Thursday, 24 February 2011

Ramblings on the anti-Clegg media...

It's been a few days since my last post which I think is due to the fact I'm busy at work, but at the same time I think it also has a lot to do with there not being a lot about the Lib Dems in the news, particularly there hasn't really been anything bad.  The main recent news has obviously been about the demonstrations in Libya/Bahrain/Yemen following on from Egypt and Tunisia, obviously these are total disasters and I hope that the international community collects together to stop the suffering of these people from the hands of their rulers.  I don't feel I can add a lot on this subject however, most of the things I've read are a lot more knowledgeable on the history of these countries and the plight of their people.

So I was beginning to wonder if I would find anything to blog about this week, then I read the Metro on my way home.  The party at the moment are doing well, not making any mistakes and having a real positive impact on the country.  Yet the media can't be happy with this, it doesn't fit with their anit-Clegg theme.  So obviously there is a complete none story about Clegg 'forgetting he was in charge of the country'.  Of course as DPM he does hold the reigns whilst DC is off selling arms to the dictators still in charge in their countries.  However in this modern day of instant communication I doubt anything of any remote significance could crop up without David knowing and having the final input on.  As Nick rightly said 'people forget that there is email and BlackBerry'.  I know in my office when any divisional manager isn't around someone else doesn't suddenly start running the team, everyone knows their job and the manager is contactable should anything important arise.  

However this story just allowed them to continue the anti-Lib Dem/Nick Clegg rhetoric that has become so common over recent months, the worst part of the article is that it doesn't mention a single positive thing the Lib Dems have done yet brings up the tuition fees saga and the complete non-story of Nick closing his ministerial box at 3pm.  This story has been rebuked easily just by simple facts (that he doesn't stop working at 3, urgent things are still passed to him, it is actually common practice) yet the media are obviously trying to tarnish him with a work shy image.

I have to admit there was a time last year that I felt he was performing poorly.  Communication with the public was bad (and still isn't great) and he is presenting a front which is too united with the Tories.  But I have seen in the past few months policies which anyone who has followed him know are close to his heart getting made into legislation.  He is passionate about the things he believes in and those things are normally spot on and he also appears to be the hardest working politician around.  He shouldn't have had much at all to do with the recent mental health legislation however his passion for it lead to him being right there at the front, unfortunately I think he could cure cancer and the media wouldn't give him credit.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

No2AV scaremongering.

I am not surprised that the No to AV campaign is actually campaigning and trying to get people to vote in their favour, after all it is what they want.  However I am worried by the lies that they are spreading as facts as people might actually believe them.  I want people to vote based on the actual issues making an informed decision, not because they are afraid of fascists such as the BNP getting more than one vote.  See the email William Hague sent out to No2AV supporters.  The most worrying inaccuracy is:

* AV is unfair. With First Past the Post, everybody gets one vote. But under AV, supporters of extreme parties like the BNP would get their vote counted many times, while other people’s vote would only be counted once.
This is just plane wrong, scaremongering.  Each person has their vote counted once in each round of voting.  Just because you voted Conservative who make it through to the final round, so none of your alternatives are used, doesn't mean that your vote was counted once.  The vote was counted in the first round to determine it's position, then the same vote was counted again in the second round and so on.  The BNP's supporter would have had their vote for the BNP counted at each stage that they were still participating, then once the BNP have (hopefully) been eliminated their alternative preference (their highest alternative for a party that is still in the running) is counted at which point the votes that had already been made for the Conservatives are COUNTED AGAIN.  The only people who get their votes counted less are those who don't state a preference between the parties that remain.  

* AV doesn’t work. Rather than the candidate with the most votes winning, the person who finishes third could be declared the winner.

No the person who wins is the winner, and this is the first person to receive over 50% of the votes.  Just because they are not the majority first preference doesn't mean they finished third, it is intrinsically fairer as rather than having someone who say 30% like (based on first preferences) representing a whole constituancy there is someone who at least 50% of the people would prefer to see represent them.

I don't know the actual costings to go into that arguement but surely cost shouldn't be a factor when arranging a fair voting system?

Finally people do want AV, I know people for whom this is their first preference and just because others would rather see PR does not mean that we shouldn't declare our preference for AV over FPTP.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

It's just not cricket (2)...

With the cricket World Cup starting this weekend I was very interested to read David Bond's blog on Thursday with regards the precautions being taken to stop match/spot fixing in cricket.  Basically I believe that:
  • The players have to hand in their phones when they reach the ground.
  • There are restrictions on the use of social networking sites/twitter.
  • Each team is only allowed four laptops and only one of them can be connected to the internet.
  • Security officials have "broader powers to monitor players" though these are not being released as they don't want people trying to influence the games to know.
  • If they break any of the rules three times (such as a phone in the dressing room) they face a $5,000 fine.
I really wonder if these measures will do as they intend and at the same time whether they are necessary.  I don't like these measures as it presumes guilt on everyone, everyone is restricted and as a fan I really enjoy reading the Twitter interaction.  At the same time it doesn't sound like they are stopping the players having conversations away from the ground, they may be but then can you really justify monitoring every conversation, say between a player and their wife?  As a result there will always be a risk and ways around any measures if a person wants to cheat desperately enough.  

I much rather see strict sanctions for those found guilty, using this as a deterrent.  The recent case with Butt, Asif and Ameer (/Amir - he appears to have changed the spelling of his name) should act as a warning to other players, five years is a very long time, as such I don't think we'll see Butt or Asif again in international cricket.  They also are due to face criminal charges in England which could lead to them being jailed.  If other players see this happen then it may well stop other people finding themselves in the same situation.

That said I still think the best way to reduce the risk would be for India to legalise and therefore regulate their betting market.  This is consistent with my view on that if two parties wish to undertake a transaction that doesn't involve another person then it should be allowed.  By legalising the market they will be able to monitor the activities and pick up any suspicious betting patterns.

With regards the World Cup I don't think you can look past India, their batting looks immense and their home advantage should help.  I fancy Sri Lanka may also take advantage of the home support to reach the final, with South Africa and Australia the other contenders.  For England anything other than a quarter final place will be a failure, that should be the minimum target, after that I guess it's luck of the draw, a semi final place I think should be seen as a success but with a good draw and a bit of luck you never know - especially the way Broad has been bowling. I just hope it's a good tournament, I am still a big fan of the 50 over game, the Twenty20 format seems to capture a bit more of the imagination for many people so this tournament needs to be a success.  The last World Cup in the West Indies was very disappointing and it seems like the organisers haven't learned their lesson as at 6 weeks this tournament is too long.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Judging a book by it's predecessors?

There was a post in the Guardian on Monday by George Monbiot regarding what he seems to believe is an attempt to turn the city of London into a giant tax haven from what appears to me to be a simplification of legislation.  This was picked up by Max Teuerman in the Lib Dem Voice on Wednesday.  

What the actual issue boils down to is that previously a multinational who had a branch overseas would have to declare the income/expenditure in order to be taxed in the UK whilst receiving relief for the tax that they had paid in country.  Under the new proposed method this is just dealt with in the country where the branch is based.  For instance, the UK is introducing a Corporation Tax rate of 24%, if the branch was based in a country where the Corporation Tax rate was 20% they would be charged the additional 4% here.  This however lead to a lot of complications as often the base for the calculation would be different in each country.  The new system would basically ignore the branch details and not claim the 4%.  

This may sound like the government is just giving up potential revenue, though I fall much more into Max's way of thinking.  Having worked in the finance division of two different international companies and also having a tax background I don't see it having much of an impact.  It is very common for international operations to have separate legal identities created and become subsidiaries rather than branches, particularly when they are profit making, in order to minimise any tax liability.  Mr Monbiot obviously thinks this is wrong, however as far as I am concerned on the surface at least it just allows profits to be taxed in the country in which they were earned.  Obviously there is an issue with transferring profits however it has always been my understanding that the revenue take a closer look at these transactions to ensure any transfer pricing arrangement is done at an arms length basis, this should be checked when the accounts are audited.  By bringing branches into line with subsidiaries this stops companies doing as Max suggests claiming relief for their expenses in the early years as they establish and make losses before becoming a separate entity at a later stage.  So without seeing the figures I don't think this will be a large change plus brings us into line with a large number of other countries.  The argument therefore comes down to whether you think tax should only be paid in the country where the income is generate, which is my opinion.  This also may stop some of our bigger business moving their head office to places where this can be done and have lower tax rates, but by reducing our tax rate to 24% we could encourage the head office to move to somewhere with higher tax rates (as the head office is a cost centre not a profit generating unit) but I feel this is unlikely.

What intrigued me the most about this however, was not the different positions taken by the two authors, one is a journalist who obviously wants to find a story, is likely to not be an expert on the matter and it is quite easy to see how this could lose the exchequer money, the other is a qualified accountant and has good experience in the matter (and has interpreted it the same way as me - though he has much more relevant experience than me and without seeing the numbers we may both be wrong).  No what was most interesting was the comments on the Lib Dem Voice article that were judging the merits of the argument based solely on the characters writing the pieces as if they were either to be totally mistrusted because they are:

a) a journalist with an axe to grind (I am not familiar with Monbiot as I don't read the Guardian unless pointed that way, but Max also seems to think this is motivated rather than just how he generally has deciphered the information).
b) an accountant with experience in the industry and therefore with a bias, personal interest working for 'the man'.

As an accountant myself I find it disturbing that people have an assumption about the profession and it would appear that certain people assume we are all crooked.  I can assure anyone reading this that you have to work very hard to get to where Max is and you have to uphold the strictest moral behaviour and practices to stay there.  As a tax professional his job is to minimise tax liabilities legally, not to defraud the government.  He doesn't have a vested interest in the legislation reducing the burden of tax for companies, in fact you could argue reducing liabilities and making the legislation makes his skills less valuable and therefore the legislation might not be in his interests yet he is using his expertise to advise that it is not as much of a theft from the taxpayer by the big corporations as Monbiot thinks.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

"Ecstasy does not impare cause cognitive impairment..."

There was an interesting small piece in the metro today:

"Ecstasy does not impair the mental abilities of those who take it, a new study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the US claims.  In contrast to previous studies, it used volunteers who weren't substance users or ravers.  It said Ecstasy does not cause cognitive impairment - provided it is uncontaminated."

There wasn't even a headline to it, just in a small box sandwiched between a story on being able to tell an unhealthy lifestyle from your skin in just two minutes and a picture of a model.  No maybe this is my natural cynicism towards the press but I can't help thinking that if this study had come to the opposite conclusions then there would have been a sensationalist headline about how the drug warps the mind of the users.

I'm not saying that this is conclusive evidence that the drug is safe and I note that they authors emphasis that their findings are not the same as concluding the drug is risk free.  However it helps to fortify my own position in my mind which is that people should be allowed to make their own decisions on the substances they take with the supply regulated, the study highlights that illegally made pills can contain harmful contaminants and this is where most of the danger lies.  Personally, my opinions are always based on freedom of choice grounds but I think this is one drug that would lead also lead to direct health improvements if it was supplied through similar channels to alcohol/cigarettes.

A bit more on the study can be read here where there is also a link to the actual study.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Climate change - where's the incentive?

I regularly read the articles posted on the Lib Dem voice, normally a day behind (thanks to the useful email function).  I agree with the vast majority of articles (at least the thrust of their sentiment) but even those I don't I find myself empathising with, however one posted yesterday I found totally ludicrous.  This was a post on climate change (can be found here).  The author's main points to combat climate change are:
  • Everyone should become a vegetarian
  • Give up air travel
  • Stop overseas tourism and trade.
Now I am not worried about global warming/climate change, I for one have great faith in mankind's ability to innovate.  Case in point at the start of the 20th century major towns in the developed world were struggling to cope with the pollution from their transport, although manure was useful it was being created in such abundance that it was causing real problems. The environmentally friendly solution was of course the motor vehicle.  

At the same time I am not saying that pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from whatever method is good for the atmosphere, far from it but at the same time the suggestions made by the author are just not feasible.  People react to incentives, there is no personal incentive for them to make these changes.  At the same time with the developing world currently consuming massive amounts of fossil fuels any change in consumption in the West is likely to have minimal effect in the grand scheme of things.  We definitely can't preach to them to cut their emissions when we've had years of prosperity as they've suffered.

The only way I can see for improvement is to incentivise firms to produce more environmentally friendly vehicles and other technology.  There is a chicken and egg problem with either electronic or hydrogen cars (people won't buy them til they are sure they can fuel them and they wont be able to fuel them until lots of people are buying them) which is why I feel that the government needs to put serious consideration into the future transport of our nation and then when the money is more available to make major investments into the required infrastructure.  I realise that hydrogen cells are impractibly expensive, so why are these not just developed for aviation?  These are not measures that the public can take but they will need the Government to take the lead. 

My overall feeling is that we should be looking at better technology, because we should always be looking to innovate, it's what makes the human race different.  But at the same time if we don't come up with alternatives I still fancy that we will be able to perform some kind of geoengineering that will cool the planet, possibly as described in Superfreakonomics regarding .  I don't think it is feasible to try and convince the entire population of the world to change their behaviours, or even that this is cost effective as we may have already missed the boat.  At the same time many changes can be made by individuals that help cut their emmissions ("carbon footprint") and also work out cheaper - these can be implemented, but for the changes to have wide scale effects it needs emphasising how the individual benefits.  I know that I sound selfish but for every Ned Flanders there are plenty of Homer Simpsons, one who cares about others plenty who don't.

One more claim by the author is that we wont be able to feed the possible massive increase in people during the next century.  This has been a common cry throughout the centurys, whilst I again admit that it may get harder I still think productivity, technology and science will improve and as we always do the human race will develop to meet our needs.  

Call me nieve, call me stupid, but the human race is one thing that I have faith in.

Monday, 14 February 2011

No longer a protest vote

There was a really good piece by Jeremy Browne on the Guardian's website last Thursday which I have only just read.  In it I think he perfectly highlights the dilemma that faces the party.  Mainly a large section of the votes for the Lib Dems were simply a vote against the main two parties.  They were never expecting us to get into government so they were using their vote to increase the opposition to the status quo.  I always felt that the Lib Dems came across as the moral conscious of parliament attempting to hold the government to account over their actions.  It is logical therefore that a large number of these voters are disallusioned with the party given that they are now actually part of the decision making and it is apparent that everyone can't be a winner - particularly in this current economic climate.  These votes were always going to be easy to lose just by becoming part of a coalition and I feel we would have lost about as many had the mathematical arithmatic been good enough for us to side with Labour. 

At the same time there were also those people who wanted to vote for the party but were told it was a wasted vote.  These are the people that the party must try to attract and convince that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is not a wasted vote as they can be an influence on British politics.  This is much harder to do, and is why the party need to hold their nerve, not worry about political point scoring and continue to ensure that they make the sort of acheivements that we will be proud of from our time in Government, allowing us to campaign positively for the next election.  There has always been a lot of negative voting, in my own constituancy the leaflets come round saying that 'only Lib Dem can keep the Tories out', with a lot of tactical votes, hopefully the AV referendum will be successful and this will change.

I could only read the first page of comments on Jeremy's post.  They just show the anger that is out there towards the party, however I take comfort in the odd sensible post along side these, in particular:

"For what it's worth I voted Labour from 1979 until March 2003, so yes, I became a LibDem as a protest voter against illegal wars. And I still am: I can understand that my party is a junior party in a coalition, outnumbered by about 5:1 by the Tories.
I can also see that despite that the LibDems have played a good game in getting a pretty sizeable chunk of their wish list into the coalition agreement - and I can understand that the Tories have to give their followers some "wins" as well. Most usefully, the LibDems give Cameron the authority to tell his loony right members where to shove it (the ones who ought to be in UKIP but are too cowardly to face an election under that banner).
For all its faults, the coalition seems to be working together with if anything, less animosity than any Labour cabinet ever achieved, and is getting on with the job. OK, it's not popular - but if Labour had won, they'd be making savage cuts too. It needs to be done.
And I don't have a problem with being in some future coalition with Labour if that's where the cards fall. Depending on the AV vote, we may only have coalitions in future. Lots of other countries seem to survive that way... and benefit from an ensuing enforced inability to pursue an extremist agenda." 

It is always those who feel betrayed who will shout loudest, there are probably more members of the public (I know plenty) who wont be interested again until 2015 when they are asked to vote.  It is up to Nick, Vince, Danny, Chris, Michael and co to ensure that come 2015 when we are asking people to again put their trust in us we can turn around and point to the reasons why Britain in 2015 is better than in 2010 because of the Liberal Democrats. 

Friday, 11 February 2011

Twitter is not the best place for economics debates

One of my good friends (former Lib Dem voter now supporting Labour) and I have been trying to have a debate on Twitter regarding the government's spending review/prospects for growth in particular he didn't agree with my blog Debt vs Deficit. I don't think Twitter is the best way to articulate arguments - I was finding myself frustrated when one sentence was taking up the allotted 140 characters so I shall summarise here.  The gist of his points are (feel free to correct me):
  • Cutting now reduces jobs which reduces tax income and increases the benefit bill.
  • He would rather give companies tax breaks to increase jobs before reducing government spending as this will increase tax revenues.
  • The Coalition are destroying the welfare state "and leading us to a country where their will be a vast gap between rich and poor"
  • Jobs are part of the way out, Gotta include regulation on banks and closing tax loopholes to stop it happening again.  (I don't think anyone could argue against this!)
  • I sound like a Tory when I say the welfare state provides incentives not to work.
Now I consider him to be a socialist (he says "Social Democrat") and full of good intentions.  There is a lot of what he says in general and in the discussions we have had recently that I agree with.   I am going to use the below to spell out my argument for continuing on the current course of action however I must emphasise that I don't agree with every adjustment that has been made in the spending review I just believe that the reduction needs to happen (and should happen quicker than the current government is doing).

Firstly, let me say the easiest thing to defend for me is my statement that the welfare state provides incentives not to work.  I think it's clear by providing unemployment benefit and other support (housing allowances, free school meals etc) there is an incentive for certain people not to work as their marginal cost of working is higher than the wage that they will bring in.  That does not mean that I think the welfare state shouldn't exist, mealy that the incentive exists.

I don't think there is an argument about weather the deficit needs to be reduced, and hopefully there isn't an argument that we need to start running surplus's.  Back in 2007 we were paying around £28bn a year in interest, this year we will be paying over £40bn and by the end of the parliament, despite the harsh measures that will be put in place we will be paying an estimated £63bn.  This is money that we are not getting back, money we have to spend in before we can run a surplus to bring down the debt level and reduce future payments, hence money we are not able spending in future on education, health care - unless we keep borrowing more and getting ourselves further into the shit.

Our disagreement obviously boils down to how this reduction comes about, although I think I place a much greater importance on the reducing the debt as I see this as something potentially catastrophic.  He is quite right in suggesting increasing government spending (G) as in normal situations an increase in G would normally result in a larger increase in GDP due to the multiplier effect that this spending has (directly increasing GDP and then filtering through the economy).  However I don't see this as a normal situation.  The mountain of debt is so large leading to consumer confidence and investment confidence being so low that I don't think increasing spending will have a positive effect.  Consumers don't have the same propensity to consume (they also have less access to credit) and Investors will get nervous and demand higher interest rates or withdraw from the economy.  

I also feel that there has been so much waste in spending by Labour, spending for spendings sake that there is plenty of functions that aren't fit for purpose and as such should be scaled back.  I also don't think that governments can create wealth, they should be there merely to redistribute and ensure the vital services are provided for everyone.  Government run institutions aren't efficient, my thoughts are the cuts will help to readdress this and bring their spending to more realistic levels.  The private sector made massive cuts in the wake of the crash yet there wasn't a huge effect on jobs. 

Like I've said, I don't agree with everything in the spending plan, but do subscribe to it's overall goals.  I would do things differently of course, but who wouldn't given a chance to implement their own ideas.  The thing is, although I am supporting it, I do think we need to be flexible.  I think it will be the right way to go for the whole parliament but if it is having terrible effects on the people on the street then we should look again.  I for one don't give a shit about the growth figures (the final quarter's figures were nothing to do with government cuts, just things out of their control) what really matter is the ramifications for the ordinary person.  People will be squeezed yes, but can they cope?  I think the 2012 budget will probably need more to ease the burden on those less well off whilst more policies are still needed to help improve social mobility.
Oh and one final point, inequality grew over the 13 years Labour were in power, I think the vast gap already exists!

Let's just defy the ECHR...

I can't say I'm surprised that the vote yesterday was in favour of not following the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights of allowing prisoners the right to vote.  Obviously I'm disappointed by this vote but what disappointed me more was that only 24 people voted against this proposal and the turnout was only 40%.  There was a free vote on this matter so it's not as if MPs had to abstain because of party policy and they had been whipped.  As far as I can tell 43 of the 57 Lib Dems didn't vote and FOUR even voted for this illiberal bill.  

I don't know the reason for this low turnout but surely this could be improved.  We elect our MPs to represent us in the House of Commons I don't feel satisfied with such a low turn out.  I know MPs are busy but surely their primary function should be to be present at votes in the House of Commons and ensure that each constituency has it's vote counted.  I know it's not that much of a big deal but this is a vote that interested me and I was really annoyed when I read the figures.

I would really like to know the rationalle of the 233 MPs who voted to ignore the ECHR and how they think this will play out in the long run.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Banking problem...

David Boyle over on The Real Blog has just written a very good piece in relation to the Lord Oakeshott resignation and 'Project Merlin'.  In this piece I think he has hit the nail on the head with his assessment of what is wrong with our banking system:

The real problem is this. It isn’t that banks are somehow unwilling to lend money to small businesses; it is that they are no longer set up to do so. They have no local managers empowered to take decisions. They have risk software that rules out most deals. They have such onerous conditions and charges that many SMEs shun them altogether.

I couldn't agree more.  I see this first had with the company I currently work for.  I don't really wish to go into details on our business but we've been in discussions with a major bank for nearly a year.  At local level they are very enthusiastic (as the fees that they would charge us for the service are quite significant) however we are yet to hear anything back from national level.  They are currently now waiting on our year end results and although I can understand the caution it is really frustrating as it limits our ability to grow.  We are not a company in trouble, just one that in order to finance the big contracts at the start we need to be able to receive the advances that come with them and for that we need bank guarantees.  We also pay a fortune for this privalage as well as them holding on to 20% of the advance as security.

I also see the very large charges that get placed on us by our existing banks, mainly due to the large number of accounts that we need.  In addition as a Euro trading company lots of our facilities are in Euros however they insist on charging us in sterling so they convert the amounts at a rate that is often worse than we would get in the open market. 

Most banks we have spoken to assume we are too risky without understanding how we work and those that do understand it at local level and realise why there is little risk and potentially large reward aren't able to feed this through the chain as it's simply not needed.  The banks that we currently use know it's difficult for us to go elsewhere and as such can impose obscene charges.  In the end it boils down to the fact the banks don't need our business yet we need them.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Opinion: Nobody should remove your right to vote, ever...

There was a good piece in the Lib Dem Voice yesterday regarding the forthcoming debate/future legislation of allowing prisoners the right to vote.

I was surprised at the headline to begin with "Opinion: In favour of allowing prisoners the vote".  This surprised me because I thought that the position would be obvious and a blog on the subject wouldn't really be necessary.  It wasn't until I read the comments and other relevant articles that I realised just how much opposition there is to this.

Part of the opposition seems to be of the childish kind, opposing just because the change appears to be forced on us by the European Court of Human Rights.  Whilst I can understand the frustration at laws being dictated by people other than those we democratically elect opposing for just this reason is ridiculous.

Regarding the actual matter it is my opinion that nobody should remove your right to vote, ever.  It is my belief that every adult should have a say in the laws that they are governed by and this is the basis of a free and fair democracy.  In 2005 Labour were elected with a majority having received just 35% of the vote (22% of the total eligible to vote).  This left them free to create any laws that they collectively wished, which could be used to silence opposition or to punish something that the majority of people deemed acceptable.  By allowing prisoners the vote this still allows them their say in the laws that they are being punished by rather than just being silenced.  Take the US's anti drugs legislation as an example, this has probably helped the Republican party for years as many of whom are punished under the legislation would lean to the Democrat side.

There is also a the following potential scenario (detailed in the comments):
"Consider three prisoners: Alan, Bernadette and Chris. All three were found guilty of identical crimes, let’s say petty theft / shoplifting, and sentenced to three months in jail. Alan served his sentence starting on 1/1/2010, Bernadette served hers starting on 1/6/2010 and Chris served his starting on 1/3/2010. Three identical prisoners, three identical crimes, three identical sentences: yet Chris lost his general election vote and the other two didn’t. Meanwhile Derek, who went to prison for three years starting 1/1/2007 for an unprovoked knife assault, kept his vote."

This shows how arbitrary a situation can be.  I think this scenario is generally why people are finding giving the vote to short term prisoners more palatable and would be a compromise.  I obviously don't believe there should be a compromise, every person should have this right (Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandella were both once prisoners) and be able to have there say.  I believe this was on the Liberal Democrat manifesto for 2005 and still remains party policy, which I hope, being in Government we are able to enact or at least put pressure on David Cameron, who has been a bit queasy with the suggestion.

The Economist also puts forward a strong case, I think the final sentence is particularly pertinent:

"Even those who don’t care much about prisoners’ rights should be wary of elected officials exercising too much say over who makes up the electorate."

Monday, 7 February 2011

Politicking of the worst kind.

A good friend of mine responded to David Cameron's speech by saying:

"Yeah, for a start multiculturalism doesn't just mean Muslims And he is hoping to play on peoples fears in run up to local elections"

These sentiments are pretty much echoed by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on the Independent's website today.

I can say that I hadn't thought of it from this angle previously but I totally agree with Yasmin that stirring xenophobic tensions because this appeals with your core vote/you want to deflect the attention away from yourself is politicking of the worst kind.  

Now David Cameron making the rhetoric in the run up to local elections about these tensions is understandable as his party are probably seen as tough on these issues, just like the Republicans in America.  Being tough however is not the same as being right.  What needs to be encouraged is a greater understanding of each others cultures rather than forcing what he/others believe it means to be British on everyone.  Speaking like that will only appeal to the EDL and other vile organisations.

The most glaring bit of the speech I didn't even realise until I read Caron's Musings excellent blog where she highlighted the section:

"Someone can be a devout Muslim but not be an extremist". 

I would say that was true of 100% of the Muslims I have encountered.  Granted I have not lived in the most diverse areas however the vast majority of would be described as devout, the extremists would be in the vast minority. 

Overall this is why I am proud to be a Liberal Democrat, at the same time Cameron is talking about something so negative Nick Clegg is putting forward policies he passionately believes in.  Nick is getting a hard time for supposedly losing sight of his priorities but this is one thing he has been big on for a long time, you could see how important it is to him by the fact he was there with Burstow.  The only criticisms I have of Nick is that he has seemed too matey with the leading Tories and the spin hasn't been in place as the media is keen to push a negative angle on even the most positive story, but I think this shows we are punching above our weight.  Unfortunately we can't tame the Tories prejudice's.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

David Cameron misses the mark

I have just read David Cameron's speech at the Munich Security Conference.  He does begin by rightly define Islam Extremism and emphasising that this is not the same as being a devout Muslim, it is not linked to their strength of faith merely political ideology.  He also rightly states:

"The point is this: the ideology of extremism is the problem.  Islam, emphatically, is not.
Picking a fight with the latter will do nothing to confront the former."

However, he then goes on to say that the problem is one of identity and segregation, the suggestion is that multiculturalism has failed and this is the reason for Muslim terrorists.  

Now I'm not going to say that segregation isn't a problem, however multiculturalism isn't.  Multiculturalism is living side by side and having your culture influenced by others and vice versa, it has been a great thing for the UK over the past 60 years and should be celebrated.  I admit that there are certain places in the UK where it feels like an exclusively immigrant zone, more should be done to integrate so that they feel they are a UK citizen.  However this is not the reason for extremism.  

It appears to have passed DC by that the problem of Muslim extremism has only happened in this country after 2001 when we invaded Afghanistan and subsequently (the illegal war in) Iraq.  He states that this is not the reason for extremism, but my argument is that these Muslims would have felt less disenfranchised with the UK if it didn't see our foreign policy as incompatible with their own beliefs.  It's not so much Muslims vs the world but it appearing as if Muslims as a whole have been targeted, blamed for the dreadful events of September 11th.  Our foreign policy is the single most important factor in disenfranchising these people (a very small minority) and it seems to me like DC wants to deflect attention away from our actions (which he supported).  The worry is that he is going to use this rhetoric to pass illiberal laws that target Muslim communities, which coupled with his illiberal immigration policy is really starting to worry me.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Silly Season

In the world of English football Monday was a bit crazy.  Chelsea spending £50million on a player who has only scored 9 goals in 26 games this season and seems riddled with injuries.  If you look at Fernando Torres's overall record he doesn't strike me as someone who is worth (even in the relative world of football) that amount of money.  In 249 games at Athletico Madrid he only scored 91 goals.  His record at Liverpool was much better, helped by his excellent first season of 33 goals in 46 appearances, but this is the only time he's scored more than 22 goals in a season.  For his country he has only scored 26 goals from 81 games, that is the same number of goals as Wayne Rooney has for England from just 67 caps.  When you throw in his potentially weak hamstrings this represents a massive risk on Chelsea's part but at the same time a massive statement of intent.

I can understand that purchase, but the subsequent purchase of Andy Carroll by Liverpool strikes me as massive panic buying.  It's the equivalent of having not much time left on your lunch break so haggling with a Camden noodle stall and ending up paying £100 for sweet and sour noodles.  Don't get me wrong, I'm a massive fan of the lad, he has huge potential and I hope he will be a massive player for England for years to come, but he is so unproven.  The sensible thing from Liverpools point of view was to accept that they had just lost their lead striker but had Suarez coming in (who I think is an excellent player and priced about right) so they wouldn't be much shorter up front, hold the money back and consider all of the available options in the summer.  That said, Liverpool have pretty much just swapped Torres and Babbel for Suarez and Carroll, I'm sure most of their fans would have settled for that at the start of January.

The transfer activity on the final day of the window overshadows the earlier bit money moves, I had almost forgotten about Man City signing Dzeko.  This is another interesting signing because I'm not sure he's the best fit for their team.  As a whole I think their style is too negative, personally I would have been looking to sign an attacking central midfielder as I think the forward line of Silva, Tevez and Johnson is as good as any in the league, they just lack other flair players.  He will probably score a lot of goals for them, but I wonder if this was the best use of their money - they do have a lot of it to waste though.

As interesting as these transfers are, I think the best move was Darren Bent's move to Villa.  When it first happened I was surprised by the size of the fee, mainly because I didn't think Villa had that sort of money to throw around, rather than because I didn't think that he was (relatively) worth it.  I think he is what Aston Villa have been lacking and that one purchase can push them back towards the top of the league.  If you look at their team I've always felt they were strong, excellent goalkeeper; strong, reliable defence; creative midfield; but the question has been where are the goals going to come from?  They have now answered that question.  It's a shame for Sunderland though, I hope they can replace him and continue their excellent progress.
Football has gone very crazy with money however.  Chelsea have just announced £70million loss for the previous year, before going out and splashing out another £70mil on players.  Though you give a club money to spend and they will spend it, be it £5 or £5million.  This spending by Chelsea is surprising as UEFA's financial fair play regulations are supposed to come into play soon.  The spending wont go into just this year's books, it will be written down over the life of the player's contract, so Torres will be a £10mil expense a year (assuming a 5 year contract), with his high wages on top.  I really hope that when the rules are in force it will make clubs assess the way they do business and hopefully we will see no more cases of Portsmouth and Leeds.  Perhaps even it will make clubs look closely at the people who take money out of the game without really adding anything - agents.

One final mention in this blog is for Gary Neville.  He may not be everyone's cup of tea but he is quite clearly the best English right back for a generation.  You know a full back is doing their job defensively when you don't notice them.  Now he is no longer England's number 2 we are starting to notice a weakness in that area!  I am sure United will miss him, but he should have retired at the end of last season.  It has almost been painful to watch him at times.  I hope his future career goes well, though I'm not sure I want him on Sky Sports, we'll have to wait and see what he'll be like I guess!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Debt vs Deficit

George Osborne 'might fail to pay off deficit by election' is a headline on the Independent's website today.  It is headlines like this that help fuel the misunderstanding/confusion around the nations finances.

The deficit is not something we can "pay off", it is the difference between the Government's Spending and it's Income.  At the start of each fiscal year the deficit is £0, this then grows as the year unfolds and the Government spends more than the receipts they collect.  This is what George wants to eliminate before the next election - i.e. to stop spending more than they earn.   Conventional economic theory suggests that it is

The National Debt however is the amount of money the UK actually owes.  This amount is increasing ever year due to the fact that the Government is running a budget deficit.  At time of writing the national debt currently stands at over £900,000,000,000 - not including the recent (necessary) bailout of the banks.  This towers over the 2009/10 budget deficit of £170.8bn and shows why urgent action is needed.  The interest on this debt is over £40 billion a year, which apparently works out to £1,882 per household.

It is for this reason why the media and people like Ed Balls are completely wrong when they suggest we should be delaying reducing the deficit.  Every £1 we spend on interest is not money being spent on schools, hospitals and other services we rely on.  Every £1 we borrow is effectively £1 we have borrowed from future generations that they will have to pay back with interest.  Yes the next few years will be tough, but unless we can at least start to bring down this figure by running a budget surplus we are just putting off the pain until further down the line when it will be a lot lot worse.

George Osbourne will not "pay off" the DEFICIT, as that is not something to pay off, the plan should be that come 2015 we are in a position where we are starting to pay off our DEBT.