Friday, 26 August 2011

"With every passing day the Liberal Democrats are dragging the Coalition further away from the Conservative manifesto"...

That is the title of this piece by Tim Montgomerie over at the Conservatives home. 

I rarely read any blogs or items by other parties (I know I should, but I don't get much time as it is so prefer to read the opinions of people who's opinions I value), however it is always good to read a piece like this.  Even reading the title just shows why we were right to go into coalition with the Tories.  It may be damaging to our reputation to be seen along side all of the Tory policies that we have compromised on, however the hand brake that we have put on others (plus pressing forward our own priorities) means it was the right thing to do.  

Lets have a look at each accusation in turn:

  1. Human Rights Laws:  The Lib Dems in government are stopping the Conservative party renegotiate the workings of the European Courts and defending human rights.  As I have said previously, I for one am glad that there is a court in Europe that looks at what is right and doesn't just pander to media/social pressure from those who shout loud enough.
  2. £1.8bn of New Regulations: This is the supposed cost to businesses for treating all of the people they engage on contracts like employees.  Now I am not keen on agency workers having all of the same rights as employees - they usually get paid a large premium due to their reduced status and increased risk, but it is good that the Liberal Democrats are looking to do some things to protect these workers, not all of whom are on large salaries - many of which are engaged on long term roles which they themselves class as employment.
  3. Control of Immigration:  Anyone who knows me knows that I have quite strong opinions on the the freedom of movement of people and that immigration gets an undeserved bad press (I have blogged a few times on this subject - one here).  Apparently the Liberal Democrats are stopping the Tories reduce net migration figures.  Now I understand that overcrowding in areas can be a problem, however I don't believe you should restrict anyone who wants to come to our society and contribute.  I would hate to be told I couldn't move somewhere just because I wasn't born there.  This is probably my most passionate topic and one I wasn't exactly happy with the Liberal position on, however it was miles better than the Tories arbitrary cap which is infeasible, ineffective and actually hurts the businesses they say they champion.
  4. Green Policies: Apparently Tim doesn't see reducing our carbon footprint as a priority.  Now I may have stated in the past that I am not worried about global warming, but that doesn't mean that I don't think the Government shouldn't be looking to reduce the amount of carbon into the atmosphere - far from it.  I may not agree with all of the policies in place, but they are better than doing nothing to save money!
  5. "Opposition to Growth Measures":  Trying to spread the burden more evenly over society by increasing capital gains tax is apparently being opposed to growth.  As Warren R Buffett said "I have yet to see anyone ... shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off."  No offence to Tim intended but when it comes to investors motivations there are not many people I'd even think about believing over Mr Buffett!  Increasing capital gains tax in reality just lessens the incentive to avoid paying as much tax as you should on your income.
  6. Even Loading of the Cuts: So basically when Labour are screaming their "Too Far Too Fast" mantra they should be thanking the Lib Dems for ensuring it wasn't even quicker - not that I don't think that would have been a good thing.  The recession did highlight the need for a drastic rebalancing that would always have short term pain, it's just how long you want to draw that pain on for (or if you want to ignore it all together to make things worse in a future period - which will happen).  The slowing that I feel the Lib Dems have done is to attempt to make sure things weren't just cut rashly.
  7. Opposition to Renegotiation with Europe: I covered this in #1.
  8. Thwarting of NHS Reform: Huzzah!  Thwarting something that nobody apart from Andrew Landlsey appeared to actually like.
  9. Nothing Serious is Happening on Family Policy:  Excellent.  So it shouldn't.  Yes stable families are probably the ideal way to bring up children, however people shouldn't be discriminated against just because their situation hasn't allowed that - often through no fault of their own.  Normally it's those who aren't in stable families that need the most help from the Government.  This also leads to a disincentive for people in abusive relationships to leave their partner.  In addition I have to feel that sexual orientation will end up being a discriminating factor - especially if full gay marriages aren't introduced.
  10. Tuition fees: He's right here - no-one's happy.  
So, as Richard Morris says:  

The Coalition may not been good for us politically but reading pieces like that just remind me how important our part has been.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Tuition fees again - An actual comparison.

Mark Thompson wrote a very good and accurate piece today regarding the need for the myths on tuition fees to be challenged, this comes just days after I read another excellent piece by Richard Morris regarding the need for perceptions to be changed.   I thought I'd get in with the act and talk about tuition fees - again.  In particular I am comparing my own situation, with those in the current system.  For the record I was at University between October 2004 and June 2007 so I know this isn't comparing the 2011 entrants with the 2012 but I think it is a valid comparison, especially as I don't remember such outrage when my system was created.

I wasn't sure about the policy when it was first introduced (as you can tell by my numerous blogs around that time) and it is not a policy I would have adopted or even voted for.  Yet at the same time, I am happy to defend it when it comes up in conversation.  I have had many conversations in the last few months with people whom I consider to be rather intelligent and up to speed with the news, yet they are amazed to hear that I feel that £6 - £9k tuition fees are fairer than when I went to University paying just over £1k.

The major reason for this is that my fees had to be paid UP FRONT.  They were means tested, however my father had just seen a rather significant increase in income a couple of months before the means testing which pushed my parents just over the threshold of having to pay the full whack (over £1k a year up front).  Since I was born we have never been poor, but we were never rich either, they got by well mainly because the area itself was fairly poor.  Fortunately for me they had been saving since the day I was born to give me all I would need should I wish to attend university.  If it hadn't been for them saving money for me I would have not been able to go.  I tried getting jobs during the summer etc, once I turned 16 however my area had large unemployment and I was never successful.  I am sure without them I wouldn't have been able to get myself into the position I am today.

Many conversations I've had have implied that the same situation would be the case under the new system, only 9x worse - parents having to fork out £9k a year just for their children to study.  The key is here though that the student will be the one to pay it (not their parents in advance) and only IF they earn enough over their life.  It is effectively an additional tax (which the NUS has been calling for - but better than this as it is time limited at 30 years).  

Then on top of this you have the preferential repayment terms.  Yes, they get charged interest, but this only becomes an issue once they would have otherwise paid off the principle.  No matter what the student's background, they don't have to pay any money back until they are earning £21,000.  If their income ever falls below this then they stop paying this back.  I know people are worried about being saddled with debt, but this isn't debt in the conventional sense, it's effectively something that stops your disposable income rising by as much as it could when you get a pay rise.  

Many people I have spoken to brought up the difficulty of trying to save for a mortgage.  I can vouch that this is difficult, but the changing repayment plans makes this EASIER.  I am now going to do two scenarios, one with my situation, the other if I had been under the new system.  I have kept the living allowance constant for illustrative purposes (and because I don't know the exact amounts - but it will be much higher when this system is in place than the amount I received).  I have also assumed that there is no time value of money.

My Current Situation

Fees Paid (in advance):                                        (£3,255)
Student Loan received:                                         £9,275
Student Loan Repayments made to date:            (£1,449)
Balance:                                                                £4,571

In other words, under my system I have effectively net received £4,571 to date from the government.  I still owe to them £7,826 + whatever interest I have accumulated.  Now if I had been under the newly introduced system:

New System

Fees Paid (in advance):                                      
Student Loan received:                                         £9,275
Student Loan Repayments made to date:            (£0,240)
Balance:                                                                £9,035

I know this is rather crude, but the net effect under this new system would be that I currently would have effectively received £9,035 net from the government to date.  This means at this point in time (had I been good with my money) between my parents and myself we would be £4,464 BETTER OFF.  

Notice also the difference on the student loan repayment.  This repayment difference is increasing every month, anyone on the new repayment plan will be £45 per month BETTER OFF than I am.  This will continue until I reach a balance of £0 on my student loan account in many years time.    It is only then that my method is better per month.  It will still be worse overall until the new students have paid back enough to cover both their student loan and the amount of my fees.

If you think about it this way, I graduated four years ago.  In the same circumstances that I found myself in they would have paid back £240 having been given over £9,275 as a loan in cash (I think it is now closer to £12k).  They may owe a lot more but wont start paying any of their actual fees off until they pay back the cash that they actually received.  To manage this before they reach their 40s they would have to be earning a rather large wage - and aren't these the sort of students that everyone has been saying should contribute more - those who benefited most from their university education?   

I really wish the Government could actually show people that the ones who will be worse off are those that do well for themselves - the people the tabloids are quick to criticise and say should be contributing more!

So those who say they can't afford to go to Uni, trust me you can, it cost me more to begin with, I'm paying back more than you will be and I'm doing all right for myself! Although my advise would be, make sure you are going because you want to go and are interested in your subject.  As a (basically) qualified accountant (I passed my final exam, result came through on Monday) I can say I could be in the same sort of job without a University degree as there are other training options out there.  Choosing not to go to University doesn't mean you can't be successful, I've come across plenty of people in my professional studies who skipped the Uni stage and are now working in very good roles at very big companies. 

(*Note, the bold capitals are there for emphasis purposes, not due to any jealousy or anger) 

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Seriously, (I'm not the only one) - is it illiberal to think community service may be a good thing?

Commenting on Richard Morris's excellent blog yesterday has really got me thinking about my position in relation to national service.  It feels weird that I am not straight away against it.  I think back 9 or 10 years ago to when I was studying for my GCSEs and the period after.  In that period you do a couple of weeks work experience which I think is good to help you adapt to the working world and I wonder would some community service be that much different?  

Looking back I think I would have benefited from a couple of weeks helping out my community straight after my GCSEs.  That period between school and sixth form was a long summer, I tried to get a job but unemployment in my region was high.  A new Tesco opened up offering 300 jobs, however over 2,000 people applied - as a kid straight from school (with excellent grades and therefore unlikely to hang around for a long time) I didn't feel that I stood much chance - and didn't even get an interview.  (I'd like to highlight here that it has always been hard for young people to get onto the employment ladder so to speak - not a recent phenomenon post coalition).  I think if I had spent 2 - 4 weeks of that summer helping my community then it would have benefited me as a person as well as my community.  That said, the only work I did whilst at University (and at home during the breaks) was charity work - I couldn't find paying jobs easily so wanted to help people while I had the free time.  I know not everyone would like that.

So, I think it would have been good for me, but compulsory?  Well, I think that if it were optional the first to opt out would be those the Government had aimed it at in the first place as such I feel it should be all or nothing.  This then feels very illiberal - but surely teenagers have been forced to stay in school for this period - many against their will, so why should this be different?  I get that the obvious personal benefit is less apparent then learning but still.  So what would it take for me to potentially support it fully?  
  • Firstly, I could never support any forced military service.
  • There would need to be choice.  Rather than forcing a particular activity on a person they should have a range to chose from that they would prefer.
  • The time period to be fairly short - two weeks would be fine I think.
  • The activities shouldn't be perceived as punishments - not just tasks that people don't want to do and as such the council want cheep labour, but tasks that can genuinely benefit the community.  
  • If you paid them (even a token amount) it would probably boost their self esteem and rather than just doing it for the fuzzy warm feeling they would have another reason to think it may be worth it.
However, there would be numerous problems.  Firstly, I could see it being hellishly difficult to administer.  One would expect (for a programme as per my suggestions above) that schools would be the best place for it.  However that would be costly still.  Also my school was terrible at assisting with finding us work experience, so much so that I spent my second week in school.  Fortunately as a good pupil I was allowed to spend my time in the music room (where I spent my break and lunch periods normally), working on my coursework, helping the teacher's by marking younger student's work and since it was the week before Christmas watching Shrek and also rehearsing for the school performance (which took up the whole Monday).  The others who had to return to school didn't have such an enjoyable week by all accounts.  

I also feel it would be impossible to enforce.  Kids play truant from school, this would be easier if they didn't want to do it.  Keeping track of who has completed it would be a bureaucratic nightmare.  

Would it be worth the hassle?  Possibly.  Would it be cost effective and therefore could we afford it (given the current climate)? Probably not.  Do I support it?  In principle maybe, in reality, I probably wouldn't.  If it is introduced and then ends up being like national service I know I wouldn't.  I have the image of it being introduced and treated almost as a punishment for the child reaching a particular age rather than as a chance for them to develop in a mutually beneficial way.  If it does come in, I'll have a look at what they propose and make my mind up then - which maybe I should have just stuck to all along!

Monday, 15 August 2011

The Tax System

I've seen a fair few posts around over the past few days regarding the 50p top up rate of tax some arguing that it needs to be maintained and others arguing for it to be scrapped.  

One common argument for removing the upper band of income tax is that it will encourage investment in the economy and end up creating more wealth overall.  Effectively this is supply side economics as it is a policy to try and boost supply.  If rich people have more money then they will invest more.  If the gains are there to be made then they will invest.

I would like to highlight one testimonial against this by someone much more experienced and far better placed than myself to talk about the thought process of a rich investor.  Warren R Buffett wrote this excellent piece for the New York Times yesterday.  For those who don't know who he is well there is too much to talk about, but basically he is one of the most successful investors of all time.  According to Forbes he was the world's wealthiest man in 2008 and in 2011 stood third behind Carlos Slim and Bill Gates.  

I think the article is a great insight into what is wrong with tax systems.  I don't know the American system at all - it is notoriously complex and state specific as far as I am aware.  When I worked in tax we contacted tax specialists in America if any client had any income from there.  

The particular section I believe key to my point is:

"Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation."

As far as I'm concerned the major reform that is necessary is to align Capital Gains Tax with Income Tax.  I would provide a separate personal allowance (as is currently in place) so as to not penalise small investors but I would add any gains above that straight onto the income tax. 

I think the best reform I've read suggested however has been to do with inheritance tax.  Currently it is effectively a tax on the donor.  I think a much better system would be a tax on the recipient.  Yes have a decent tax free inheritance allowance, but don't make that for a period/transaction, make that over a person's lifetime.  It is more than possible to receive multiple inheritances and receive the allowance each time.  Two people could receive the same amount, one in one lump sum the other in a number of smaller sums, yet one will pay a lot less tax on their windfall. 

I think the key thing with inheritance tax however is that is has to be deferrable - if for example someone lives in the property that they inherent, they have no other property, they can't be forced to sell it just to meet the tax on it's value.  This should be deferred until the property is sold - this isn't my area of expertise so I don't know the current situation (feel free to enlighten me).

Riots should not end civil liberties...

The political reaction to the riots of last week has not been good.  There are many things I could comment on however the one that stood out for me was the call for social networks to be blocked in an attempt to stop the flow of information in order to make the rioters less organised.

This to me is a ridiculously dangerous road to start down.  It will then be all to easy for them to justify blocking such tools just because there is the prospect of violence/criminality.  It is totally illiberal and in my view also vastly misguided.

Twitter, Facebook and people using their blackberry's may have helped spread the violence but in my mind as big a cause was the media.  Their coverage showing people getting away with basic theft gave copiers in other cities the incentive to do the same.  They were also basically advertising exactly where any trouble was if people did want to go and get involved..  At the same time social networks were being used to help keep others informed, some police authorities were using it to dispel rumours.  It allowed for communication between those adversely effected by the violence as well as those causing it.  If you start restricting people's ability to communicate then the next stage is to temporarily block mobile phone signals, which could cause real problems for people adversely caught up in it who need medical attention or nearby and suffer something completely unrelated.  Innocent people rely on these tools, to stop them would be a terrible mistake.

Surely communicating in an open and public domain makes it easier for the perpetrators to be caught.  It might be easy for them to use to stir up trouble but it's not as private as a personal message or a phone call which, lets face it, would probably have been used instead otherwise.  

People from all over the political spectrum were quick to condemn Egypt earlier this year when there were rumours about them restricting the ability of their citizens to communicate during the protests.  To only back freedom of communication when you agree with the cause is hypocritical and puts you as no better than those you were speaking out against. 

Good blogs on this subject have been one by Caron Lindsay and Julian Huppert (MP) - one of the few to make sensible points in the discussions.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The best team in the world...

It's official
I chose a good day of test cricket for my only day at a ground this year - the day England officially reached the number one spot in the ICC test rankings (the rankings will update once the series is over).  I honestly didn't think I would see the day.  Having followed cricket since the early 90's I grew up with an England team based around players such as Atherton, Stewart, Thorpe, Gough, Caddick, Hussain, as well as my personal favourites of Cork and Knight.  This team often produced good days of test cricket and in a one off test they would often compete and sometimes even win the odd test against the best teams, but you wouldn't ever put money on them winning a test series against the likes of Australia and India.  Now though, you can't bet against them.  

I am really pessimistic in general (I predicted a 3-1 Australia win in the winter and a 2-1 India win this summer), this I've always put down to following England and Hartlepool - not exactly used to success, expect the worst and then you'll only be pleasantly surprised.  This English team are something else though.  They didn't beat India yesterday, they annihilated them!  710-7 is their third highest total ever - and highest in a none timeless test!  If this was a timeless test it looked like Alastair Cook could have batted all week, it was only because he was looking to score a bit quicker that he ended up getting out.  India's batting line-up is the scariest of any opposition, a middle order of Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman is frankly frightening.  These men my be in the twilight of their careers but they are still incredible players.  That said they have now had six innings and are yet to reach a score of 300 - which England have more than managed on 3 occasions out of 5, declaring on one of their other innings.  Laxman in particular has been quite poor.  The reason this domination is so incredible is because India were ranked number 1 in the world.  Yes it is always easier to play at home but as the number 1 side in the world you should be able to compete anywhere and India haven't been at the races.

The day itself was such a good atmosphere.  The new stand looks really good, having never been to Lords it was probably my favourite ground that I've been to - at least as good as Old Trafford.  The crowd were all really optimistic, everyone fully expecting a result that day even though there was another day to go today.  This was pretty much confirmed in the fourth over when Jimmy got Dravid out.  He has been their best performer with the bat this tour so once he was gone it just felt inevitable. This wicket was actually a strange one, nobody around me started appealing/celebrating until after Prior started, it just didn't feel right.  Listening to Test Match Special they seemed to think he may not have hit it, instead it looked like he clipped the plastic part of his shoe laces.  Very surprised he didn't review it.  

Sachin Tendulkar coming to the crease
That wicket was the second to have fallen, Gambhir had already edged through to Swann at second slip in the second over of the day which brought Sachin to the crease.  He was of course greeted by a standing ovation and after a difficult opening over or two he was looking really good.  He is a legend and I bought my ticket with the sole hope of getting to watch him bat so it had worked out pretty perfectly.  His career figures are incredible, it is no wonder that many Indians treat him like a god.  He has scored 51 centuries in test matches and 48 in one day internationals, as such he needs just one more for his 100th century for India.  A lot has been made about this in the press in particular and given the state of the match everyone in the crowd seemed to want to see it happen yesterday.  It would have been something great to see and to say that you were there.

It was looking highly likely as he played some lovely cover drives and really looked like he'd found his groove.  But unfortunately it was not to be as he had the worst piece of luck.  I don't think there are many more unfortunate ways to be out in the game of cricket than his.  MS Dhoni played a nice straight drive off Graham Swann who reacted well and got a finger to it, deflecting the ball onto the stumps at the non striker's end.  Tendulkar had been doing the right thing, he was backing up and as such out of his ground.  As England appealed there was actually some booing in my stand you could really sense the disappointment - if he had to be out it would have been good to see a high quality piece of bowling rather than a moment of luck.  

It was also a bit of a shame that England are so good that they were all out before tea, meaning I didn't see as much cricket as I anticipated when booking the ticket.  Overall though it was a great day and it was a pleasure to be there when England achieved what I didn't think would be possible.  The challenge now is to dominate the game like the great sides of the past.  

Friday, 12 August 2011

A one horse race?

Title Race

There's a saying in football these days, finish above Manchester United then you win the league.  Last season I didn't particularly think that that would be the case - even though I predicted them to win it I thought it would be really tight and I wasn't that confident.  This season however I look at the respective squads and teams and I think they are just the best (at the time of writing) irrespective of whether or not they sign Sneijder - although if €ity add a few more marque signing (Nasri is likely) then they may put up a good fight.  Their problem seems to be the lack of team spirit, it takes more than just money to win the league.  Chelski could have a really bad season, Torres didn't fit last year so their new manager has a big job on his hands and some of their players are coming towards the end of their careers.  That said it'd be foolish to rule them out.

European Places

Now I expect a good title race but I think the battle for fourth place will be even tighter.  Either Arsenal or Liverpool could be expecting to finish higher than third even.  Liverpool have spent well and have built a well balanced team, good width, talent in the centre and what is likely to be the league's most potent strike partnership.  Arsenal will still play the best football in the league even if they lose (as is likely) Nasri and Fabrigas but by selling them it will still seem like they are looking five years into the future.  This as such is a big year for Arsene, his team should be coming good but it could be another season without silverware.  Spurs appear to have done good business by keeping their best players, if they keep Modric then they still have a good team - they are just sort of a really top quality striker.

Relegation Battle

I don't tend to do too well with these predictions, last year I just predicted Blackpool going down, although I did think West Ham would be fourth bottom - Birmingham I thought would sneak into the top half.  I always seem to predict Wigan going down and this year's no different.  I think at least one of the promoted clubs will go down.  Unfortunately I don't know enough about them.  Both Swansea and Norwich play good football but that is often risky for promoted clubs.  West Brom were struggling with it last year until they appointed Roy Hodgson and Blackpool played well but in the end it wasn't good.  

So here's this year:

1. Manchester United
2. Chelsea
3. Manchester City
4. Liverpool
5. Arsenal
6. Tottenham Hotspur
7. Everton
8. Aston Villa
9. Stoke City
10. Fulham
11. Bolton Wanderers
12. Sunderland
13. West Bromwich Albion
14. Newcastle
15. Wolverhampton Wanderers
16. Queens Park Rangers
17. Blackburn Rovers
18. Swansea City
19. Wigan
20. Norwich City

Last year I predicted United winning, the top 4 were all good (I thought Arsenal for second was a good call until their collapse).  Spurs handled the pressure of playing in Europe better than I thought - although the purchase of Van Der Vaat helped with that.  The real surprise for me was Brum's poor performance and the way WBA pulled away.  

Lets hope it's a good season anyway.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

I'm surprised this hasn't had any coverage:

I guess all of the news regarding the various riots in the country are rightly dominating the headlines, however I couldn't see this story anywhere in the mainstream media:  

OFT fines certain supermarkets and processors almost £50 million in dairy decision

The supermarkets involved are Asda (who received leniency), Safeway, Sainsbury's and Tesco - the big three of these receiving fines of around £10m each.  Now I know this is mainly small change to them (Tesco made £3.54bn profit last year, and Asda is owned by Walmart who are the worlds largest retailer) but it is good to see the OFT taking action.

Twitter is really good for drawing your attention to things you may have otherwise missed.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Musings on the #Londonriots

I have resisted until now but I can't not comment on the atrocious thuggish criminal behaviour that has taken place in London (and other places) over the last three nights.  

I had the opportunity to move to London a year and a half ago, away from the serene surroundings of Bath due to my office being closed down and merged with one in London.  At the time I was genuinely tempted, a healthy pay rise had been offered, however I was worried about the cost of living and generally not feeling as safe as I do in Bath.  That wasn't to say I thought it was overly dangerous, just more that I was a little warier walking the streets as I've never felt more comfortable in a place than in Bath.  In the end I got an offer of a better job (for less money) near Bath allowing me to make the easy decision of staying and watching the riots unfold selfishly made me feel very glad that I had.  

There are many reasons why the riots could have started, each feasible and likely to be a combination of the lot of them.  Like Mark Pack said @Richard_Morris_ on Twitter today,

To me though, it would appear that whatever started it is almost irrelevant.  In my mind it has spread through blatant opportunism.  The only motivation I think people had was that they appeared to have an opportunity to steal and get away with it.  That is why apparently the only shops broken into in Camden were: 02, Game, 3 and Orange (I saw that on Twitter, don't have a reputable source).  I was also watching one scene where electronics shops were being looted yet the Waterstones next door was left untouched.  Personal greed allowing them to just take the things they wanted without working for them.  

Watching the pictures I was amazed just how many people were young people, as if they possibly hadn't even left school.  It is a shame that they felt the need (or the greed) to take to the streets and be part of the rioting (looting) but there can be no excuse for this.  I wonder how much of a part the media narrative (over the cuts, the government, the police and the riots) has helped fuel the violence.  If there had been less publicity, had there not been rolling news repeating images every chance they got would the scenes from Tottenham have spread?    I heard for instance that out of all of the arrests made in one area only one in four people arrested were locals.  That might go some way to explaining my point below.  It would have been nice if the good natured clean up effort had received as much publicity.

The rioting doesn't make sense, rule number one, you don't shit where you eat.  You don't damage the things on your own doorstep as you have to live in it.  If there are lack of opportunities in an area, then behaving like that and ruining businesses (and therefore employers) in the area isn't going to attract more jobs to the area.

My sympathies go out to all of the people who have lost something due to these idiots.  I hope everyone in London and elsewhere stays safe tonight, and best of luck to the good men and women of the force who will I'm sure do their best to keep people safe tonight.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Will the real David Cameron please stand up?

Two recent drugs related stories obviously caught my attention.  

Firstly there was the story that Louise Mensch may have taken drugs when she was in here twenties.  Like Mark Thompson I was initially impressed with her 'so what' style response but then disappointed with her defence of prohibition.  In my mind you can't knowingly break the law, get away with it and then subsequently think that others should be punished for doing the same thing.  It can't be foolish if you do it and criminal if someone else does it, as Mark points out it's hard to view this as anything other than hypocrisy.

She had a chance to open up a real debate into an issue that effects a large number of people in this country.  Had she been caught she would have a criminal record, she would therefore not have had the opportunities that she has had.  She may think it would be harsh to penalise her for her 'idiotic' actions when she was younger, however many youngsters every day are having the same opportunities denied by simply being caught doing what she did.  

The Liberal Democrats however are trying to open up the debate by suggesting that an independent enquiry is set up to look at the decriminalisation of all drugs. This decriminalisation indicates that Portugal's model would be a good one to adopt as a half way house, test the water with a view of eventual full legalisation.  I have blogged about Portugal's system in the past (here) and whilst it may not be the system I'd draw up I struggle to see one in operation in a Western country that I prefer.  

The title of the post is: Decriminalising drug possession: an idea whose time has come? Unfortunately, the answer to this (rhetorical?) question is no, the media aren't ready to accept it and there is not quite enough public opinion to support it.  This doesn't mean that we shouldn't be keeping this narrative and persuading people that it is an improvement.  Also public opinion should not be the reason Governments make decisions. You can't expect the circa 30million voters in the UK to all be experts on everything.  Even if they disagree they elected the Government to make decisions, the Government will have more information available to them than anyone else (unless they have a vested interest) and it should be up to them to decide what is right - even when we think they are wrong (as I currently do).  This can only be the case however if they do consult experts and look at it from every angle, not just how it will effect the poles.

The best thing about the Lib Dem voice article (linked above) however, was not that it drew my attention to the Guardian report that I'd already seen, but that it highlighted something a novice back bencher called David Cameron wrote for the Guardian back in 2001.  Now I don't know much about this guy but he describes himself as:

'I am an instinctive libertarian who abhors state prohibitions and tends to be sceptical of most government action, whether targeted against drug use or anything else.'

Apparently he's in the new government, but it sounds to me that if someone like that was in a position of power then it should do the world of good for a decriminalisation campaign.  Anyone know what happened to him?

Friday, 5 August 2011

A new season kicks off...

With the Football League kicking off tonight I can't remember the last time I was this excited about an approaching football season.  It may sound sad but I almost feel like a kid again.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  Firstly there is the fact that a few of the top Premiership teams seem to have shuffled their squads a bit over the summer and the league could be anyone's (I'll do a post about that next week).  Mainly though there is a buzz about my own team for the first time (at least as far as I remember).  

Hartlepool United, not the most fashionable club, I think we are punching above our weight just being in League 1.  In fact we share a record with Rochdale for the most number of seasons in the football league without ever reaching the top two tears (I think that now stands at 83).  Last season was a good one, we were never really near relegation though didn't stand a chance of going up.  We had a season high attendance of 4,084, unfortunately in a match which we lost 5-0 (against Sheffield Wednesday).  So not a lot to shout about?  Well this season we've sold more season tickets than that highest attendance.  Why?  Well the club have pulled off a master stroke - charging fans just £100 for a season ticket!  In days of multi million pound footballers that equates to seeing 23 matches at just £4.35 per game!  Last I read we'd sold at least 5,700 tickets, and at one point were even outselling former Premiership club (and closest ground to us) Middlesbrough, despite them being in the league above.  It's been advertised well locally too:

(Yes our mascot is called H'Angus after the old story about the people of Hartlepool hanging a monkey believing it to be a French spy).  It's not just the price that's gotten people excited, the biggest signing we've pulled off in a long time was also confirmed when Nolberto Solano decided he wanted to return to the region that I guess he considers home after his time with Newcastle.  As a natural pessimist though I'm disappointed that they've raised my expectations for the season, I was happy wishing for mid table obscurity!

Anyway, I doubt many of you are interested in Hartlepool, so as the season is kicking off I'll give my thoughts on the Football League.  (I don't pretend to know a huge amount but will give it a go).

The Championship

The main stories here are West Ham trying to bounce straight back, along with Leicester City's big spending spree.  It is hard to look past these two for automatic promotion, however I don't think you can rule out Reading or Nottingham Forest.  Cardiff lost their entire strike force in the close season and Middlesbrough would need to replace Lita in order to challenge.  Anyone who watched the Premier League last year would also want Blackpool to be up there again.  Down the other end there's a return for Brighton in a new stadium and Southampton, both of whom should be comfortable and both could even push for the play-offs.  The great thing about the Championship however is there are about 20 teams who could all make the play-offs or be relegated. 

Champions: West Ham
Promoted: Reading
Play-Offs: Leicester (promoted), Notts Forest, Leeds, Ipswich. 
Relegated: Portsmouth, Doncaster, Watford.

League 1

This may be where it's at for me, but I still don't know a lot about the other teams!  A former colleague of mine supports Tranmere.  They got in some funds from selling one of their youngsters to Bayern Munich and have spent a fair bit, so they should be pushing the top half this year.  I am hoping they will be battling Pools for one of the last play off places.  To go up I really fancy it may be Charlton's year, but Huddersfield, the two Sheffield clubs, MK Dons and perhaps Preston will fancy their chances.  At the other end, like the Championship so many could go down.  My prediction:

Champions: Huddersfield
Promoted: Charlton
Play offs:  MK Dons (promoted), Leyton Orient (narrowly missed out last year), Sheff United, Hartlepool (my rose tinted glasses coming through!)
Relegated: Stevenage, Walsall, Wycombe, Yeovil.

League 2

There are two stories in League 2 this year, firstly everybody's second favourite club AFC Wimbledon playing their first ever season in the football league.  It has taken them just 9 years to reach the professional ranks since their formation following the MK Don's move to Milton Keynes.  Quite an achievement, I'm sure they'll be loving just reaching this level.  The second is the other new boys Crawly Town, with all of the money at their disposal they have to go straight in as one of the favourites for promotion.  It will also be interesting to see how Paulo Di Canio goes as Swindon manager.

Champions: Torquay United
Promoted:  Accrington Stanley, Crawley Town
Play offs: Plymouth Argyle (promoted), Oxford United, Bristol Rovers, Gillingham.
Relegated:  Hereford, Barnet.

Okay, so there's my predictions, I wonder how many I'll get right, I just hope it's entertaining!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Give them life or death?

Thanks to Guido Fawkes and the government's new e-petitions site (it isn't easy to navigate to the currently open petitions - maybe to stop people signing them?  They are here) there has been a lot of talk regarding the reintroduction of the death penalty.  The House of Twits vote regarding this had at time of writing 28 for and 399 against with 12 unable to decide.  Personally, I voted no and here's why.

I think you need to break the issue down into two several parts, the first two of which are the overriding considerations.  

Firstly, are there any crimes that once they have been committed deserve death as their penalty.  Now I can certainly see the argument that can be put forward here.  Taking one extreme for example, a person in cold blood systematically and habitually violates/mutilates/murders children/other vulnerable people who can't defend themselves over the course of x number of years.  This is a harsh example and one which I would find it very hard to argue for them to continue their life which has caused pain to so many.

Secondly however there is the question of whether or not one trusts the state enough to to administer this kind of justice and whether there would ever be a miscarriage of justice.  No matter how good the evidence there is always a chance that someone who has pleaded not guilty has been set up/was in the wrong place at the wrong time or has even been framed.  Forensic evidence is ever improving, as are other policing techniques and we have seen over the years numerous convictions overturned due to emerging evidence.  Once you kill someone that's it, there's no going back, you can't suddenly tell someone that they are free to live again.

A lesser consideration (as it should be a matter of principal) is that of cost.  In the US it is found that the cost of requesting the death penalty is greater than that of life imprisonment (even when the death penalty isn't granted).  It must be worth asking the question what is the function of the death penalty?  If it is to remove a person from society then surely the more economical option is to have them spend the rest of their life in jail.  (This doesn't take into account the opportunity cost of another jail cell being filled).  If the function is to enact revenge then I guess the death penalty fits this better.

I don't think a civilised society should be looking for 'revenge' however, and as such this should be discounted.  Believe me I can understand why people would want it, but I could not ask for another person's life to be taken from them no matter what they had done, I don't think that I could sleep at night and it hardly makes you better than them.  I feel a greater punishment is for them to be left to reflect on their crimes in a cold cell for the rest of their days.  

The above considerations do not even start to look at the complexity involved, such as the withdrawal from the European Union and Human Rights Acts respectively, which would be a massive mistake - no matter what problems they are facing.  

I emphasise I can honestly understand why people would want it, but I think the reasons for wanting it are wrong and against my own moral stand point.