the proportion is a lot higher.  Should he not vote against the rise I can see Don Foster really struggling in 2015.
I know the Conservatives can twist the knife by forcing those in ministerial positions to follow the coalition vote (or face losing their well paid positions, I'm getting cynical now).  I reckon they will have enough support from Labour to get the motion through with the Lib Dems abstaining as after all, they introduced the fees and were in favour of scrapping the cap all together, plus many of their shadow cabinet don't agree with Ed over a graduate tax.  The problem comes with the Tories being able to use this as a possible reason to end the coalition, they can say that the Lib Dems had only promised to abstain on any vote, so basically they are between a rock and a hard place.  

I will reitterate though that the only thing I think is feasible is for all Lib Dem MPs to vote against the proposal.  Otherwise our reputation as a party will be damaged, probably beyond repair.

I know that no final legislation has been drawn up yet, but the only thing that Vince can recommend is something progressive, the current recommendations aren't progressive enough.  Yes they charge interest on those who earn more than £21,000 above the level of inflation, however someone earning £50,000 will pay back less than someone earning £22,000, and will do so much quicker.  I definitely would not advocate the prospect of people being penalised for paying it back early, this is a question of fairness, for everyone not just the poorest.  This is not like a bank issuing a mortgage, they do this for pure profit, a government issuing such a loan is doing so at a subsidised rate and not doing so for profit, these should be there to help those who need it, not penalise those who don't. Also many current proposals have money recouped through the tax system, this doesn't then account for those who go on to work overseas, which effectively would result in them receiving a free education.

I am aware that this blog is a bit of a jumble of thoughts but here is what I think about the system.
  • There is a cost that is associated with someone being provided with an education.  These costs should be looked at to see if they are reasonable and if they can be reduced in any way.
  • A student is the person that benefits most from their education, this is a choice they make and shouldn't be 'free for all'.
  • Different courses obviously have different costs and values attached to them and as such should charge different amounts.  I think it is clear that a degree from Oxford in Law should cost a lot more than a degree in media studies from Teesside.  These should be monitered independently in order to ensure fairness.
  • How much money you have should not be a barrier for entry when applying for university.
  • Therefore government assistance should be given to those who need it - in the amounts they need it to meet these costs.  
  • Students should not be penalised for taking government help and therefore the loan should only rise with the rate of inflation.  
  • The only staggering I feel that should be done is the amount paid back should be increased as your wage increases.  For example 2% of income between £15k & £20k, 5% between £20k and £30k, 10% between £30k and £40k and 15% for higher.  
Those are just my thoughts, I'm sure better qualified people could come up with a better solution - however I maintain that the Lib Dem MPs cannot justify anything but voting against an increase given their previous pledges.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Faith divides us, death unites us.

I've been thinking a lot about religion since the Pope's visit (and a brief association with someone who had religious beliefs).  Those who know me know that I am very anti religion.  I see it as a means to control the masses.  You get those less learned people (in the old days) to do what you want them to do with the promise of good things if they do and eternal damnation if they don't.  The whole premise of this is a bit ridiculous.  Think of the suicide bomber who is expecting 72 virgins when they reach 'Heaven' - it hardly sounds like heaven for those 72 virgins!  

I worry about people blindly following things that were said 2,000 years ago (and prior to that with the Old Testament).  I am not an expert on the history of these things but I don't think it has ever been proven who wrote the original versions or the motives behind it.  I believe that originally it was thought that the first five chapters (Genesis - Deuteronomy) were originally written by Moses, but it has since been proven that this couldn't be the case.  I think my problem with this is just the general lack of questioning.  

My opinion of the Bible however is that it is the greatest story ever written.  That is not to say I believe it happened, I do however think that it acts as great moral guidance but should not be taken literally.  At the same time I think this links to my problem with religions people in general.  They in general appear to be good people, however again I question motive.  A Christian (for instance) may perform the exact same act as an atheist however they could have totally different motives.  The Christian may have done it because it's the Christian thing to do, as a result will improve their chances of going to heaven and reduce the chance of them going to hell - a selfish reason for performing the act; however an atheist has no such considerations and is much more likely to do the same thing simply because it is right to do so.  Therefore I would rather have an atheist person offering to help because you know that their offer is genuine.

Having said that, I'm jealous.  The one thing that tends to be common amongst all people of religion is their blind faith that at the end of it all there is something better.  Now I believe in living life to the fullest because you don't know when it will end or what will happen once it does, these people know (rightly or wrongly) what will happen after it ends, that must be some comfort.  In the dark depths of night, what comfort is there in being right? Not following the herd and questioning other people's assumptions?  Who is the happier person.  I am reminded of something that was said on 'Shameless' by Frank Gallagher (who I'm sure is always remembered for his wisdom), it was something along the lines of:

"In the deep dark depths of night, even the most devout atheist has doubts"

Red Ed...

Unlike John Rentoul (bias political commentator for the Independent - not even party bias, Blairite bias!) I will not make a habit of calling Ed Miliband childish names.  I've had a while to think on it now so I wanted to give my two cents regarding his opening speech and on him in general.

First I do find it a little rich that a 40 year old classes himself as a new generation, and then goes to say that the new generation has nothing to do with age.  It is a strange set of affairs when a generation isn't even generational.

I did like the fact that he spoke more about himself.  Many people have been critical of this, that there wasn't enough policy, however he didn't even have his shadow cabinet so how could he have been expected to form detailed policy.  Most of those who had been critical were from the right wing media, who seem to have conveniently forgotten that David 'chameleon' Cameron had no policies for a long time after he was appointed leader of the opposition - in fact they hardly had any in the general election campaign!

I totally object to the following line:
"And let me tell you, there is nothing good about opposition."

Opposition is a crucial part of our political system, it is needed to scrutinise government policies and make those in government think about alternate points of view.  The good thing about opposition is that you were still elected to represent your constituencies and put across their points of view in parliament.  

It was good to see him publicly denouncing strikes, however his overall views on the deficit didn't go far enough.  Yes he said they wouldn't oppose all cuts but there seemed to be no real grasp on the fact that the situation is so bad because of the Labour Governments budget deficits before the crisis.  That was a time when the country was going through an economic boom with good growth, as such the government should have been saving rather than expecting this to continue exponentially.  Don't get me wrong, he is a step up from Ed Balls in this regard, however I don't see him advocating deficit reduction enough.

It is also good to see him publicly back AV, hopefully this means he will put the Labour Whip onto it, with Labour actively campaigning for it.  This is the only possible way I can see it happening.  It would be a massive chance missed if we fail to change the voting system.  Nobody really knows what it would do to the results, it could reinforce the two party system or totally break it down, but it has to be better to have an MP that most of the public prefer and as such it's a step closer towards PR.  
A negative is that he states that to change Britain we need new politics.  He seems to have failed to notice that we have a peace time coalition government who wouldn't naturally work together.  That is new politics.

Also he seems to think that people will have forgotten about the past 13 years and that he was a part (since 2005) of the Government who oversaw the biggest invasion into our personal/social freedoms.  He voted for ID cards and other invasions and doesn't appear to regret all of them!  In addition to this he also voted to reduce scrutiny on Government actions and was for nuclear power.  He may argue that he was bound by collective responsibility which to an extent I can understand.  

This however makes me wonder about his anti Iraq stance.  If he always felt bound by collective responsibility (only ever 3 votes against the Labour majority vote) would he have been as against Iraq as he claims.  Again, it is good that the leader of the opposition is now taking the stance that the Lib Dems have always taken, that the Iraq war was wrong - but I don't think he'd have voted against it.  There hasn't been a vote cast by Ed that has been against the war/for an inquiry into it etc.  This brings me to my main problem with the Labour party:

David Miliband: "Why are you clapping, you voted for it"
Harriet Harman: "Because he's leader"

No Harriet, that's the wrong answer.  The correct answer is: "Although I believed it to be the correct decision at the time with the information available it has subsequently become apparent that we made the wrong choice".  People like Harriet are incapable of admitting they were wrong, she is not alone on this, but quite clearly she is a person who will just echo the leader's opinions in public and probably in private in order not to hamper her own career.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Ashes to Ashes...

The England squad was announced for the Ashes last week.  It is two months before the tour starts and already I'm filled with dread.  This shouldn't be, England are in fine form and the Convicts are a shadow of their former self.  That is what the media want us to think anyway.  I still think that in Australia taking 20 wickets may be a lot harder than just getting Ricky 'Punter' Ponting out twice as some pundits would have you think.

I look at our batting line up and on paper it's really strong, however in reality it is a collapse waiting to happen.
Strauss - Finally found some form in the ODI series just gone, before that he had a very frustrating habit of reaching 20/30 and giving his wicket away.
Cook - Has looked like a walking wicket for a while now.  Once again did the absolute minimum to keep his place by getting a century against Pakistan, but then did what he always does and got out without turning it into a big big score.  With any luck though that century may have given him the confidence he needs - in theory could be the most important runs scored for this Ashes series, here's hoping!
Trott - Okay well he looks settled at the moment, however he goes through that agonising routine before each delivery and I can't help but think the Aussies will get under his skin.
KP - Finally the ECB have shown Kev that he isn't undroppable, unfortunately he is, despite looking a shadow of his former self.  Hopefully he can pick up some form in South Africa before the tour.
Collingwood - He was even worse than KP against Pakistan, didn't look like playing well.  I've never been a big fan but he like Cook has an annoying habit of getting one score when under pressure to keep his place.
Bell - I reckon he will start ahead of Morgan.  He has more experience and has been playing better in the longer formats.  He also missed a large portion of the summer so should be fresher.  The only worry I have with him is his poor record against the Aussies but I am hoping that this is the tour that finally shows Bell as the quality player we all know he could be.
Prior - easily the batsman of the series against Pakistan.  I fear we would have lost at least one more test without his contribution.  I was against his initial inclusion but he has proven me wrong.
Broad - finally produced the performance with the bat we were all hoping for in that controversial test and has given an important knock against the Aussies before.  However he lacks consistency and will probably only provide one or two contributions of note over 5 tests.  With the ball he is a worry, I doubt he will be able to keep his head during a frustrating day in the field.  He is capable of coming up with magic spells but doesn't quite have the consistency.
Swann - England's best bowler at the moment, but didn't do it against the Aussies last year.  Hopefully though he will have learned from that experience and will cause them some problems this time round.  Although he has batted above Broad he wont offer anything more than a bit of a dart down the order.
Anderson - will be expected to spearhead the attack, however without getting the ball to swing I don't know if he can take wickets.
Finn - has been very impressive so far in his test career, however he has yet to be really tested, I'm sure the Aussies will get after him and put him under pressure from the very start.

The other players in the squad are:
Morgan - unlikely to play to begin with though may come in if one of the batsmen is really struggling, has the big game temperament but not the endurance that would be necessary.
Davies - is just there as a back up to Prior, he does deserve that place in the line though and I reckon he'll do well given the chance
Bresnan - is pure and simple not good enough at this level.  It's harsh to do this comparison but he can't bowl or bat better than Freddie could.  He wont scare any opposition let alone the Aussies.
Tremlett - I would like to see him get a chance ahead of Bresnan should they be needed.  He is tall and quick and could do well on Aussie wickets.  I haven't seen enough of him to really judge though.
Panesar - the best criticism I heard of Monty was that he played his 30th text like he played his first.  He played his first pretty well but didn't learn and teams worked him out quickly.  I hear he's improved but I think he's been proven to not be good enough at this level.

I would have had Hildreth, Shahzad and Tredwell in there instead of Collywobble, Bresnan and Panesar.  I think Rashid is the best back up spinner but I don't think he'd benefit from being taken along and carrying the drinks again.  

Overall I think we don't look good enough but we should be better than last time round.  I'm going for a 3-1 win to the convicts and hoping to be proven wrong!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Denial, Denial, Denial... we want POWER!

There's one main reason that I really dislike the Labour Party at the moment, and that surprisingly isn't the state that they left the country in.  They were caught unaware by the downturn in the economic conditions in which we operate and it could happen to any Government (in fact it has happened to most), and Labour will always spend more than they have, it goes with what their principles are.  I think they acted correctly in the downturn, however the Government's finances shouldn't have been in the position they were in as the recession hit.  Gordon Brown started as Chancellor with a message of 'prudence', this seemed to go out of the window early in this decade, leaving the resulting financial mess possible. No the main thing that annoys me about them, the main reason I can't see myself ever voting for them again comes down to one word: Power.

Everything I have read about them since the election it seems like all that they are interest in.  There was no humility in their defeat in the general election, they scrambled around trying to stay in power as if that was their right.  I would have had much more respect for them if they had turned around and said, the country has voted for a change, we wish them the new Government the best of luck and will do our best to be constructive opposition, as part of a different kind of politics.  

The road they have gone down instead is to be the most disruptive opposition possible just because they can, in the general election they admitted that difficult decisions and cuts would have to be made; now, because they are not the ones who have to make them they are opposing every suggestion that has been put forward without making any themselves.  Harriet Harman was basically telling Unions to strike against the planned cuts when speaking to the TUC, obviously not mentioning the things Labour would have been forced to do.  One of the Labour leadership candidates, Andy Burnham, even answered a question by stating that he would fight all coalition cuts on the NHS - the coalition are cutting the NHS by far less than Labour themselves said that they would in their manifesto.  They are hypocrites and I see them working against the public interest rather than constructively for it.  

There was a good blog on the Independent's website yesterday by John Hemming (Lib Dem MP), I couldn't agree more with it. 

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Another sensible voice

Yet another 'expert' has come out and recommended that cannabis is decriminalised.  (Full article can be read here on the Independent's website).

I wonder just how long it will be, how many experts it will take before a Government is brave enough to have an open discussion regarding this, taking into account the view of all of those people who really know what they are talking about and not just worrying about what the sensationalist fear mongering red tops will print.  You can see the headlines now "Dopey Dave wants to get your kids STONED".  It is the media in the UK that set the political agenda, politicians know they would be slated for even thinking about this, it would be the sort of act they could never live down.  In that sense I have every sympathy, but we shouldn't have our policy decisions made by a few people who are able to set the media agenda, decisions like this should be made with the consultation of scientists.

Even a quick look at the facts would show that alcohol and cigarettes are both worse drugs both socially and for ones health.  (It is the tobacco that is often mixed with cannabis that makes it almost as bad).  The only possible reason for these being legal is cultural, along with the fact that prohibition has been tried (in America in the 1930s) and it failed miserably.  The truth is prohibition of any drug doesn't work.  I could walk out of my door and buy almost anything I wanted without trying, the only thing it does is makes it illegal to produce and possess, therefore criminalising those who do use it and pushing the market towards criminal gangs.

I could go on all day about why I think drugs should be legalised but the main reason is I believe in free will.  We only know for certain that we live once, as such I don't think it should be down to other people to tell you what you can or cannot do as long as this doesn't negatively effect another living creature.  I would allow people to do drugs in their own home or licenced premises, although I would limit the amount one could purchase or possess.  The key to controlling the use of drugs though would be education, from an early age, so children know the harm that they can do and the risks they face taking them.  Education would be much better than just a "Drugs are bad, m'kay" attitude!  The main additional benefit which shouldn't be overlooked would be the fact that this would bring in a huge amount of tax revenues (from any direct taxation and bringing the income of those who produce it out of the hidden economy) and lower costs on the prohibition side.  Like I said I could go on all day, so I will stop here.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

It's just not cricket...

Obviously the one big story around cricket at the moment is the 'spot fixing' betting scam that allegedly involves some Pakistan players.  Unless I am mistaken these players are Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif along with Salman Butt (the captain) and potentially Kamran Akmal (their wicket-keeper, though I believe he's been cleared).

The initial feeling regarding this from my point of view isn't anger or anything like that, it is immense disappointment, which is why I am finding it hard to write about.  World cricket is struggling for strength in depth at the moment, there are 5 or 6 good countries who play well but outside that there are the likes of Pakistan and the West Indies who are really struggling to live up to past glories.  The game of cricket needs a strong Pakistan, the Pakistani people love the game and are of great benefit to world cricket.  

Aamer is only 18 and looks like the best bowler in the world to me right now.  It was absolutely frightening to watch, I rarely get excited when I see a non-Englishman play for the first time, but I did with him.  However, if the allegations are proved true then this will pretty much ruin his career, I doubt he'd ever be allowed to play test cricket again.  Who knows, he may have found himself pressured into a situation that he couldn't get out of and as a result his career is over?  Hardly seems fair.  The integrity of the game though needs to be preserved but this result would be so disappointing.  

Butt and Asif have been two of Pakistan's key players recently, Asif has had a lot of previous problems and come through them whilst Butt has just been made captain. 

Without home cricket after the tragedy of Sri Lanka's tour last year, and now the prospect of some of their heroes being banned for life, you have to wonder whether this generation of Pakistani youngsters will get involved with the game as they have in years gone by.  It is totally possible to see them fall down the cricketing ladder, which would be a total shame and a loss to the world of cricket.

Friday, 27 August 2010

The Manhattan tolerance test...

Excellent blog on the Intependent's website today:

Have to say I couldn't agree more.  The beliefs that the 'West' are so keen to defend are tolerance and freedom.  Be this freedom of religion, sexuality, speech, etc, whilst being tolerant of others' choices.  

I am saddened by the reaction regarding the community centre in New York.  I think that the real force on show here is fear, probably fear of what they don't understand.  Those campaigning against the centre probably don't see a difference between those people who flew planes into the World Trade Centre and those who are building the centre, however the only comparison is what they call their religion.  
I was involved in a 'discussion' with someone on the internet regarding this.  She was adamant that the 'mosque' shouldn't be built.  I asked her why it was okay for a strip club to be near the site but not okay for a Muslim community centre.  I think her response of "strippers didn't fly a plane into the World Trade Centre" was very telling.  The people who are building this centre and those who will use it also didn't fly a plane into the World trade centre!  

I am afraid that the less tolerance we show the worse the situation will get.  Hatred only breads hatred and unless we can show the Muslim world that we don't think that they are all terrorists and they are welcome in our communities it will only get easier for the small number of extremists to attract people to their cause.

But Russell Razzaqu says it better than me!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Foreign Policy... lets just piss everyone off...

The one thing that is really annoying me about Cameron is his and the Tories foreign policy.  Even if we forget the gaff in the US (where he claimed Britain is the junior partner and always has been, even in WWII in 1940 - when the US didn't join in until after Pearl Harbor!) he is still making a complete hash of everything.  

Lets take the Hippocratic policies with India as the main example.  What the Tories are basically saying to them is that we really want you to trade with us, particularly buying our goods/using our services, however we really don't want you in our country.  The arbitrary immigration cap was noticed by India, who have a right to be angered by it, as they are one of the sets of people who are most likely to come to the UK, work hard and add to our society.  It just whiffs of the old colonial masters trying to dictate to them how things should be again.

He then decides to butter them up by implying that their rivals Pakistan actively support terrorism, just before Pakistani delegates are due to the UK, well done Dave, you're really going about getting the region to like you.  Now what you really want to do is go and stir things up a bit more... I know why don't you say that Iran already has nuclear weapons... wait, oh you didn't need my advice!

The thing that angered me most in the general election campaign was the immigration row.  I think of myself as a liberal person, and as such hated all of the ideas which I heard.  I believe that as long as people are willing to speak our language and work in our country they should be welcome, I hope to work abroad one day and would not want some arbitrary restriction preventing me from doing so.  As long as they integrate into our society then they enrich it.  My policy would be to have a basic English test and English history test (in their own language) before they enter, which would provide them with a 6 month visa.  After the three months they should report to a local office showing proof of work, in which case they would have an extension of 6 more months.  After this time they would take a more advanced English speaking and writing test and providing they had work or had been in employment for most of their time in the UK offer them a 2 year visa, after which they could apply for residency (or further visas).  But this obviously wouldn't appease the tabloids.

The only decent policy I heard in the election campaign was the Lib Dem's amnesty policy, however, by then making it harder to get in this would have created more illegal immigration as people would have thought they'd only have to hide for 10 years.  I am sad to see Liberals supporting the arbitrary cap they opposed in the election although I am realistic enough to know that you don't get much your own way as the junior partner in a coalition government.

New season, new hope?

So there I was, thinking I'd lost most of my interest for football, then I decided (like I do every season) to predict the Premier League table.  Now I find myself actually excited...  I have a feeling this will be rediculously close.  

Title Race
I started by thinking that Liverpool will actually stand a really good chance now they have a decent manager, plus Cole will be an excellent signing, if they could just add one more decent midfielder and possibly another defender they will be a real force, as such I was genuinly considering them... which is why I've put them 5th.  Lets face it, you can't rule out United, and Chelski have this knack of not dropping points.  Arsenal are the best footballing side in the league and if they add a goal keeper could be frightening now they have a decent forward and another defender.  Plus, the amount of money €ity have spent means they have the best squad even though they don't have the best team.

European Places
Those five teams wont be the only ones battling it out for the top 4 either.  I think O'Neil is a big loss for Villa, he's constantly had them over performing.  If they can't replace Milner (assuming he does leave) then I see them falling behind last year.  Spurs will have too much to focus on with the Champions League, I haven't really seen them bring in anyone who'd make the difference to turn them from a decent side to a team regularly pushing for Champions League football.  The team however who I feel have had the best summer transfer period is Everton.  Granted they haven't bought anyone of note (bar a league 1 striker who was even struggling there at the end of the season), however they haven't lost anyone.  They had the third best record in the second half of last year after, behind only United and Chelski.  I fancy they could really pressure those bigger teams for 4th place this year.

Relegation Battle
This was almost impossible.  I looked at it and saw 19 teams I expect to stay up.  Though last year when making an assessment before the start of the Championship season I said that 21 teams could feasibly go up, one of those I didn't include was Blackpool, so I'm not even sure they'll go down.  Can see this going right to the wire.  So here goes, my league table:

1.  Manchester Utd
2. Arsenal
3. Chelsea
4. Manchester €ity
5. Liverpool
6. Everton
7. Tottenham Hotspur
8. Aston Villa
9. Stoke City
10. Birmingham City
11. Sunderland
12. Fulham
13. Bolton
14. Blackburn
15. Wolverhampton Wanderers
16. Newcastle United
17. West Ham United
18. West Brom
19. Wigan
20. Blackpool

I did surprisingly well last year actually, I had Chelsea winning the league, Liverpool dropping from the top 4 and Birmingham safely mid table, so lets see how this years goes!

Revival Begins? England Expects? Will the media ever learn?

So England played their first game since the "dreadful" World Cup.  In my opinion there is only one thing you can blame for how terrible this was, the media.  They build up players and then lambaste them the first chance that they get all to sell a few more papers.  They place ridiculous expectations on the players and then are surprised when these expectations aren't reached.  

Yes it was a below par performance.  A par performance would have been the quarter finals.  We are normally ranked between 7th and 11th in the world, which suggests we should be making the last 16 or the quarters.  You wouldn't expect the 7th seed to win Wimbledon would you? We were beaten only by Germany, who are ranked above us, basically we don't have the players to win!  Sven reached 3 quarters, which for me is a good performance, yet still his reign is constantly criticized, despite the fact we were unlucky not to beat Portugal, twice going down on penalties and having a perfectly good goal ruled out and once we were knocked out by Brazil.  Hardly shameful.

They were at it again for this friendly.  Building it up as the start of a great comeback which will see the kids lead us into a new era of domination.  'England expects'? Fuck off, no they don't, or at least they shouldn't!  The media builds up players to be better than they are.  The BBC had a photo piece on Jack Wiltshire as if he was the new Messi and single handily going to turn our fortunes around.  He looks a good players - I think he's at the right club to progress, but he may come under increasing pressure, just look what that's done to our other stars, Michael Owen... Joe Cole... Wayne Rooney... all in recent years have faded away.  Wayne looks a shadow of himself in an England jersey now.  Fortunately he will not be under the same ridiculous pressure at club level which may help him pick up form.

The media also crucify players for any one mistake (unless they are players loved by the media).  Just look at Dawson on Wednesday night, he made one slip and the ITV commentary team would not drop it, making hardly any mention to the fact he made it back and hooked it off the line (irrespective of the goal wrongly counting).  Always looking for a scapegoat.

That's not to say the players/manager couldn't do with some changes.  Why Capello resorted back to 4-4-2 after half time I don't know, nor why he persists on playing both Gerrard and Lampard.  It was telling that Gerrard's two goals came when Frank wasn't on the pitch, both from positions I'd have expected to see Frank in.  Also, Gareth Barry is not an international class holding midfielder, why people cannot see this I don't know.  I biggest miss at the World Cup (apart from Rooney who wasn't there) was Hargreaves, it is a shame that his injury problems have ruined what was a promising career.  Hopefully Huddlestone/Rodwell will improve enough to make themselves genuine possibilities.  Glen Johnson still hasn't learned to defend and Terry's personal problems seem to have had a huge impact on him in the last 6 months.

There were a few positives from Wednesday.  Hart looked every bit the International, Johnson showed flashes of quality and Young looked really good.  Walcott was also promising, but he really needs to kick on this season, develop his final ball.  Phil Jagielka also looked a lot better than anyone of those who played in the World Cup.  For what it's worth this would be my team for the next game (fitness and playing for their side depending):

 -------------- Hart --------------
Johnson - Cahill - Jagielka - Cole
 --------- Huddlestone -----------
 ------ Milner - Gerrard ----------
 Johnson ------------------Young
 ----------- Rooney  ----------- 

Walcott, Dawson, Bent, Carson,Wiltshire, Zamora, Gibbs on the bench.

Now, hopefully this'll be the last time I feel the need to blog about England for a while! 

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

DC plays hide and seek...

So today was the first coalition budget, the first thing I noticed when tuning in was just how well the Tories had positioned themselves... David Cameron's arm could just about be seen behind George Osborne on the TV pictures, however he is unmistakeably flanked by two key Liberal Democrats (Nick Clegg on the left of the picture and Danny Alexander on the right).  How intentional this was one obviously can't be sure, however it did a great job from the Tory perspective of deflecting blame onto the Lib Dems.

I thought Danny did well when speaking to the BBC shortly after, however the constant defending of Tory coalition policies annoys me almost as much as commentators asking why the Lib Dems are supporting policies that were not in their manifesto.  The BBC's Nick Robinson is so bias it is unbelievable.  He was pressing Danny as to why he was backing the raise in VAT when this was something the Lib Dems argued against in the run up to the election.  Of course there are policies that the Liberals do not like as they are in a TORY lead coalition.  As a result it is primarily Tory policies that are pushed through.  The job of the coalition partner is to support this in order to ensure that their priorities are followed.

For those who did not notice the personal allowance of income tax was increased (a Lib Dem manifesto pledge), there was no increase in inheritance tax allowance (a Tory pledge that the Lib Dems argued against), a "tripple lock on pensions" (a Lib Dem pledge) and there was a raise in the higher rate of capital gains tax.  The latter being basically a watered down Lib Dem pledge - or a compromise if you will, as what happens in a coallition.

Here is my problem with the current Liberal set up however.  When asked why 28% was chosen rather than the 40% that the Lib Dems pledged Danny responded with some Tory based arguments, rather than stating that in a coalition there is give and take as all parties must be satisfied.  A coalition should be made of compromises, hopefully Simon Hughes will do his best to emphasise this and win back support from some disgruntled voters.

Nick Clegg has totally missed the point as well.  In a message to members he states:

"In the past, efforts to tackle a big deficit have always hit the poorest the most. The coalition has ensured that – for the first time – this will not happen. The richest will pay the most, while pensioners and children will be protected."

That, unfortunately is not the case.  Whilst the richest may be paying for most of it, this is not the key point, the point is who is most effected by the policies.  It is those with the most modest incomes who rely on the services offered by the Government departments that will be scrapped.  The very poorest will see absolutely no benefit from the raise in the personal allowance, as they weren't paying tax anyway!  The VAT rise, the richest will end up paying more VAT, however this will not influence their purchases.  Most people on low incomes have particularly tight budgets.  A change in the VAT rates make their normal items more expensive (including utilities!) as a result they may well be forced to alter their lifestyles in a detrimental way.

VAT is a regressive tax, Nick Clegg knows it, even David Cameron knows it.  Whilst they are supporting this tax increase rather than other tax rises they cannot call this a progressive budget.  VAT is a crazy tax to increase, it increases prices (as almost all price rises will be passed on to the consumer) and as a result depresses demand leading to lower (negative) growth in an economy.  This is not the right tax for this time.

All of that being said, I still feel that the massive cuts are necessary and that today's budget is a lot better than we would have had if Mr Cameron had walked into number 10 on Friday 7 May as the Prime Minister with a majority in Parliament.  This was always going to be a Tory budget, at least the one we had had some Liberal influence.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Shambles... and the World Cup hasn't even started yet.

The announcement of the World Cup squad was an absolute shambles.  Rumours flying around for seven hours before it was officially announced.  For someone famed for his meticulous planning I thought it was a very strange way of going about things.  A phone call is so impersonal, it suggests he doesn't have the balls to do it face to face.  I don't see why he couldn't have got them all to be in one place and call them through one by one (leaving the likes of Rooney, Ferdinand to the end as they wouldn't be nervous about selection) before giving them the news.  Then he'd have his squad together to work another day. 

As for the squad itself, I guess the main surprise is the omission of Theo Walcott.  He is still only 21, but it is a shame that he hasn't progressed from the kid who destroyed Croatia back in 2008.  He at times doesn't know when to stick and when to twist and his final ball often lets him down.  That being said I would have still had him in the squad over SWP.  He has never even hinted that he might be good enough when putting on the England shirt.  The unluckier player though is Johnson, who is in much better form than either of them, I think it's come about 6 months too early for him but I would still have taken him.

Joe Cole is an excellent inclusion.  I was worried when there was talk of him staying behind as he is still one of our real talents.  

Other than that the only disappointment was to see Michael Carrick in the squad.  He has been in decline for the  past year, I would put Man Utd's failure to win anything significant this year down to them not having a decent partner for Fletcher in the middle of the park.  I fear he has been picked for past performances, although there wasn't much competition.

The Heskey debate is another good one, though I feel the facts speak for themselves, no matter how prolific Bent is at club level I have always been of the opinion that he needs to be the main man.  He likes being the teams focal point and as such can't function as well with other quality players around him.  Heskey in short has benefited from a lack of competition.
Out of the squad picked my 11 would be: Hart, Johnson, Terry, Ferdinand, A Cole, Lennon, Gerrard, Lampard, J Cole, Rooney, Crouch.

To me that isn't a world beating team, I can see a second round/quarter final exit as our best possible result - but here's hoping!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Law is the Law

You have to feel some sympathy for David Laws.

I know as a Liberal Democrat member I am bias, however he gave up a job in the city (where he was earning a hell of a lot more than he is now, having been a Vice-President of JP Morgan when still in his 20s) to become economic advisor to the Lib Dems with no prospect of being in power.  He hardly fits into the "only in it for themselves" mode that most politicians are accused of.  It appears that he has been the subject of a media witch hunt since his rise to prominence as a key member of the Lib Dem's negotiating team.

At the same time though rules are rules.  In the housing expenses rule book it clearly states that rent should not be paid to one's spouse, a partner or a family member (including civil partner).  Although David could have claimed a lot more over the 8 year period and could have benefited more personally from the issue his desire to keep his sexuality a secret means that he did break the rules.  As a result I don't think that his position (particularly as it was within the treasury) was tenable, particularly with the feeling about the expenses 'scandel' still fresh in most voters memories.

The greater tragedy in my opinion though is that he has hidden who he is for all of his life for fear of victimisation for being homosexual.  I can, however understand his desire for privacy and hope that he will now be able to get this and continue to be a vital part of the Liberal Democrats.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Imported Talent...

I have to say, watching the Twenty20 world final on Sunday was easily the best I have ever seen England play in a limited overs match.  The turn around in the last 12 months is staggering.  I personally would put it down to the presence of Eoin Morgan.  Before he came onto the scene it appeared that England were scared to go for the rope.  I currently think he would make it into any team in world cricket.  If I were England I would have played him at #4 in Twenty20 to ensure he gets as much time at the crease as possible, however you shouldn't mess with a winning formula.

Eoin though, along with KP, Keiswetter and Lumb have opened up the debate regarding nationality and playing for one's country.  Eoin is Irish, and could have played against England in the group stages.  I have no problem with him preferring England however, he isn't likely to get top standard test cricket in his Irish career (more the pity).  The first three however were all born in South Africa.  This has lead to the call that they shouldn't be able to represent England.

I think each case needs to be looked at differently.  I'll start with Keiswetter, I will concede that he did begin his career playing for South Africa under 19s, however his mother was Scottish.  He didn't like the way he was treated in SA and chose England to develop his cricket.  For me he qualifies on parentage.  Michael Lumb is similar, his father played cricket for Yorkshire, was English and by all accounts should have represented England.  I don't see why growing up in a different country should prevent his son from having the chance he was denied.  Finally there is the dynamic Kevin Pietersen, he qualified for England via his mother and 4 years residency.  He probably had more chance in the SA set up than anyone but chose to work to be in the England set up.

I see no reason why these individuals shouldn't be representing England.  They all are showing that it is the country they want to represent, KP even has a 3 lions tattoo!  For me as long as they can legally represent the country and show the desire to play for England then there is no reason why they should play for their country!

This isn't a new phenomenon either, despite what the media may be portraying.  I grew up in the 90's with England greats such as: Graeme Hick (Zimbabwe), Nasser Hussain (India), Adam and Ben (RIP) Hollioake (Australia), to name but a few who were born outside of England but still represented the country.

I for one hope that these players stay, like all members of the team, for as long as their performance and attitude merit it!