Thursday, February 6, 2014

The country is screaming out for an economically responsible, socially liberal luck would have it..

It was this article, it contains much I can agree with and concludes;

The country is ready for an economically responsible, socially liberal party. Whether we call this libertarianism or not, this balance makes most sense for 21st Century Britain.

That got me thinking.

There is often confusion between libertarianism and liberalism and definitions probably vary.  My view is that while both have similarities in terms of the rights and freedoms of individuals and both suspicious of government power, liberalism (modern) sees the Governments primary role as protecting and enhancing those individual freedoms, while a libertarianism feels freedoms can be achieved by government involving itself as little as possible in anything.

That's why Liberal Democrats would want to tackle poverty and ignorance through welfare and education policies.  Libertarianism is more likely to feel the ignorant will learn and the poor will work harder if the government doesn't get involved.  I don't think the nation wants a libertarian government, but accept it may want to move in that direction after years of Labour rule.

Lets start with UKIP's claim as a 'libertarian party'.  As Nicholas Rogers comments in his article whatever libertarian qualities they did have were written off when Nigel Farage dismissed previous UKIP policies as drivel.  What we are left with is a party which is anti gay marriage. (hardly libertarian).  Now UKIP have dropped their 'taxi drivers must where uniform' (more legislation on small business!) policy lets consider what would be libertarian.

Economically, a libertarian would want to have free trade and free movement of people without interference from Government, so immigration controls would be limited or non-existent - does that sound like UKIP?  And of course, one government can protect individual freedoms and civil liberties, but the next can easily remove them, so you need to create a higher court to protect these liberties.  A libertarian would want Governments' powers limited and be leading advocates for a European Court of Human Rights.  Hmm not very Farage is it.

The Labour party is far more relaxed about immigration and ECHR than UKIP*, but could never consider themselves to have any liberal credentials.  They believe in state control beyond 'protecting freedom'.  ID cards, DNA databases, restricting freedom of speech and one of  most authoritarian anti terror laws in the world along with support for torture, child detention centres for migrants a tax system that made everyone pay more to part fund a welfare system that meant even those on nearly twice the average wage were suddenly entitles to benefits in exchange for providing even more information to a government desperate offer a state solution and new law to any gripe raised in a focus group.    Labour's view can be summed up as "to save you from the burden of all that freedom stuff, we'll control your life for you".   And of course our search was for 'economically responsible'.  Every Labour government has left the nation in an economic crisis and burdened the next generation with huge interest payments on all that debt.

For many Conservatives, see UKIP.  Many of the grass roots Tories will have Farage photo's in their hallway and turn it round when nice people come round.  While modernisers were relaxed about gay marriage, the rest of the party were not so liberal minded.  But those same modernisers would want to re-visit the Human Rights Act, and escape the oversight of the ECHR.  Does anyone really think Theresa May is a liberal?  Then there is marriage tax allowance, pointless and typical of the Conservative view of liberalism "You are free to live your life as you please as long as it is consistent with Conservative values"

So that leaves the Liberal Democrats.  The original article seems to rule out the Lib Dems due scandals and green policies.  Scandals occur in every walk of life, whether power corrupts, greed overtakes or the light of publicity reveals human weakness.  Scandals involving politicians attract more attention and headlines.  Cecil Parkinson, Jeffrey Archer, Neil Hamilton, Mandelson, Ron Davies, Jo Moore... the list goes on.  It is best to base your belief on a principle rather than tabloid headlines.  

The green policies may not seem libertarian now, but to me are entirely consistent and legitimate use of government power.  

If the globe heats so much that half the world is uninhabitable - are we free?
If the cost of fuel is so great that only the very few can afford to see the world - are we free?
If power is so expensive that none can access TV or internet - are we free?
If the loss of species results in a biodiversity changes that threaten human existence are we free?
If the planet is devoid of consumable water are we free?

I appreciate these things are not going to happen tomorrow, maybe not for 500 years, but by taking action now, we may put that 500 years off a bit, even stop it happening.  A government has a responsibility to protect the freedoms of its people, we all have a responsibility to protect those freedoms for the future.  

I know where Nicholas Rogers went wrong, he was on the right road but took a right turn when he should carried on in the centre.

If the country is screaming out for an economically responsible, socially liberal party then here's one we prepared earlier (as they say)

*while Labour are relaxed about the EU, ECHR and immigration, you'll notice that when polling suggests these things are not popular, then Labour would rather go quiet and surf a populism wave rather than risk losing a few % in the polls and advocate the benefits of what they believe in. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The 50p tax rate. As Roy Walker used to's a good answer........but it's wrong

Poor Ed Balls.  His big new idea is an old one.  And polling suggests a popular one, but it would be worth remembering it took place in the 2005 Lib Dem manifesto, it was popular then too but didn't win us the election.

just for fun, can you guess who said this about the 50p tax rate?

 "will make the UK less attractive, wealth creation will slow down, and that will have negative consequences for public spending".

Cameron? no....Boris?   It was (at the time) Labour MP Stephen Byers in 2009.

Labour were very vocal against the 50p tax rate,  right up to the point they announced it!  By then the Lib Dems had moved away from the idea.  Apart from such a tax being seemingly avoidable and not raising as much as the party had previously hoped, taxing inactive wealth rather than just income had greater potential in terms of revenue and fairness.  And along come the Mansion Tax, which was thoroughly rejected by Labour, right up until the point they were in opposition and unable to introduce it.

It is easy for us to highlight that anyone earning more that £150k a year has paid more tax every year under the coalition that any year under Labour.  Of course that statement makes Lib Dems feel better and reminds the nation of Labours shameful record in government too.

Of course the Conservatives can't use that line, it makes many of their supporters uncomfortable (that's why Lib Dems like it), so they go with the "attack on business" and on hard work" etc, which itself is a flawed argument.

If the 50p rate raises next to nothing, then why the rush to cut it, logic says a tax raising nothing is not being paid by anyone, cutting it doesn't make any one better off.  Leaving it causes no harm to anyone.  It would have been better to have left it and phased it out when peoples incomes were increasing.  

The 50p tax rate has become a token gesture.  Sounds good does little.  It is why Labour introduced it, they were expecting a Tory majority that would make themselves deeply unpopular cutting it.  A big trap that only the least streetwise chancellor in the universe would fall into....and he did.

But while cutting it was a political mistake, bringing it back would probably disguise the real issue.

For most of us £150k a year is big money, more than that is really big money, but only a few hundred thousand people in the country get that kind of payslip.  It's not where the reallY big money is.

Lets imagine a rock band, with 5 members.  They go on a successful world tour which makes £10m profit.  If you may think each would get paid £2m each and pay the best part of a £1m in tax, you'd be wrong.

Our crafty rockers would set up their own company, in a country where the equivalent of capital gains tax are lowest.  That company would employ the rockers to go on tour on about £10k a year, then they'd pay no income tax.  The company they set up would make a big profit which would be paid as a dividend to the 5 rockers who own it,  As it is a return on an investment rather than earned income, it would not be subject to income tax here and only the lower rate of capital gains tax in the country the company is based in.

Obviously in real life it is far more sophisticated and after you throw in a couple of charity donations HMRC get nothing.  I used rockers as an example but for most of the years Labour were in government it was private equity firms and venture capitalist who were earning sums in the tens of millions and even billions and paying virtually nothing in tax.  It suited Labour to do nothing as these were the brains, borrowers and risk takers that fueled the economic growth that allowed Labour to keep spending and running a deficit. 

When the economy crashed and the deficit rocketed, Labour's new friends stopped answering the calls.  

Whilst the Lib Dems in coalition have tried hard to capture much of this money from slipping through the hands of the treasury, it is hard to legislate when your dealing with global markets and different tax rates and regimes.

The fact is, asking whether someone on £160k a year pays an extra £1k is insignificant against our rockers above who pay nothing of their £2m. 

That is why property tax is appealing.  It may be possible to prove legally that while 99% of your business is done in the UK and all your staff work in Bracknell, your head office is a PO Box in Malta.  But try convincing them that your £20m mansion in Godalming is actually a 2 bed semi in Guernsey.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Full Council part 2 - is 1% over the top

For many years the Council has faced the problem of setting its own wages.  A few years back, it was agreed to get an independent panel to work out what should be paid.  They reported back what would have been a big increase at the time that many were seeing their pay frozen due to Labour's economic crash.  So the Council followed suit and froze allowances and continued to do so for many years. 

Last year it was excepted that we could not simply go on forever freezing allowances as eventually good people would be put off entering local politics, So a cross party motion decided that councillor allowances should be linked to staff increases.  Apart from the senior managers, Basingstoke and Deane staff will get 1% pay, and therefore it was recommended Councillors get the same 1%. 

Labour were opposed to the idea and wanted to put a further freeze in place.  It is an odd one.  I work in the public sector and when the idea of a 1% pay rise is muted, the trade unionists get very upset and suggest my family need more and I should take industrial action.  Go to the Council chamber in the evening and get the offer of 1% and the same trade unionists tell me I should refuse it as everyone else is struggling and 'we're all in it together'.  How does that work?  My families costs are the same regardless whether I'm at day time work or at part time work. 

Here's the speech I made to full Council 

"Mr Mayor, this amendment was all too predictable.  It will no doubt confuse the public that the party that was offended at the 1% increase to benefits being too low, that has bemoaned the 1% increase to key worker salaries and has spent the last 12 months grumbling about how wages have not kept pace with the cost of living are now arguing that 1% increase for councillors is too much. 

The only consistent thing about Labour is there inconsistency.  There are good reason why the Council agreed to link their pay award to that of other staff in the Council, 

It would be easy for someone to move an amendment proposing no increase, someone else could propose a cut of  20% and before the night is over we are left questioning why we get an allowance at all. 

The reasons are simple.  There are sacrifices we make in becoming councillors.  Whilst your colleagues are studying to secure the next promotion your trying to work out what language the AGA papers are written in.  While your business rivals are networking. you're sitting on the tree shading panel.  We can all afford these sacrifices as we are paid an allowance. 

The more that allowance is diminished, the more councillors and potential councillors are priced out of taking an active role in our local democracy.  That is an unhealthy situation.  Only the most arrogant could argue we have not yet reached that point.  We know little of the personal financial circumstances of everyone in this chamber, even less about those who may wish to join us.  I want a council where the bankers and bin men are equally welcome, where the social worker and teacher are welcome, where the retired and unemployed are welcome and yes Mr Mayor where even lawyers are allowed. 

Not everyone here is retired with a big final salary pension scheme or earning an income off a second home, some have children to look after and can only be a councillor whilst the allowance is paid.  I would have thought none of us would risk the diversity of this chamber just to score a cheap political point. 

The second reason is I'm actually proud of what we do.  I look around my ward and see good things that I helped make happen.  I see less good thing that could have been worse had I not intervened.  And yes there are bad things I'm working on.  Is it any wonder local election turnout is so low when we go through this annual debate telling our residents 'we're not worth it' 

Finally Mr Mayor, there will many here thinking the extra few thousand our rise will cost could be better used on good causes in our communities.  It still can.  Those of us who don't need the extra £50 a year after tax can support local community groups.  The Council set the allowance, not what you have to spend it on. 

Mr Mayor, If you don't care about representative democracy, then back the Labour amendment.  If you don't think your worth your allowance, then back the Labour amendment.  If you don't think there are good causes in you neighbourhood, then back the Labour amendment.  I would ask everyone else to show strong leadership and pride and vote against the amendment and support the substantive proposal. 

And as tonight we will find out which councillors don't think their worth it, I would ask for a recorded vote." 

The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives supported the 1% increase in allowances (with a few exceptions) a few abstentions.  Labour councillors voted against, clearly recognising they're not worth it.  (For once I may agree with most of them)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Full Council part 1

As usual here are the highlights of the full Council meeting held last Thursday. 

I will start with the uncontested bits that sailed through. 

Localised Council tax benefits. 

The Government announced a few years back that it would no longer be covering the whole cost of Council tax benefits and that 10% of the cost would now be held by the charging authority (basingstoke and Deane Borough Council).  The idea was that as the Government was skint, rather than simply stop those who needed support paying housing benefit being told they would no longer get it, it would up to local authorities to determine.  Last year the Lib Dems made sure that their was some money to help local authorities introduce changes they wanted to make and Basingstoke and Deane decided to absorb the cost rather than pass it on to those least able to find the extra money after Lib Dem and Labour councillors joined together to vote down Tory proposals . This year it was agreed to carry on the same lines. 

Council tax relief on empty properties. 

Another area where the Lib Dems and Labour have been able to work together.  For many years  (even back here) the Conservatives had protected owners of empty homes from paying a full Council tax bill.  It always seemed odd to the united progressives on the Council that those who could afford to leave a spare home empty got a discount for doing so, especially when we have a long list of people desperately needing those homes.  Lib Dems in government introduced new rules so Councils could actually charge a premium for long term empty properties.  The rules will be maintained again this year. 

If you thought that in the spirit of Christmas this consensus would last the evening , you've never been to a Basingstopke and Deane Council meeting before, I will blog that later in the week

Monday, December 16, 2013

Bad things the Liberal democrats have stopped the Conservatives doing....what ever happened to.....

As blog watchers would have seen I was busy highlighting the the things the Lib Dems had blocked and the this happened (as tweeted).

A fine piece of work by someone

Monday, December 9, 2013

'bad things the Lib Dems have stopped the Tories doing in government' 7

Replacing Trident.  Have you ever wondered why our nuclear weapons attract the rather unthreatening name of Nuclear deterrent, yet other nations who have similar weapons, with similar capabilities and capacity to cause similar levels of damage and harm, earn the all far more scary title of 'weapons of mass destruction?  I'm not sure either.  I can only assume as a human rights loving nation we are allowed to give our nukes a nicer name (good job Lib Dems fought to keep our human rights isn't it) 

But to understand our deterrent' we have so understand history.  A log long long time ago the nations rulers decided having an army was really expensive.  So they took advantage of our island status and spent all the money on a Navy capable of sinking any invading threat before it go here.  It was a good plan and worked well, but just in case they made it a law that all men must spend every Saturday afternoon practicing archery.  That way if ever we were invaded we could be called to defend the realm.  Over time weapons got more and more sophisticated and we began to realise that our enemies could now fly over our borders and drop bombs and stuff.  The idea that a load of farmers/post man/social workers/supermarket workers etc, shooting bows and arrows was going to be effective against such a threat was clear.  Although, apparently, the law that made you practice was not repealed straight away, the BBC had invented 'Grandstand' so most men could not fit in the practice and get home in time for the football results. 

The whole bow and arrow thing disappeared as they were no longer the weapons we would need in a conflict situation.  Could the same now be said for 24 hours at sea Nuclear weapons.  A quick run through recent battles proves the point.  Afghanistan, nukes were useless.  Iraq, Kosovo, Falklands, Grenada.  Every time the nation has suffered an invasion or conflict, the nuclear option was ruled out.  

And the fact that these wars took place while we were in possession of our 'deterrent' would suggest it was not all that great as one!  9/11 taught the west that our deterrent didn't deter, nor was it of any use when we fought back. To finish it all off we were all told Iraq had Nuclear weapons, to what did we do?  Invade it.  As deterrents go Nuclear weapons are pretty pants. 

Just like the bows and arrows had a role a few hundred years ago,   Nukes had a role when the Iron curtain was in place.  The curtain has been drawn and it could be argued it was time for Nuclear weapons to join swords, bows and arrows and the rocks cavemen threw at each other in the archives of a military museum. 

The Conservatives didn't want the discussion (neither did Labour)  Replacing Trident at great expense was the only way in the Tory eyes.  We have not persuaded them yet that straight replacement was not required, but we did force them to look at the options and the whole things has been put back. Even Labour are not ruling out a shift towards Lib Dem thinking on the issue.

Thanks to the Lib Dems the word may become a bit safer and while many are talking about reduced Nuclear capabilities, no one is talking about increasing the number of weapons - (apart from the odd UKIPper)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

'bad things the Lib Dems have stopped the Tories doing in government' 6

Today is not 'Margaret Thatcher Day'. 

And if it was, I would not be doing cards for anyone that's for sure.  But in one of the ideas floating around the head of your average Tory stalwart is the idea that every year we should mark her life whether we liked her or not. 

Some will argue Mrs T did enormous amounts of good, others the opposite.  Lets not forget of course that the most unique thing about Lady T was how even those who supported her didn't like her too much.  When she took over the leadership of the Conservative Party many were very unhappy and her fall from power was not at the hands of the public tired of her policies, but the Conservatives who were desperate to shunt her into retirement. 

Like all PM's the bigger legacy, the more bad things it contains.  Mining, manufacturing, ship building all fell into an unstoppable decline under her leadership.  From the ashes of those once proud industries emerged banking as the new economic power station keeping UKPLC going.  Yes the same unregulated banking sector that took your money, gambled it, lost and then asked the tax payer to cover the losses. 

Against that we have Atlee who can rightly claim to have been the godfather of social housing and the NHS or even further back Lloyd George who started the National Insurance and state pensions that have been enhanced or damaged by others over the years.  

They were not perfect, they made mistakes, but would have equal claim to a day of their own.  But because they weren't perfect, because they would have had supporters they delighted, they would have had enemies they angered.  The result we let everyone make up their own mind rather than subject them to state imposed day of recognition.  Thanks to the Lib Dems, your local Clintons will not be filling that annoying stretch of time between father's day and Christmas (where they have little to display) with 'Happy Maggie day' cards anytime soon. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

'bad things the Lib Dems have stopped the Tories doing in government' 5

V.A.T.  Oh, the hours we've wasted trying to work out whether VAT is progressive or not. 

Some Conservative MP's obviously decided to try and end the debate by calling for VAT to be introduced on children's clothing and food (no, really they did). 

Of course VAT is not perfect.  The intention at the moment is VAT only applies to luxury items, not essentials.  Which is why it is argued that those on the lowest income pay little, giving it some progressive element.

There is always the odd one that puzzles.  Toilet paper attracts VAT (pretty essential item if you ask me*)  And of course two finger Kit Kats are biscuits (a grocery item and VAT free) while their 4 finger counterparts are a confectionary (VAT applies).  A cake is a luxury, unless it's frozen at which point it becomes a grocery item and the VAT does not apply) bonkers isn't it? 

As you can imagine the legal argument around the status of Jaffa cakes was not a quick one and I can't even remember whether it ended up as a biscuit or a cake.

But the reality is adding VAT to children's clothing and food will add to the weekly household shop at quite possibly the wrong time.  Any way while the Lib Dems are about, It will be difficult for the Tories to advance the idea beyond the grumpy confines of your local Conservative club. Phew.

*I've been reminded that toilet roll is indeed a luxury and there are VAT free alternatives readily available.  What other reason can there be for the Daily Mail?

Friday, December 6, 2013

'bad things the Lib Dems have stopped the Tories doing in government' 4

Welfare reform.  Not sure when Social security became 'welfare' but I preferred it as it was. You can easily access the manifestos of the main political parties on-line (assuming the Tories haven't deleted theirs - if they have let me know and I'll send you a copy)  They all agreed that the welfare bill was unsustainable and needed to be reduced (yes even Labour made that pledge, though have opposed everything the coalition have done).  One of the Tory hopes during this parliament was to stop stop housing benefit for under 25's, as if it was OK that young people were homeless.  

Well the Lib Dems were having none of it.  Now some eagle eyed people would have seen a suggestion that Labour were thinking along the similar lines (click here).  However they have said it is not their policy.  I tend to believe them as we all know it's Labour's policy to not have policies, so how could it be. 

I see no reason why a 23 year old who has worked all their adult life but falls on hard times can't have the same right to the cost of their housing met by the rest of us while they get back into work than a 26 year old.  Lib Dems have won the argument, well if not they have atleast blocked the policy. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

'bad things the Lib Dems have stopped the Tories doing in government' (I am desperate for a catchier title) 3

The second daily 'bad things the Lib Dems have stopped the Tories doing in government' 

You are still protected by the Human rights Act.  I know, I know, it gets bad press from time to time as the odd clever lawyer uses it to prevent things we'd quite like to see happen (well the right wing media would)  It is rather like innocent until proven guilty.  We know some bad people walk away from things they may have done, but better that than innocent people locked up for something they didn't do.  

Right now if you don't like your government, you can tell them.  You can peacefully assemble to pass on the message.  You can't be thrown out of your home or locked away without trial, get sacked or abused due to your religion, race or anything else.  You are protected by a whole bunch of stuff you can read about here  

Before such international and national laws, someone could become a national leader then set about abolishing all laws that were inconvenient to them and make everyone else's life a misery.  Not any more.  We're all equal before the law and it is bloody difficult for anyone to abuse their power to avoid it without coming to the notice of the Human rights Act.  

Were it not for those Lib Dem freedom fighters climbing into the trenches of government with the Tories your human rights would have been diluted down. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

'bad things the Lib Dems have stopped the Tories doing in government' (I am desperate for a catchier title) 2

We can all remember the election that never was.  Gordon Brown had taken over from Tony, a poll boost followed and the 'will he won't he' chatter was in all full flow.  Then Osborne stood in front of the blue rinse masses assembled at the party conference and said inheritance tax was within his sights and a Tory government would be getting rid of it.  The Tories got a poll boost from it, Gordon bottled it and we all ended up where we are. 

The Tories played the tax game.  In the short term if you scrap a tax, the public think your great.  After a while they work out that its a tax they don't pay or are ever likely to and won't impact on their voting intentions, but you benefit from a short term boost as a tax scrapper.  Likewise as we've seen from Labour add the word 'tax' to a policy (Grannies, pasties, bedrooms) and the public turn against the policy, only until they work out that either it is not a tax or will have no impact on them and it fades as an issue to many. 

Well the idea that, in the middle of a financial crisis, with the governments finances in meltdown and a worry that the UK would have to queue down at the IMF (a sort of for governments who can't pay their bills) cutting taxes for those inheriting a £1m or more was just crazy.  But is was the Tory intentions.  Fortunately the coalition agreement included the Lib Dem increase to the tax threshold as the agreed tax priority.  Hard working families on middle and low incomes got a tax cut and those who had a rich relative pass away would not be exempt from funding all those essential services the government is expected to provide.

If you think the Lib Dem got it right  click here 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

bad things the Lib Dems have stopped the Tories doing in government (I am desperate for a catchier title)

We all know what being in coalition has done for the Liberal Democrats.  For the many that are not engaged in politics the lines between Lib Dems and the Tories can appear blurred.  I know we are told to keep mentioning the increase to income tax threshold, Pupil premium, triple lock guarantee for pensioners, apprenticeships, banking reform as just a few of manifesto commitments that are now government policy, and we should.  It is all good stuff that few can argue against.  Of course when the coalition do very sensible things that are popular, we're not the only ones to seek credit. 

Few pick up on the things our MPs have been busy blocking.  Or things the Conservatives have been plotting that they know can't happen because of the Lib Dems keeping the government in the vicinity of reality.  It is not a huge surprise that the national media have not been covering these things much. 

After all headlines that start 'Government won't be.....' or 'Government will not change...........' or 'you won't be effected by..............' are hardly going to draw you to the newspaper stand.   

So rather than simply celebrate all the good things the Lib Dems have done in Government, I will run through some bad things the Lib Dems have stopped in government' over the next days.  It may even help our relationship with the Labour party. One of the strangest outcomes of being in coalition is you bump into more Labour supporters angry that we've blocked Tory policies than I do Conservative supporters. How does that work? 

Amazon - Full marks for marketting

It was hard to avoid the news articles relating to Amazon and their testing of drones to deliver goods.  The first thing many did was quickly check their calendars to make sure it was no April fool joke.

It wasn't.  It was one of the cleverest bits of marketting ever performed.  Clearly a drone could not deliver your parcel.  If we imagine for a moment that it could actually be programmed to find your address, how is this sophisticated bit of kit supposed to knock on the door?  And when you don't answer, will it wait whilst you rush downstairs from the toilet? or read the sign that say "please leave parcels at number 7".  Will the drone be programmed to wait 3 minuted and then lob your 'fragile' item into the back garden and leave a card in the door?

Then there is the 30 minute promise.  Where is your nearest Amazon depot.  More than 30 minutes away, it is actually a small list.  And finally how easy is it to rob a drone.  Rather than go through the risky process of burglary or robbery, a criminal can look to the skies, spot a low flying drone preparing to deliver and meet it on the doorstep, intercepting your package - the perfect crime.

Amazon know this, I can't see the parcel deliverers worrying just yet (get ready for a quick deletion of this blog in 3 years!)

However just over 3 weeks before Christmas, with the cut off time for orders if you want to be sure parcels arrive before the festive season fast approaching, and Amazon is everywhere.  Every 30 minutes your over excited radio news reader reminded you that Amazon exist.  Your favourite news website showed their logo to the internet generation.  And the TV news and print media will make sure know one can hide from Christmas and the increasing role Amazon have in it.

No business could have afforded to buy that level of publicity.  Advertising everywhere, even the BBC, and it cost next to nothing.  Just release a video of a few heavily adapted remote control helicopters and a short press release and hey presto - your brand is everywhere at exactly the time you're most likely to go shopping.  Pure genius.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

New homes bonus and how the Council will spend it

It was a few weeks ago now, but the scheme on how communities can access some of the new homes bonus was finally approved by full council.

'New homes bonus' is money paid by central government to local authorities in exchange for increasing housing stock.  The more homes a local authority builds, the more money it will receive.  The idea is so clever that Eric Pickles could not possibly have had anything to do with it.  For many years national governments of all colours have said "the nation needs more homes - go and build them".  Local authorities have responded by saying, "we agree, but not here obviously there's no space/infrastructure deficit/impact on natural environment.......etc" and the housing shortage gets worse.  With other funding streams to local councils cut to bring the deficit down, Councils need to build to balance the books.

All this was rather good news to Basingstoke and Deane as the borough had been building homes consistently for many years, what was lost from other grants, was easily overshadowed by the boroughs share of the new homes bonus.

Previously the Council had decided to use 20% of the money to fund services (replacing the lost revenue grant)  40% would go on the big infrastructure projects that impact on the borough - such as J6 of the M3 improvements.  The final 40% is for community projects in areas effected  by development.

Personally I would like to have seen more used for affordable homes, however for the first time communities can access a pot of money to help shape the environment they live in and improve the facilities they most want.  Whilst there are rules and criteria to meet, this is people power.  A complete transformation from the dark days of Thatcherism/Blairism obsession with central state control.  And a reward for the areas where homes are built and also an inspiration for those villages who want to improve facilities to reconsider their opposition to any kind of development.

For that reason, and with assurances that their would be no rigid £25,000 lower limit to schemes (there was a risk I would need to sit down with an officer working out how to make a scheme more expensive!) I supported the scheme.

Labour opposed the scheme and from their speeches it appeared this was because they are opposed to people having a say and wanted the money they oppose spent of delivering affordable homes on all the sites they have opposed.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Conference Season - Labour part one

At a glance you could think that the odd policy idea may be oozing from the grotesque and angry opposition Monster we call Labour.

I will start with the energy prize freeze.  There are a number of problems with this rather effective headline grabber.

The first is the political.  The government can't tell a private business what it must do with its prices unless it changes the law.  Miliband suggests he will introduce emergency legislation in June 2013.  I imagine this piece of legislation will be quite complex, lengthy and only robust if it goes through the full rigours of parliament.  Even starting this process in June 2015, it is unlikely to get near implementation until several months (years) later.  At which point it will be legally challenged.  If you honestly think that the big energy companies are not going to club together and hire a team of lawyers to check every shred of UK, EU and international law to find away to prevent this.  The energy companies stand to lose billions if they are not able to respond to changes in wholesale price, so a few million to go through the courts is worth it, even if just delays implementation.  There is every chance that Energy freeze won't become a reality until mid 2017, when it runs out in any case.

(Ed Miliband knows this.  It is what makes it clever - he can blame failure on lawyers and energy companies)

The second is commercial.  As big as the major energy firms are they run on about 4-6% profit margin and around 50% of your bill is the wholesale cost of energy.  If wholesale prices go up 20% and the energy company are expected to absorb this cost, they'd be losing money.  Of course to remove this risk they could speculate the worst case scenario price and increase bills now to cover any eventuality.  The result is households get stung with increased bills now at a level to meet the worst possible costs before the freeze kicks in, if wholesale prices end up lower I guess the bills can't be lowered during the 'freeze period'  

(Of course Ed knows this as well but again it is clever.   If energy companies increase bills between now and 2015 to cover future risk, its the coalitions problem and make Ed's pledge sound stronger.  Ed will claim credit for the subsequent price freeze.  Households are worse off, but Labour will be better off and we know who the most important is to the Labour Party)

Finally the Ed Miliband problem.  The energy companies signed up to lots energy efficiency and investment commitments under the last Labour government in order to secure energy supplies for the future and achieve carbon emissions targets.  These investments add to bills to about £120 a year.  I am not saying these are wrong, but the energy minister who imposed them was Ed Miliband.  In effect Ed is trying to tell the energy companies they're tyrants for following his advice and he's going to punish them for it. Of course this may be how energy companies manage the freeze, simply cut investment and then the so called energy shortage scare stories could become a reality.

Sadly Ed Miliband's announcement will probably mean most energy providers will stop offering long fixed price deals as well, so Ed's cheap headline could turn out very expensive for everyone else (Ed probably knew that as well)

It may be simpler and more effective to do something like this.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Conference Season - UKIP

Well I think we can all agree that unless you actually support the party, the UKIP party get together was enjoyable to watch.

As I have no idea what else was discussed apart from the behaviour of senior members I will simply post the picture as I like it (with thanks to Giles Goodall at Lib Dem Voice)

I guess this means a vote for UKIP is only half as powerful as a vote for anyone else in the Euro's (oh hang on, what if you include attendance figures - an idea for an entry another day but here's a flavour)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

On-line Focus updated

I realised the widget in the corner appeared to be missing some of the more recent editions.  I've updated it and deleted some older versions.

There are a few missing as I need to compress them some more due to the file size

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A good reason not to set up your 'out of office' email response

The sign in English is fine, however according to the BBC the welsh says;

 "I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated."

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Note to MPs regarding Syria

It is easy to see why the governments feel the need to do something about the 'alleged'   use of chemical weapons on his own people by Syrian authorities.  I would even go so far as to say the UN security Council could be negligent if it did nothing, but before we do anything in the way of military intervention it is worth MPs reflecting on how our intervention has been received and justified in recent conflicts and what we achieved.

12 years ago we got it horribly wrong.  We went into battle without all the equipment we needed to start something we had no idea how to end (and still haven't).  The intentions and reason may have been sound but it still went wrong.

Then 10 years ago, with resources stretched by the war already going on in Afghanistan, the Labour government invaded Iraq to find weapons that didn't exist and there was no evidence that they existed.  Innocent people were killed as we created orphans and cripples as well as widows in the UK with no real idea why we were doing it or what winning looked like.   Syria isn't Iraq.  Already there is more justification in intervention than there ever was with Iraq and clear humanitarian reasons for doing something.  The problem is the legacy of Iraq has weakened our International credibility so even when it is right to do something, doing so (and taking the public with us) got seriously harder.

And both these interventions made us more prized targets of terrorism.  In the Iraq war we got nothing right at all.  The reason, the legal cover, the plan and what outcome we were after.

So here's the things I want my (well any MP) to remember on Thursday;

No body wins a war (military intervention will be considered an act of war by those not supporting our action).  The result of war is always the same - one side loses, the other side lose even more.

In any military intervention people will die on both sides.  Many of those people will be innocent, including children, the disabled, elderly etc.  Once you've intervened, globally you'll have made lots more enemies and created a whole new pool of resource for terrorist groups to tap into.  It will take much less for these terror groups to persuade these recruits that we are a legitimate target.  Lives at home will be under increased threat as a result of military intervention.  Have you ever killed someone or watched some one you care about get killed in front of you?  I haven't, but i imagine it is something you don't just get over or ever fully get over.  War does not just mean lives lost, but lives damaged forever.  You have to be so sure that it is worth taking those lives in order to achieve your goal.

What infrastructure exists at the moment in Syria, much will be destroyed or as a minimum damaged significantly by military action, whether by us or an outgoing regime looking to de-stabilise the replacements.  It will take years to re-build water and power supplies, disease will spread in the interim, medication will run out as supplies can't get through the roads we blew up and many more will die from wounds and injuries, even ones unrelated to 'war' for years after.  A generation could miss out on education, records will be lost allowing dangerous criminals to take advantage of the chaos we created.  Much of this repair work will be funded by UK tax payers money.  Are we prepared to base troops in Syria for many years to protect whoever we pay the billions to to fix what we broke in order to achieve our goal? 

What is the goal?  If it is regime change, what will replace the regime you're removing. Will it be more stable, will it be unifying or could it long for power to seek revenge on their oppressors?  Are you sure you're preventing any further acts of horror, not simply changing the hand on the trigger?  It doesn't sound promising according to this or this or this

If you're sure (and it's important you are very sure) that you have a new regime that will act within international law and for the benefit on the whole nation, are you sure they will last? If they could be overthrown are you prepared to go through the highlighted sections above again?  

Or are you just trying to show the current regime you want them to change behaviour, in those circumstances how effective do you think blowing up key buildings in their country will be in making the Syrian leaders embrace the international community?  If it isn't going to work, why do it?

Are we the best intervention?  After all, Iraq was a bloody mess and we were joint partners in the atrocity.  The region, understandably, would consider us their natural enemies. Labour have left our international credibility in tatters, Tony Blair may have gone, but it is not that simple.  Whatever ambitions we had of being a respected peace loving nation offering humanitarian aid to the world and protecting the human rights of the oppressed of the globe, were destroyed in March 2003 when Labour abused the power of government probably just to improve its image after a focus group didn't see it as 'tough'.  

Do we still have sufficient international respect to be involved in military action even if the case is clearer and justfied?.  would it better if other nations took the military action?

If in doubt of any of these - read the highlighted area again and seek non military intervention.  Perhaps a new peace envoy would help?

If you are sure of the above and are prepared to take responsibility for the highlighted costs then approach the UN to seek widest possible support and a clear legal support for military intervention.

And always ask yourself - You never win wars, however you can win peace.  Are you and the international community certain your intervention is likely to win peace? 

If no, should you risk war.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why pick on Labour rather than UKIP?

In the post below I was critical of the Labour party and it's lack of........well anything.  It was not another 'Ed's rubbish' post, but just highlighting that as of right now we don't whether Ed's Labour is New Labourish (right of centre) or traditional Labour (left of centre) or is it still an authoritarian party with all its ID card, DNA storing, children's database and anti terror law ambitions or now more Liberal prepared to rip up many of the laws imposed by the Blunkett, Blair, Harman, Brown, Balls and Miliband? era.  The answer is; we have no idea and the clock is ticking.

This time 5 years ago, the Tories had no detailed policies, however  Dave was out there hugging hoodies and huskies, which gave the impression that climate change and rehabilitation of offenders actually mattered, where once they didn't.  Other than that things were a bit confusing - civil liberties mattered but human rights were to be scrapped, never really understood the direction of that one.

However my criticism of Labour should not be seen as an endorsement of anything UKIP have on offer as one of the comments seemed to suggest in the last post.

Here's why.  However much it may pain me (or a Ukipper) to say it, it is difficult to see an outcome of the next General Election that does not see either Labour or Conservative (or both.... but unlikely) involved in running the country, possibly (even probably) as part of a coalition, but one of the two will be in government.

That places a burden on Labour to not only scrutinise the Government, but offer an alternative.  The other two parties are way ahead.  Every coalition fall out, bust up and veto is a clear indication of what they would do differently given the chance.

UKIP on the other hand have no MPs.  They were until recently an EU referendum pressure group and credit to them, you did always know what they stood for - small state, leave the EU, climate change is a myth, more prisons, flat rate tax benefitting the wealthiest, scrap most benefits, increase defence spending and upgrade nukes.

It was the most ultra-Conservatism possible, not a nice read but a clear direction for the country (which I did cover here a bit)

None of it really made sense or added up, but as a pressure group set to evolve into the 'OUT' group when the referendum was called, and presumably disperse after that, no one really expected them to make sense.

Although they have grown, it is only that fear of the modern world that unites them.  Go beyond the topics of immigration and EU and there is nothing to bind the ukippers together.  

Are they liberals?  socially no (Gay marriage objectors) and economically, why would economic liberals want to leave the multinational free market on their door step?  

And although they'll say we want to freely trade without the rules, the rules apply to those trading freely, only members get to set the rules, so if we leave we have to play by the rules, but can't set them.  

They're after the 'small government', yet more armed forces, more prisons, more weapons of mass destruction*,a small government that has greater power at a higher cost - how's that a smaller government?

And all this additional spending is funded by a tax cut for the rich, how does that work?

Of course the average Ukipper will tell you that we would save (insert random number) if we left the EU.  I have seen £150bn quoted, yet the annual budget of the EU as a whole was £144bn and we are not the biggest contributors either in cash or per capita terms.  In fact our net (a lot of EU investment money flows into the uk) contribution is closer to £3bn a year.

And before you ask - NO, the European Court of Human Rights is not part of our EU membership but a result of a treaty set up in 1959, so stop pretending that having an independent body checking our government and Courts are not breaking international law is a good reason to leave the EU, we would still be subject to the ECHR.  And the European Court of Justice has no power to change amend or override UK law, simply deals with EU law which our government has signed up to.

So there you have it UKIP - want a smaller state to have greater power and spend more money so it can fund a tax cut it can't afford whilst building the economy by damaging our relationship with other nations we trade with. All topped off with a few other policies that have never worked.  Other than that, it's pretty much made up as they go along.  

Labour can't get away with that as they have a key role to play in a democracy that depends of different views and ideas creating proper debate and discussion to improve the lives of us all.  If it has no ideas (and that's the evidence we have at the moment), where does that leave democracy?