Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Much ado about 1%

The big news in the UK yesterday was the announcement of £6.2 billion in spending cuts by the government in the current year. It's a cut that both sides of the House of Commons are not being fully honest about. How many lies or evasions of the truth are there? Let's count:

Lie number 1. The Labour Party is claiming that these spending cuts are about "taking money out of the economy" and will precipitate a "return to recession". There is no evidence that running a deficit that is as high as 12% of GDP (higher than Greece) bolsters the economy. In fact quite the opposite. After all, if running huge deficits saves the economy surely it should be steaming along, when in fact in the last quarter it grew by 0.2%.

Allister Heath in City AM proclaims the arguments in favour of continued the high levels of deficit spending are "intellectually bankrupt, pseudo-Keynesian" as the bloated state crowds out the private sector. Why? Because when the state borrows on such a scale, it does so by issuing sovereign debt. It has to do so at market interest rates to attract investors, so it attracts investment from the private sector, in everything from manufacturing to services to banks seeking deposits to boost their own leverage. One of the leading lights of leftwing journalism in the UK - Polly Toynbee of the Guardian - shows up her own economic illiteracy in saying "If Europe causes a second dip, cutting is a bad decision; if Treasury receipts strengthen, then such deep cuts so fast may not be needed." So it is NEVER a good idea to cut government spending according to socialist Polly.

You see the British government is dependent on private investors lending it money to pay for current spending. If confidence lapses in the government's ability to do so then witness Greece. One need not be a libertarian to see how unsustainable fiscal profligacy is. In a world where the term "sustainable" is a buzzword thrown about promiscuously like the favourite harlot of the age, it is curious that most don't understand it outside the platitudes of environmentalism.

So Labour is dead wrong, and largely to blame for the current set of affairs (most of the deficit is not about bailing out the banks, but about the collapse of tax receipts to prop up the bloated state built up by Blair and Brown, and overextended by Brown in recent years). Yet before the election it didn't completely shy away from cutting spending.

Lie Number 2. Labour wouldn't have cut spending. You see Labour did pledge to halve the deficit in five years, which would have meant a sustainable reduction in spending of at least £20 billion per annum. While Labour wouldn't cut spending in 2010, it would have been under enormous pressure to impose significant cuts in 2011. However, its new Great Leader will no doubt simply oppose cuts regardless of the 2010 Manifesto.

Lie Number 3. The savings are all going to cut the deficit. No. £0.5 billion of the savings are actually going to be spent elsewhere and used to start some tax cuts. The latter will be a miniscule boost to the economy, but in essence it sends the message that cutting spending means having money to spend elsewhere. It doesn't while you still have a budget deficit, especially on this scale.

Lie Number 4. The cut in spending is substantial. No. The saving of the total UK budget is less than 1%. Yes that is all that is being saved. It tells you something that total UK government sector spending is 100x this. That comes to the real issue. The budget deficit this year is £163 billion. Less than £6 billion off of that is 3%.

Shifty evasion number 5. There will be further cuts, but this was the hard part. No. Even an optimistic view about the economy, which given the crisis in the Eurozone (which is easily the UK's biggest trading partner) is unlikely, would likely generate sufficient tax revenue to cut the deficit by between a third and a half over time (time during which debt will have increased and the debt servicing costs as well). So there needs to be, at the very least, cuts 12x those implemented yesterday.

Shifty evasion number 6. Future cuts can be made through "efficiency savings" and "trimming budgets". No. Let's assume there needs to be cuts of around £105 billion in spending. You could not do that without hitting some combination of welfare, education, health, defence, or cutting public sector salaries. In other words, significantly limiting the welfare state. The "pain" has just begun, and the dirty little secret is that the UK welfare state as it stands is unaffordable and unsustainable. At some point hard decisions are going to have to be made such as:
- Will health and foreign aid both remaining untouchable areas, both with real increases in spending?
- Should public sector salaries be cut by up to 20% on average?
- Will tertiary sector funding increases have to come entirely from fees?
- Will pensions and welfare benefits be frozen or cut?
- Will middle class welfare, such as winter fuel allowances for the elderly be severely curtailed?
- Will government housing expenditure be halted?

The Conservatives probably know that, and also know that having the Liberal Democrats part of the government that does some of these will help spread the political blame.

However, the public still remains ignorant of the scale of the problem. Which brings me to:

Incompetent explanation of the need for spending cuts. George Osborne as Chancellor of the Exchequer has done a shocking job of selling the need for cuts. He hasn't explained that interest rates could rise if cuts aren't made, he hasn't explained that a bloated state does not allow the private sector to grow, he doesn't convincingly make my first point above, that continued deficit spending is NOT about keeping the economy going - it takes money from the private sector to make the state take it from taxpayers in the future.

What the 1% cut in public spending means is simply a sign of willingness to take steps to deal with Britain's fiscal catastrophe. It is seen as a first step, but sadly is being portrayed as "taking the tough decisions early".

The cuts announced are easy and obvious, although a minor point is that it is odd for government to cut spending on roads when it doesn't allow the private sector to enter the market (and already recover revenue 4x that which it spends on roads from road users).

On top of that it is nice to see the UK doesn't have privatisation -phobia like New Zealand does.

The Royal Mail is to be part-privatised (49%) to raise money and to get private investment into the firm. Far more interesting is that the government is considering a serious proposal to lease the entire motorway network to the private sector.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hone Harawira is right

Yep I don't say that too often.

According to Stuff "He was having difficulty supporting a tax increase that made things easier for the wealthy "at the expense of those in need".

"GST hits poor people the hardest because nearly all of their money is spent on things that you pay GST on – food, petrol, electricity – so any increase is going to really hurt them.""

Yes, and you don't need to be a socialist like Hone to realise that consumption taxes do this because those on low incomes spend more than they save.

There can, of course, be income tax cuts. In fact simply winding back government spending in real terms to what it was in 1999 would enable the deficit to be abolished and for the top rate to be scrapped and the 33% rate to be cut without raising GST.

Imagine the change in economic activity and international perceptions of NZ if government did scrap the spending outlined by Roger Douglas, wound back spending to 1999 levels, scrap middle class welfare such as "working for families", put serious caps on welfare and see the top rate drop to 21% for income and company tax, and make the first $14000 tax free.

Hone Harawira would be arguing about spending cuts (yes you wont get subsidised broadband, your university fees would go up with inflation and welfare would be far tougher), but he'd not be arguing about tax because those he is interested in would be paying less. Everyone would be.

However, I forgot, many of you elected a Labour Lite government led by Helen John Clark Key with Michael Bill Cullen English as Finance Minister.

After all Labour only increased income tax once (the 39% rate) and then reduced income tax once, and did not ever increase GST.

UPDATE: Oh NOW I know why you voted for Labour National, David Farrar makes it clear it is about staying in power for three terms. Quite why you'd choose the blue team over the red team to keep implementing the red team's policies is beyond me

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fifth bailout in twenty years

The announcement by the New Labour National government that it is spending NZ$750 million of your money, to strengthen a company that the Old Labour government bought for NZ$690 million ought to provoke outrage on behalf of those supporting the current government, and should condemn Labour and its cheerleaders the Greens to history for being the most egregious destroyers of taxpayer wealth since Sir Robert Muldoon.

It should be so obvious to a child that buying something that is worth NZ$690 million and having to spend $750 million to save it is lunacy. Labour receives the blame for the former, and now New Labour National does for the latter.

What to know why you're not getting a real tax cut? Ask both of those gangs of reckless spendthrifts. Why their parents didn't spend a couple of hundred bucks to buy them train sets when they were kids so they could indulge in this pastime is beyond me? (mine did by the way).

Will Kiwirail make a profit that will even approach to recovering this (and the other money poured into it in the past year or so)? No. Indeed, the goal is to be "self-sustaining", which presumably means make an operating profit, not recover the long run cost of capital in this very capital intensive business.

The problem is we've been there before. Government is regularly using your money to rescue railways in New Zealand. The first time was understandable, the second time could even be partly excused as due to the legacy of Think Big, but ever since then it has worn a little thin.

The simple truth railway enthusiasts (and I count myself as one of those) have to accept is that the economically viable future for railways in New Zealand is to operate a severely curtailed network carrying moderately high volumes of containers and bulk commodities.

Two years ago I wrote this post, still valid today, where I outlined what looked to be viable and what did not. Railways north of Auckland have little future, as does the line north of Masterton and between Stratford and the main trunk. The Napier-Gisborne line has had a fortune poured into it, so may be best to keep mothballed in the event of traffic.

David Heatley from the NZ Institute for the Study of Competition and Regulation has an excellent presentation called "The Future of Rail in New Zealand". I wrote about it as well.

You see the railways were bailed out in 1982 when transformed from a government department to a commercially oriented corporation (the first "SOE" before the term SOE was coined).

The railways were bailed out again in 1990, in part to pay the full cost of the main trunk electrification approved before corporatisation (and which was found to be a loss making capital investment even if the electricity was supplied for free), and in part to pay for the restructuring following the removal of the monopoly on long haul freight.

Then it was privatised in 1993.

It was bailed out once more when Dr Cullen bought the track from Toll Rail (having earlier paid over the nose for the Auckland rail network), and then refused to enforce the cost recovery track access charges needed to pay to maintain the network.

The fourth time was the renationalisation, by paying well over the market price for the "business" it kept it open, except that it is unprofitable.

Now you're paying more, this time to make it "viable".

Darren Hughes has said the $750 million isn't enough, because $11 billion is being spent on roads. Yes well done Darren, noticed a railway to every business and home? Noticed how many people use roads compared to railways (most lines you can wait hours for a train of any kind to appear)? Might you be better asking why YOU voted for taxpayers to pay over the odds for this dog of an asset? What is he trying to achieve besides looking like he's addicted to spending bad money after bad? Does he want to spend $11 billion on railways??? He says "I think we need to be looking at how we move freight from, say Gisborne on the east coast, to Napier port". Who is this "we"? Because almost all of it goes by road, as it is substantially cheaper. This was looked at when you were in government Mr. Hughes the simple answer is that there is damn all freight from Gisborne to Napier, because Gisborne has a port. The distance is far too short for a viable rail freight operation.

This example shows all too obviously how inane the Greens are on railways (believe in them, believe in them), how blatantly wasteful the Labour was in renationalising it and how the Nats are too damned scared to do what actually needs to be done - get Kiwirail to borrow the money for its renewal itself.

If there are people willing to buy trains and run them on the network paying to use it, then let them. If there aren't then mothball parts of the network and offer to sell it to whoever wants it.

The arguments that the railways save money are clearly ludicrous.

If there is a desire to ensure rail and road are on an equal footing then set up the highways as a profit oriented corporation that borrows and invests in its network paid for by user fees.

Then both networks can be self sustaining, and be privatised. Hopefully then the ongoing political fetish of saving a network that, by and large, has had its day and is now only viable for a few core freight tasks, will be over.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gareth Hughes a clown once more

What the Greens say about an unprofitable Hamilton-Auckland passenger rail service.

Ohhh a new rail link? Yes, we want it, you should pay for it, it must be good, it's a railway. People like trains, see the petition of those people who want it? No we didn't ask how often they'd use it, stop being mean, we want it, you pay for it. Go on, it's good for you. How much? We don't know, who cares, you'll be made to pay anyway. It will reduce congestion? How much? We don't know, we ignored any evidence that says it will do nothing.

Gareth Hughes is proving he is as much of a clown as Keeping Stock showed he himself demonstrates.

He says "the commuter rail connection had real merit and offered a long-term option for linking Auckland and Hamilton. Yes, so hard to get between those cities with that state highway, the buses that use it and even the Overlander rail service.

He goes on as the Waikato Times reports "Hughes pointed to the 2011 World Cup as a "great incentive to get a commuter service happening"". Yes, nothing so good for the environment as encouraging Aucklanders to live in Hamilton and commute, and commuting has everything to do with the Rugby World Cup, right?

Follow the thinking so far? Well Gareth doesn't even know there is a railway already between Auckland and Hamilton (most of it double-tracked) "The Greens wanted to see a "corridor of national significance", with construction of a rail-line – or space for it to be built – alongside the Waikato Expressway". Presumably he's never actually travelled between the two cities by land.

This staggering level of ignorance should render the Greens as being a laughing stock. Let alone the wilful blindness of the Greens and local authorities in Waikato ignoring that the last time such a service was trialled, it was for 16 months from 2000 to 2001, undertaken by the then privately owned and unsubsidised Tranz Rail (you know that awful foreign company that leftwing legend has it destroyed the railways). The trial was not a success, even though it used the relatively comfortable Silverfern railcars, it carried on average 12 passengers a day south of Pukekohe.

That's not even a profitable busload. A profitable rail service would need to carry at least 12 times what the trial did, every day, in each direction.

However, the Greens aren't about economics, or reason, for them railways are a religion, and any idea of a new service must inherently be good because trains are good, always.

You should be forced to pay for them because of this, because it is about faith "Mr Hughes said the Greens did not have costings for a Hamilton-Auckland commuter rail link, but they believed the cost-benefit ratios would still be greater than those for new roads.

No costing, no idea about how many people would use it, but they BELIEVE it would be more beneficial than new roads.

If the Greens are so blindly ignorant about something which is rather easy to dismiss, can you imagine how often the Greens engage in such a faith based view of the world (especially given how they dismiss those who have one they disagree with?).

Nuclear fusion achieved?

Well so says the Korean Central News Agency

So I can't wait for that country's willing idiots in NZ to cheer this on, since it already cheered on the DPRK nuclear weapons programme.

The same agency of course says US troops commit 60% of the crimes in South Korea.

It also claims the US is the worst offender of human rights in the world in that:

"In this society one can live only by way of racketeering and through fraud and swindle. Without these practices one cannot but be pushed to the fringes of society where one can not keep body and soul together, denied even the elementary rights to eat, get clad and have a shelter....Drug abuses getting more rife in the U.S. with each passing day are producing an increasing number of mental and physical cripples."

So methinks that scientists need not be planning a trip to Pyongyang soon to discover fusion.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Con-Dem anti-reason anti-business coalition

Well it's out, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has shown its true colours, and they are colours of a red and green coloured wolf in the sheep's clothing of Cameron and Clegg. The new government is no more friendly to capitalism and to reason than the last one.

The coalition agreement now published gives the impression of being pro-business, and the impression of dealing with the budget deficit, but it commits to a vast range of new spending measures, and to interfere with private businesses on a grand scale in multiple sectors.

The envy-touting, dependency supporting left should be relieved, and the Greens thrilled.

Take the following:

- "The parties agree that funding for the NHS should increase in real terms in each year of the Parliament, while recognising the impact this decision would have on other departments. The target of spending 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid will also remain in place." Yes, the NHS, subject already to record spending increases in the past, can continue to extract ever greater inefficiencies, and not be accountable for it. Meanwhile, the British taxpayer will have to mortgage to continue increasing state aid to developing kleptocracies.

- "We will restore the earnings link for the basic state pension from April 2011 with a “triple guarantee” that pensions are raised by the higher of earnings, prices or 2.5%, as proposed by the Liberal Democrats" So the retired wont have to face any austerity, just their children and grandchildren. Why? Well given they voted for profligate governments in the past you might well ask.

- "We further agree to seek a detailed agreement on taxing non-business capital gains at rates similar or close to those applied to income, with generous exemptions for entrepreneurial business activities" No income tax wont be coming down, it is about increasing capital gains tax. Yes, if you get capital gains for your OWN profit, not for "business" then screw you, Clammyegg wants your money.

- "We agree that a banking levy will be introduced. We will seek a detailed agreement on implementation.. We agree to bring forward detailed proposals for robust action to tackle unacceptable bonuses in the financial services sector" Why? Well let's tax one of the country's most successful service sectors, never mind which banks never needed a bailout and those that did. Oh and let's deter the most successful people in the sector being tax resident in the UK, to please the envy ridden proletariat. So it's off to Switzerland for that lot then?

- "We have agreed that there should be an annual limit on the number of non-EU economic migrants admitted into the UK to live and work" Don't worry, you'll not be attracting the best and brightest anyway, they'll be leaving. Nice sop to the BNP though.

- Finally, taxpayers will prop up a massive programme of Green fetishes and an effective end to growth in the British aviation sector including "The creation of a green investment bank" (quite where the money comes from is irrelevant), "Measures to encourage marine energy" (again, whose money?), "The establishment of a high-speed rail network" (ah the grand show off project that has next to no positive environmental impact), " The cancellation of the third runway at Heathrow. The refusal of additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted" (privately owned airports and the airline industry can go to hell, less competition for European airports and airlines), "Mandating a national recharging network for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles" (with whose money?).

So that's it. More spending, more taxes, more regulation of the current crop of hated businesses (banking and aviation), and worshipping at the totem of environmental fetishes regardless of cost and benefit.

No reason behind most of it, and a distinctly anti-business agenda particularly if you are in finance or aviation.

Anything for freedom? Well, besides scrapping ID cards, ending the storage of internet and email records without "good reason", and something called a "Freedom Bill", there isn't much. Free schools, paid for by taxpayers maybe, and talk of some tax cuts (which don't offset tax increases of course).

Anyone who voted Conservative expecting less government, less interference in business and a more reason based view of policy should be sorely disappointed. When the Treasury briefs the new government on the fiscal debacle, it will become clear how little of this can be afforded, and so it will be a lie, taxes will go up dramatically, other spending will be slashed substantially or a conbination of it all. Furthermore, with a new agenda of faith based Green initiatives, reason appears to be distinctly absent from this administration. The government wont be shrinking.

Fortunately I didn't vote Conservative.

Who owes a huge debt?

One of the likely contenders to lead the Labour Party, as it moans and groans about how the incoming government is paying for the debt it incurred, is Ed Miliband.

Apparently he tweeted "We owe Gordon a huge debt: Britain is a fairer country and our world is more just because of what he did."

No Ed, the country owes a huge debt because of Gordon. You lying lowlives pretended this wasn't real, scared the people who you've made dependent on the state that they would be out in the cold if it was addressed.

Gordon Brown has left the UK with record public debt, a record budget deficit (at levels akin to Greece) and a legacy that will burden taxpayers for many many years, including the children of taxpayers.

Good riddance. It was the most optimistic outcome of the election that you spendthrift liars were ejected from continuing to borrow your way in office by propping up those who you depended on for power.

UK 2010 - NZ 1996

Despite the noisy baying of far-left violence touters outside Number 10 last night, already demanding their own bloody vision of the future, the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat (a leftwing wit called it Con-Dem) coalition is not a return of free market Thatcherism.

More's the pity.

Had the Conservative Party been a party touting a shameless belief in capitalism, wealth creation, property rights and a sound scepticism of government on both practical and moral grounds, then this coalition might actually be positive for freedom in the UK. The sole thing the Liberal Democrats can bring is a belief in social liberalism - and by that I am not meaning the vile socialist conformity that means that a priest can be arrested for expressing his point of view, but a belief that individual rights comes first, at least in respect to law and order matters. The element of the Liberal Democrats sceptical about laws on drugs, censorship and creating new offences every time a particularly hienous crime is committed, would be helpful.

Sadly, the salad bowl of these two does not fill me with optimism, yet I am going to give this government a chance. Why? Life's too short to be constantly negative, so I'll rate this lot on what they do, not what they said they would do. For the latter would simply be depressing.

Y

So I am hoping taxes don't go up, although both parties campaigned on it to greater or lesser degrees.

I am, in fact, hoping that the Lib Dem promise to make the first £10,000 of per annum income tax free goes ahead. That WILL help put money in the economy, just not the way that socialists embrace.

I am hoping that the promises to abolish ID cards, and get rid of the criminal offences created under Labour since 1997 are kept, and the Orwellian Independent Safeguarding Authority is abolished.

I am hoping that LibDem Finance spokesman Vince Cable's recent conversion to cutting the deficit means that some serious spending cuts can be implemented this year.

I hope privatisation increases in pace, noting that unlike NZ, it isn't a dirty word in the UK, and continued throughout the Blair and Brown administrations. The Royal Mail, Channel 4 and Met Office were all considered for sale under Labour, and should be back on the agenda.

Finally, I am hoping that the Conservative policy of allowing anyone to set up a school, with minimal regulation and funding following the pupil (ala Swedish school vouchers) proceeds. It is perhaps the only policy that had anything worthwhile in it.

Yet the seeds of discord have already been sown in this coalition. The LibDems have been promised over 20 middle and junior Ministerial roles, for a party with 57 MPs this is grossly disproportionate compared to the 307 Conservative MPs. It is especially disconcerting given that absolutely none of them have ever been in government before.

So this is where the parallel to NZ lies. In 1996, the National Party and the NZ First Party formed a coalition. It immediately caused discord among many NZ First supporters who opposed National, so the LibDems will already be under substantial grassroots pressure to ensure the Conservatives have their policies severely moderated (not that there is much to moderate).

However, with over 20 LibDems in executive roles it is easy to see where announcements of sheer banality and stupidity will come from. Bear in mind the LibDems include those who have been aligned with the Marxist Stop the War Coalition (Chaired by the supporter of North Korea's regime, Andrew Murray), the LibDems embrace the European Union in ways that the Conservatives rightly find an anathema, and the LibDems are fanatical supporters of cutting CO2 emissions according to the Green Bible of "fossil fuels always bad", and have a Cabinet Minister leading that policy. The announcement of broad agreement on many policies would seem to indicate that the Conservatives had little to surrender, and showed how little the Conservatives really offered that means chance.

Yet it still remains that there are many in the Conservatives eager to cut back the role of the state, and many in the LibDems keen for the opposite. How long those tensions can be papered over is unclear. It helps that, unlike NZ in 1996, the minor party is not led by a prima donna who seeks attention, but does little work. Although it also helps that Clegg and Cameron genuinely get on, not something that could have been said for the Bolger-Peters relationship at first.

Whatever happens, there will be disenchantment. If it proves to be a government shrinking the state then the LibDems will split, as it has been the repositary of protest votes for leftwing opponents of New Labour for so long. If it proves to be a government of pablum and little serious change, then many Conservatives will be fed up and bored with government that simply "conserves" what Labour did, and makes selective cutbacks (and tax increases) to address the deficit.

For myself, I don't expect much difference. If that proves to be the case, then the big question will be whether David Cameron will have changed politics in the UK in form (not substance) by moving the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats together (leaving a sniping increasingly leftwing Labour in Opposition), or if this is the start of a polarisation process as the two parties find their inevitably diverse wings sniping and building support for a revolt.

In any case, the losers will always be the taxpayers, as no major party was standing up for them this election.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Conservative-Liberal Democrat government of austerity

or so it seems. Given imminent reports of the end of talks between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The incoming government will have one priority, addressing the budget deficit. It should do so with alacrity, and with a clear vision to strip out as much unnecessary spending as possible. It should not treat any budget area as sacrosanct. It may wish to delay tax cuts, but it should not increase taxes. However, I fully expect an increase in VAT and fuel duty at the very least, thieving bastards.

What it will mean is significant layoffs in the public sector, freezes for public sector pay, significant culling of public sector pensions, and the end to the wishlists of the many seeking money that does not exist.

It will also mean that the budgets of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will all be hit, despite the moans and groans of the socialist parties that largely represent those communities.

The LibDems will automatically lose popularity as leftwing supporters are upset about the inevitable, which was that the party would choose one of the major parties to support. However, both parties will cause an upset, since both barely touched the issue of the £100 billion deficit, with at best plans to deal to a tenth of that. The British voting public have both been deceived and wanted to be deceived.

They are about to face reality almost Greek style, they wont like it, and the Labour Party is waiting there to show sympathy, even though the Labour Party is mostly responsible for the problem in the first place.

I expect within weeks an "opening of the books" exercise of reality on the deficit, highlighting how bad things are, what happens if it is not addressed and pointing the finger of blame squarely at Gordon Brown and Labour. The Lib Dems will join in on this as well. Labour will seek to sidestep this, but it will be difficult to deny the truth of deficits year on year, and how the bailing out of the banks is only part of the reason for it.

The only question remaining for now is whether it is a coalition or a minority government. Either way, it wont be very popular very long. The answer will depend on what the Liberal Democrats decide.

Britain wont get proportional representation

With the Liberal Democrats proving that their negotiations in good faith with the Conservatives, include backroom dealings with Labour, it has become clear what the sticking point is. The problem for the Liberal Democrats is that there is no incentive on either major party to give in.

The sticking points with Labour were really only twofold, Gordon Brown and the need for more than Lab-LibDem to get a majority. The first part of this has been addressed, Gordon will be gone. The second part is an issue, especially since the SNP and Labour are far from friends. Yet it need not be quite that way. 323 seats are needed, if you consider Sinn Fein never turns up. So Lab-Lib Dem = 315. Plaid Cymru, Greens, the Alliance and SDLP add another 8. So it is done. The SNP is hardly likely to bring down such a government to give the Conservatives an advantage. Messy perhaps? However, the leftwing LibDem rank and file would embrace it.

So now the LibDems get to choose. Conservatives or a coalition of the losers? What will matter is electoral reform, since the LibDems want this to unlock the prospect of being near permanent kingmakers.

However, neither Labour nor the Conservatives are that stupid. Labour knows that it would enable its own vote to be cannibalised by the LibDems, Greens and even the BNP. The Conservatives fear the same from the likes of UKIP, but also fear there is likely to be a permanent leftwing majority.

So the electoral reform issue has been the card the two main parties have played, except it has come to a natural conclusion.

First, the Conservatives offered an all-party committee to look at wider political reform with proposals ready for the next election. The LibDems say that as a fudge, but the Conservatives said it would consider a far wider range of issues than just the electoral system (and that it wasn't the top priority).

Secondly, Labour offered legislation to enact electoral reform. Admittedly its own kind (called alternative vote, also known as preferential voting), but it would be in place for the next election. The LibDems were more impressed, but such a change would only benefit the party modestly.

Thirdly, the Conservatives proposed a referendum on the system Labour was offering. A big step for the Conservatives, but still less than Labour's offer.

Yet both main parties are not offering any form of proportional representation or even a referendum on it. Why? Because both know the other wont do it either. The Conservatives wouldn't offer it, because it would cause civil war within the party itself. Labour knows this, so has little incentive to do better than the Conservatives, yet has done so.

For the Liberal Democrats they are stuck. The Conservatives are offering a solid coalition or confidence and supply agreement, which could last and offers a chance at a referendum on voting reform the LibDems have little interest in, but which looks like a big compromise, as it is Labour's policy on offer. Labour is offering a less stable coalition, but guaranteed electoral reform, and a more acceptable policy mix. It has even rolled its own leader to achieve an agreement.

The corner the Liberal Democrats are in is one of their own making. If Labour is supported, the change in the electoral system will put proportional representation off of the agenda for many years, because change will have occurred. The public wont have much appetite for another change until that is bedded down. If the Conservatives are supported, the referendum will do the same. If it is a "no" result, then the implication is no public appetite for change. If it is a "yes" result, the change will still put proportional representation off of the agenda.

The only way the Liberal Democrats can back themselves out of this is to seek a little less than the Conservatives are offering - a referendum to back, in principle, a change in the electoral system (with a second one on the options after an election), or to focus electoral reform on the relatively toothless House of Lords. Labour wants a fully elected House of Lords, pushing for a form of proportional representation there, might be acceptable to both major parties, given the Lords only has limited powers to amend or reject legislation.

So whatever happens in the next few days, it will be clear that PR is not going to happen. There will be many upset at this, but then again the majority of votes cast at the general election were not for parties pushing PR.

As for me, I'm agnostic about how heads are counted, when what's in them is what matters. I was never enthused about proportional representation in NZ, but then I'm not enthused that my vote didn't count under FPP unless I wanted to pick between four choices I found distasteful. So whatever happens, happens. What matters far more to me is resolving the West Lothian question, which surely will come to the fore if a Labour-Lib Dem government is formed, consisting of a great deal of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs, with the vast majority of English MPs in the Opposition.


Monday, May 10, 2010

What next for the UK government?

There are now four possible permutations of a new British government. Don't be deluded that the substance of any of them remotely reflects the difference in form. So what are they? What do they mean for less government?

Conservative minority government: A confidence and supply agreement between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. It will have to include at least some commitment by the Conservatives to support steps towards electoral reform, and principles around a budget. The Conservatives would form the government and Cabinet, and the Liberal Democrats would agree to support a budget and keep the government in power. Beyond that every bill would be negotiated on a case by case basis. Likely to be more acceptable to the wider Liberal Democratic Party as it would mean many of its policies would not be sacrificed to a coalition, but subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Liberal Democrats can claim some independence. Conservatives would implement manifesto only subject to obtaining a Parliamentary majority, which would become increasingly difficult. Difficult to see how extensive spending cuts can be implemented. Conservatives may need Labour support for some legislation. Unlikely to last for full-term.

Verdict: More likely to ensure Conservative instincts to restrain taxes will be implemented, but less likely to ensure the few positive Liberal Democrat influences on civil liberties will be addressed. Think watered-down Cameroonian Conservatives, a bit like watered down low-alcohol beer - what's the point?

Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition: A comprehensive agreement, which means a government led by the Conservatives, but with the Liberal Democrats having Cabinet positions. Clegg as Deputy PM (perhaps Home Secretary), and possibly Cable as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Would include a commitment on agreed policies, Liberal Democrat acceptance of certain Conservative policies, and moves towards electoral reform. Gives Liberal Democrats a long sought after direct sharing of Executive power. However, Liberal Democrats will be seen as being part of a Conservative led administration, and so will share responsibility for all policies. Likely to upset many Liberal Democrat supporters, especially if it is a government of austerity as it is likely to send many voters to supporting Labour. Essentially a trade-off of power vs. risk of unpopularity. Verdict - Expect perhaps a more solid commitment to not being authoritarian on law and order, but likely to have a far weaker commitment to cutting spending. An empty glass at best.

Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition, with confidence and supply agreements with multiple minor parties (coalition of the losers). A new Labour leader would be Prime Minister, with Clegg as Deputy and a few other Liberal Democrats in Cabinet. There would be some form of electoral reform given Labour's statements, and policies would be some blend of the two leftwing parties. May need concessions to protect spending in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland whilst spending cuts are harsher elsewhere. However, it binds the two leftwing parties closely, and means another Prime Minister who wasn't standing as such in the election campaign. Verdict - Perhaps some easing of the draconian state of Labour, but watch taxes rise and spending rise (though not so much). Weak hemlock. Watch it try to be a grand coalition for the children and co-parents who are the current majority, and disappoint progressively.

Labour minority government, with confidence and supply agreements only with other parties. As with a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, except Labour carries the Executive and the responsibility for the government, and has to gain approval for all legislation. Likely to be far more unstable, and short lived as the minor parties seek more and more Verdict - Business as usual, except with the need to offer more to the minor parties.

On my part, I simply want two things:

- A government willing to make serious spending cuts;
- A government willing to wind back at least some of the authoritarian measures implemented under Labour.

I don't believe any government involving the Liberal Democrats will do the former, and frankly it is preferable that the next government comprises the thieving parties on the left, and is unstable, than being a short-lived limp-wristed Conservative government. A Labour led government will be a government dominated by parties that did NOT win in England, but won in the other three constituent countries, and if it pillages England to reduce the deficit, leaving the others intact, it will exacerbate the whole West Lothian question.

So go on Nick, Gordon and Mandy (Peter Mandelson), do a sordid little deal, watch you sacrifice English taxpayers to keep the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish in their Soviet bloc style public sector based economies, and pay the price. You'll delay the inevitable, make it obvious what needs to be done, and you'll force another election, and by no means will a majority support proportional representation at that point. You see at that point, a significant number in England will happily let Scotland and Wales go, or demand an English assembly.

Gordon to go, as the price for Labour's grab at power

While the UK ticks along quite happily without government making any critical decisions, Gordon Brown has finally announced he will resign as Labour leader, in October. This was designed purely to woo the Liberal Democrats to form a coalition with Labour (which will need support from a gaggle of leftwing minor parties who wouldn't vote to bring it down anyway).

The British public are observing the delight of politicians negotiating how to take their money, how to spend it, how to run up debt in their name that they'll be forced to pay, how to regulate their lives and tell them what to do.

Whilst it has looked like the Conservatives would manage this with the Liberal Democrats either as a tight coalition, or with a minority government, the game has changed. The Labour Party has convinced Gordon Brown to fall on his sword, and sacrifice himself for the addiction to power.

Is this the change so many called for, for politicians to decide who is in government? For politicians to horse-trade their manifestos?

In any case, I don't care. I think it would be excellent to have a coalition of the losers, of those who genuinely believe in taxing and spending, who believe in telling people what to do. Let them cobble together a filthy coalition, where the Welsh and the Scottish nationalists demand to be shielded from budget cuts.

Whatever government is in power will either have to delay budget cuts, and so push Britain's reputation further into the dark, or will have to make brutally tough decisions on cutting spending that none of the parties were honest about needing to do.

It would be apt for those who have collaborated to keep the public ignorant about the scale of the public spending debacle to become increasingly to blame for it, or to take the can for having to deal with something they pretended didn't exist.

I like coalitions, except with parties I don't like

The Liberal Democrats believe in proportional representation, so as a party it believes that government in the UK should generally comprise coalitions.

However, more than a few Liberal Democrat members and supporters have been interviewed on various TV channels saying "I didn't support the Liberal Democrats to get the Tories put in power".

No, maybe not, but you did support the Liberal Democrats surely understanding that supporting coalitions means that the Liberal Democrats might back Labour or the Conservatives?

After all, if you supported Labour why didn't you vote or join the Labour party?

No doubt if the Conservative-Liberal Democrat agreement comes off, many Liberal Democrat supporters will be upset. No doubt many Tories will too (I for one would rather there be a coalition of the losers, because it would be largely dismissed by much of the public, prove unstable and incompetent).

However, be grown up. You wont always get what you want, besides YOUR party has been advocating just this sort of scenario being the norm.

Frankly, you need a Conservative-Liberal Democrat deal to work. Because if it doesn't, it will demonstrate to the public that coalitions are unstable and don't work well. Another election will cost the Liberal Democrats.

Which is, in fact, why I don't really care that much. All of the parties want to hike taxes, all want to at least maintain the existing size of the state, it really is a matter of not much change.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

UK election: Strategic machinations

For political pundits, the negotiations between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and then no doubt Liberal Democrats and Labour are fascinating. However, what it is really about are two things:

- What team implements roughly a similar set of policies overall;
- Whether the economy or electoral reform becomes the priority.

So what are the pressures on the main parties? The tensions are between getting power, and alienating future voters or alienating their own grassroots of voters and members. All of the parties face very different pressures that limit their range of options, as follows...

Conservative

As the party with the plurality of seats and votes, it has rightfully claimed the greater right to lead a government. Cameron has also appropriately set down some bottom lines, such as defence, Europe and immigration. It is highly unlikely that the Liberal Democrats would push any of these. There are areas of potential agreement, like lowering taxes on the low paid, abolishing ID cards and (unfortunately) the embrace of environmentalism. However, there is a difference of priorities. Cameron has made it very clear the priority must be the economy, in particular addressing the fiscal crisis of the budget deficit. In doing so he comes across as being statesmanlike, focusing on the issue that does have a significant number of his own supporters worried, and the public in general.

The contrast is with political reform, a wider term than "electoral reform" as discussed by the Liberal Democrats. Cameron has proposed a cross party inquiry. He knows this wont be enough for the Liberal Democrats, but he also knows it will appeal to Labour and to many in the general public. To his own party it looks like a good opportunity to dodge proportional representation, but it does give room to talk about a wider range of ideas than electoral reform.

For example, balancing the size of constituencies, reducing the number of MPs, reforming the local electoral system, electing the House of Lords. On electoral reform, several options can be considered, including Labour's preferential voting proposal. Cameron can present any of these for discussion, and can even consider a referendum for some of them. However, he also knows he can't offer a referendum on proportional representation without a major internal rebellion.

By prioritising the economy, Cameron is trying to portray any LibDem claim that electoral reform should be a priority as being the LibDems being self interested from a political perspective. As a result, if the reason the LibDems reject a coalition with Cameron, he can claim he was putting the national interest ahead of politics, but that the LibDems are less interested in governing, but more interested in politics. Cameron also knows that Nick Clegg is in a weaker position than he appears to be. The LibDems only increased their share of the vote by 1%, and lost seats. Clegg is not as popular as many thought, and personally must deliver to his party or he faces a serious challenge. However, Cameron also knows he offers some things to Clegg that Brown cannot:

1. Clegg campaigned on change, yet supporting Gordon Brown to remain PM will be contrary to this. He also doesn't have enough support to demand a new Labour leader;
2. Labour plus LibDems does not create a parliamentary majority. So the SNP and Plaid Cymru may be needed, adding to the complication, the compromise and the sense of it being a coalition of the losers.

However, if a coalition doesn't happen, because the LibDems wont get enough, a minority government could yet be formed. Yet, the LibDems would still want to extract a price for that, and that would have to include electoral reform.

As long as Cameron makes the economy a priority, he can state that he will lead a minority government only if a budget can be agreed that starts to cut the deficit. Other parties that interfere with that will only accelerate another election, an election none of them will want, given it is likely to only benefit the two major parties - as parties that can lead a government.

So Cameron knows he can either negotiate what he wants, or sit back, say that he wont compromise to fit minority special interests, and either sit in Opposition watching Labour have to confront the deficit, or wait for an election.

Cameron should not fear another election, as he can state that it would not be because of him. It would be because minor parties sought to gain more influence than he was prepared to submit to, and because Labour could not lead a stable government. Yet it would be a gamble he could play only once, for if the next election also fails to produce a majority, the pressure for electoral reform would multiply. Under the circumstances, the gamble is probably worth the risk.

Labour

Labour has lost, but nothing like as bad as had been anticipated. The strongest cards it can play are incumbency and the broader leftwing affiliation of most of the parties in the House of Commons. Incumbency has already been played though, and has been played too strong. It looks like a defeated Prime Minister believes he is entitled to stay in power. Labour will be aware of this, but also knows the other card is far more important.

The Liberal Democrats used to be a blend of those who believed in small government, with those who thought the Labour Party had gone too far to the left. The small government Liberal Democrats could work with the Conservatives, but they have been overwhelmed by those who came from the SDP, ex. Labour members who had fled a party with a Marxist manifesto. Now, they are to the left of Labour, and so would be less than impressed if Clegg went with the Conservatives, particularly if there is no solid guarantee to hold a referendum on proportional representation. A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition would see many LibDem voters swinging to Labour at the next election.

So Labour does have a strong card to play. It knows that maybe a majority of LibDem voters would prefer Labour over the Conservatives. The seats the LibDems lost went to the Conservatives, indicating that the bulk of the remaining LibDem vote are Labour supporters who either voted strategically or were choosing a "safe" alternative to punish Labour. That does not mean they would want a Conservative led government.

However, Labour also knows its weaknesses. The obvious one is that Labour + the Lib Dems does not make a majority. Yet that may not be a major problem. Both the Scottish Nationalists and Plaid Cymru are highly unlikely to support the Conservatives, and both are even more unlikely to want another election, so they have little alternative but to grant confidence and supply to a Labour-Lib Dem government, even if it means offering referenda on independence for their nations. Referenda that Labour knows would be lost by the nationalists.

On policies, there aren't any serious difficulties, given that the differences between the parties are not intractable. Labour can concede more than the Conservatives. Most importantly, Gordon Brown has already offered a better deal on electoral reform. Such a deal would include legislation to ensure the next election was under a different system. One compromise that the LibDems might accept is for an elected House of Lords with a form of proportional representation. In short, Labour can offer more on electoral reform than the Conservatives, and this is critical for the Lib Dems.

Yet there does remain a weakness. Gordon Brown. Nick Clegg will be aware that Brown is unpopular, and that one clear verdict of the electorate is that a vast majority of voters do not want a government led by Gordon Brown. However, the Labour Party is too battered by the loss of the election to engage in the coup needed to remove Brown and select a new leader.

Still, if Clegg picks Cameron Labour should not be too upset, for it offers Labour one and potentially two major political gifts.

Firstly, a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition will upset many Lib Dem members and voters, and potentially one or two MPs. This will be particularly if it is achieved without a solid commitment to electoral reform. Labour can sit back and watch that support look for a home. Given the reasonable chance such a coalition would not last a full term, it gives Labour a platform to build upon. Labour can simply say a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for a Conservative led government.

Secondly, if such a coalition embarks on a serious austerity drive, Labour can oppose and seek the votes of the disgruntled.

So, Labour knows the Lib Dems wont want another election that soon, and also that there will be pressure to not support the Conservatives. If the Lib Dems support the Conservatives, then with the exception of Gordon Brown (who will almost certainly face a leadership coup), Labour wont be shedding too many tears, especially if that government faces the political price of reducing the budget deficit.

Liberal Democrats

It's fairly simple. The LibDems have lost seats, and gained only a tiny increase in the proportion of the vote. However, as a party it knows that while it can pick the government, it isn't in a strong position to bargain having lost seats. The only thing that unites the party is a commitment to electoral reform, and it must get the best deal for such reform, otherwise the chance the election has offered will have been wasted. As much as Clegg will want to talk of stable government and the national interest, he knows his party is split between those preferring Labour and those preferring the Conservatives, with the former in a clear majority. What matters the most is ensuring that this position of power delivers the party enough of a chance for electoral reform that it can at least get a referendum it can back to deliver a form of proportional representation. So that deal will be what matters.

Beyond that, Clegg personally would prefer Cameron over Brown. However, a deal with Cameron will upset many in the LibDems, so if it is to happen it better last, be stable, delay an election as long as possible. So he will want it to work, to be able to show policy gains, and then deliver electoral reform.

The same applies to Labour, although he knows that would be more comfortable with the party rank and file. So any such deal would need to be stable, and last.

Why? Because the last thing he wants is another election, an election when many LibDem voters would scurry back to the main parties.

So while he can choose between two suitors, he knows neither suitor will be too concerned if it does not last, because he will be the scapegoat, and another election will not scare them (although Gordon Brown almost certainly would not be permitted by his party to seek another term), but for Nick Clegg, he wont want another election.

Friday, May 07, 2010

UK election, the aftermath

David Cameron has already laid down his offer to claim power with the support of the Liberal Democrats. They have been talking. Cameron has stated what he wont compromise:
- He wont surrender more control to the EU (bit late though);
- Maintenance of national defence (code for retaining and replacing the nuclear deterrent);
- The relatively closed door policy to immigration from outside the EU.

However, he is willing to surrender to the environmentalist agenda, which he shares, with the Liberal Democrats. He believes there is enough commonality to form a government. He risks leading a government that will bitterly disappoint his supporters,

Yet, if David Cameron does become Prime Minister it wont be the great success that was promised when he became leader. Simon Heffer in the Daily Telegraph has a rather damning verdict:

"Dave had to fight a widely despised Prime Minister leading a Government incompetent and destructive on a scale unseen in living memory. Seldom has there been a softer target; but seldom has one been missed so unnecessarily. With just 36 per cent of the vote, the Tories stood almost still since 2005. They are now on their knees to their other enemy, the Lib Dems. "

Gordon Brown may feel wounded, but in fact he did not do anywhere near as badly as forecast. He did better than Michael Foot in 1983, he did not come third, and he fended off perhaps a third of the Tory targets, and most of the LibDem ones.

The question is whether what David Cameron did to the Conservatives, saved it or cauterised it? I suspect it has done both.

Advice for David Cameron

Let me assume, for the hell of it, that it would be better for the Conservatives to govern than Labour.

Then the appropriate strategy NOW is this.

- Nick Clegg has an offer. He will want to renegotiate. If he wants to substantially change it, say it is take it or leave it. Clegg will prefer you over Brown. You have more of the vote than Tony Blair did in 2005, tell Mr. Clegg that he either respects that, or you'll seek confidence and supply.

- If Clegg says no, and negotiates something with Brown, let it be. You can say you tried to form a government in the national interest, on common ground, but you wont sell out your supporters. Besides, you know that a Brown/Clegg/others government (as Labour + LibDems does not equal a majority) either wont last or will involve enormous tradeoffs with the SNP and/or others, that it will be desperately unpopular. Bide your time.

- If Clegg comes crawling back, seek confidence and supply, from Clegg and others, and form a minority government. Be prepared to hold another election if you can't govern effectively. Bear in mind Labour will have its own internal bloodbath in the meantime.

First and foremost, remember that selling out your party, principles and policies to gain power will eviscerate you. Allowing Gordon Brown to do the same will have a similar effect on him.

UK election: Two offers

Labour

Gordon Brown has said that he respects Clegg wanting to talk to Cameron first, but that the door is open for him to talk to Clegg as well (and Cameron). Gordon dangling fundamental electoral reform with a referendum.

Conservative

David Cameron has said either there can be a minority government with confidence and supply from a range of parties, which includes policy compromises, or a "comprehensive offer" to the LibDems.

That "comprehensive offer" would be as follows

Leave immigration, Europe and defence as not negotiable for the Conservatives.
Seek common agreement on education, a "low carbon economy", abolishing ID cards, reducing taxes on those with the lowest incomes and a commitment to civil liberties.
A cross party inquiry on political reform, regarding the electoral system, to consider ideas from all parties.

It also needs to recognise the highest priority is tackling the deficit, this year.

Conclusion

Brown seems desperate, he only offers electoral reform.
Cameron seems statesmanlike, almost take it or leave it.
Clegg? Well what is to his advantage. Brown will mean Labour plus others, but a referendum on reform. Cameron hasn't offered a referendum, but it would be a clean 2 party deal.

Green Party blindly believes a dictatorship

I have been lamblasted loudly by Green Party sympathisers because I damned Frogblog for believing reports about the Cuban health system being simply great.

Now I don't know if Cuba's health care system produces the great outcomes that it reports to the UN or to outsiders. Who does? Cuba isn't a country where you can publish anything, or say anything, or organise a non-governmental association without official approval, or criticise the government. Cuba is a one-party state, it is a dictatorship. There is no freedom of speech regarding politics or public policy in Cuba. How can you believe what the Cuban government says when it throws into prison people who criticise it?

I tell you how, you hold up your hands to your eyes and wilfully ignore that.

The responses I got from the Green supporters are telling:

"How can Cuba trade doctors for oil in Venezuela" Did that happen? You believe Hugo Chavez as well, given he hasn't exactly shown warm tendencies towards free speech?

"How can Cuba offer 5000 doctors after Hurricane Katrina" Because it knew it wouldn't actually have to deliver. Do you think the Cubans really thought George Bush would welcome them in?

"The UN Human Development Index says Cuba has the same life expectancy and infant mortality as the US" The UN gets its data from member states. The Cuban government tells the UN what it wants the UN to know, and nobody audits it.

"Cuba has been renowned for years" Yes, by leftwing activists and developing countries that know no better. Most of the developed world governments are a bit more grown up than that.

"Watch Sicko, it shows you how wrong you are about Cuba" Really? So Michael Moore talked to dissidents, talked to people who independently reviewed the Cuban healthcare system? Yes, thought not.

"Batista was worse" Ah there was a worse dictatorship before, that justifies the current one. Silly me. Tell the Burmese and North Koreans that the next governments they get will be nicer dictatorships, ones that don'[t run gulags, just political prisons, ones that don't execute on a wide scale, just torture and harass.

"Cuba is people not profit oriented" Notice the hoards flocking to live there and nobody wants to leave, and it is so people oriented, the people's freedom of speech can be completely suppressed. How easily do socialists trade away fundamental freedoms when capitalism is absent.

So there you have it.

A dictatorship, that gives its elite the best health care, that doesn't allow independent organisations to be established without state approval, that only permits official publications and broadcasting, that imprisons political opponents, can be believed for having a great health care system.

Except..

Katherine Hirschfeld has written criticising the Cuban healthcare system because:
- "Formally eliciting critical narratives about health care would be viewed as a criminal act both for me as a researcher, and for people who spoke openly with me";
- "Cuban Ministry of Health (MINSAP) sets statistical targets that are viewed as production quotas. The most guarded is infant mortality rate. The doctor is pressured to abort the pregnancy whenever screening shows that quotas are in danger. There is no right to refuse the abortion".
- "In Cuba, however, values such as privacy and individualism are rejected by the socialist
regime as “bourgeois values” contrary to the collective ethos of socialism.... Cuban family doctors are expected to attend to the “health of the revolution” by monitoring their
neighborhoods for any sign of political dissent, and working closely with CDR officials to
correct these beliefs or behaviors."
- There is no right to take action on medical malpractice and no sanctions, unless of course, it is against a member of the elite.

To take one quote from her article "People simply would not voice negative opinions in
the context of researcher-interviewee interactions. Questionnaire data would be similarly
unreliable. In fact, most Cubans I spoke with informally seemed to view questionnaires as tools to elicit popular reiteration of the party line. As one friend stated, "We know we're supposed to be moving toward democratic reforms and be able to speak out, to criticize. But people are still scared. Any kind of survey or opinion poll makes them afraid. No one will say what they really think."

Of course our leftwing friends who support the Greens would point a finger and say "University of Miami" "Americans" "they have to be anti-Cuban". Which is a cop out, it doesn't answer the fundamental points.

It is this simple:

Either you believe what a dictatorship says about how successful it is in looking after its subjects, or you are a sceptic.

It would appear the Green Party is willing to believe a dictatorship.

UK election: Verdict so far

With 34 seats yet to declare, it is mathematically impossible, short of recounts, for the Conservatives Party to get a majority on its own now. However, there are some fairly clear conclusions to be drawn from the election so far:

1. Lots of people turned up late to vote in substantial numbers, and the staff were not sufficient to handle it. Frankly, if you have a 14 hour day to vote, and a postal voting option, I'm not sympathetic.

2. Labour has suffered a significant defeat. However, it does not appear to be on the scale of 1983. 29.2% of the vote is better than Labour might have expected, but with more than 2 voters to 1 against a Labour government, it is astonishing that Gordon Brown thinks it is wise to demand that he have the first call at forming a government. Desperation for power is not pretty. Indeed it may well turn the Liberal Democrats away from any deal.

3. The Conservative Party has made some good wins, has held off the Liberal Democrats, picked up in Wales, but still not done enough to secure power. 36.1% of the overall vote so far is MORE than Labour got in 2005 when it won outright, so David Cameron can claim greater legitimacy to lead a government than Gordon Brown. However, in 1979, 1983, 1987 and 1992 the Conservatives did significantly better. What went wrong?

4. The Liberal Democrats are where they generally always are, only this time it's worse. Having lost seats overall, and only picking up 1% more vote than 2005, it is not remotely any kind of breakthrough. Its predecessor Liberal/SDP Alliance won a higher proportion of the vote (but fewer seats) in 1983. Kingmaker Nick Clegg may be, but he has no grand mandate to do so.

5. The number four party by proportion of the vote is UKIP, albeit only 3.1%. The only seat it had a chance of winning, Buckingham, has not declared yet.

6. The Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties have barely changed at all. Scots having the same seats as before, Welsh gaining 1. No breakthrough there.

7. BNP will say that it did well, with 1.9% so far. While Nick Griffin got nowhere close to his goal of second in Barking, the BNP did disturbingly well in plenty of safe Labour seats.

8. Green Party of England and Wales will be thrilled to have 1% of the vote, but more importantly 1 seat. Replacing George Galloway as the voice against capitalism, individual freedom and western civilisation.

The only party that can govern with the Liberal Democrats alone is the Conservative Party.

Labour with the Liberal Democrats would also need the SNP and Plaid Cymru at least, plus the Green MP at least.

uK election live: uncertainty ahead

I'm off to bed, briefly.

Conservatives pulling in new victories, Liberal Democrats are possibly worse off than before, and Labour has seen much of its vote collapse.

However, it is highly likely to be a hung parliament.

Gordon Brown is apparently going to seek to form a government, because he is legally entitled to do so. However, it would appear to be up to the Liberal Democrats to decide whether to support the Conservatives, or to be a part of a ragtag mob to prop up Gordon Brown.

Whatever is chosen, it will cost the LibDems at the next election.

UK election live: 5.30am Labour clinging onto power without legitimacy

Gordon Brown has flown back to London.

However, Conservatives now have a higher proportion of seats and the vote than Labour, by a long margin.

The Conservatives have a higher proportion of the vote, and with a higher turnout, than Labour in 2005 got.

BBC predicting Conservatives will be 20 short of a majority, but even Labour and the Liberal Democrats together would be short.

Possible combinations:

Conservative-Liberal Democrat
Conservative-DUP, Alliance, independent, SNP, PC
Labour-Liberal Democrat-SNP, PC, SDLP

In other words, unless Nick Clegg does a deal with David Cameron, it will be Ulster, Welsh and Scottish parties that will decide who the PM will be.

UK election live: 5am the birds are singing and..

ITV predicting Conservatives 23 seats short of majority.

So far..

Conservatives - 224 seats, 36.7% of vote
Labour - 168 seats, 27.4% of vote (record low since 1920s)
Libdem - 36 seats, 22.6% of vote

Notable LibDem losses like Oxford West to Conservatives.

Labour would find it difficult to govern given how far behind it is, as it would need the LibDems, SNP and Plaid Cymru, with independents or some Ulster MPs.

Conservatives only need Lib Dems or most of the others...

UK election live: 5am the birds ares

UK election live: reaching those goalposts

The Conservatives need to win a net 166 seats to govern.

So far of the top targets:
- 45 have been won;
- 16 have been lost;
- rest are still to be declared.

The Liberal Democrats were hoping for at least a 5% gain.

So far of the 30 targets:
- 1 has been won;
- 16 have been lost;
- rest are still to be declared.

Oh and leftwing Education Minister Ed Balls has been re-elected, just...

UK election live: Ministers start to fall

Jacqui Smith, former home secretary and star culprit on parliamentary expenses
Shahid Malik, Local Government Secretary

Particularly satisfying to see them gone.... hopefully more to come

UK election live: "Seats to watch" update 2

Rochdale - "Bigotgate" did not cost Labour this seat, because the Liberal Democrats (which were second) lost votes along with Labour.

Ochil and South Perthshire - SNP's number one target to win from Labour. SNP lost 2.3% of the vote, Labour gained 6.5%. A bloody nose for the Scottish nationalists.

Carmarthan West and Pembrokeshire South - Key Plaid Cymru target for Labour. Went Conservative with 9.8% gain. Losses from Labour, LibDem and Plaid Cymru.

Also notable that TV personality Esther Rantzen got a derisory result in Luton South on an independent ticket.


UK election live: 4am roundup

Half of seats declared:

Conservative 159 seats - 35.8% of vote
Labour 124 - 27.2% of vote
Liberal Democrats 24 - 22.2% of vote
Other 25

overall 5.1% swing Labour to Conservative.
Liberal Democrats only up by 1%




UK election live: Rochdale stays Labour

Gordon Brown's gaffe in Rochdale with Mrs "what about the Eastern Europeans" Duffy hasn't cost him. It remains, barely, a Labour seat. Although disturbingly it would appear the Labour vote lost went to the fascist National Front, with the Liberal Democrat vote collapsing into the Conservatives.

Rochdale held because the Liberal Democrats misfired, I suspect because of the policy of granting illegal migrants amnesty doesn't play well in seats where the National Front can attract 1 in 20 votes.

UK election live: "Seats to watch" update

Guildford - LibDem's number one target, Conservative in 2005, has seen 9.9% swing TO Conservatives. The Liberal Democrat bubble has burst.

Dundee East - Labour number one target against SNP. Saw Labour lose 2.9%, small increase to SNP, but Conservatives picked up rest. Stays SNP.

Hastings and Rye - Threshold between Labour majority and plurality. Won by Conservatives with 3.3% swing.

more to come as results appear.

UK election live: How to watch seats

The best way to see how the parties are going with targets appears to be on the BBC:

Here shows the seats the Conservatives have targeted to get a majority AND how they are doing.

This shows the same for the Liberal Democrats

LibDems have won ONE target seat.

Labour so far swung 6.1% to Conservative, but also Lib Dems have swung 0.6% to Conservatives.

BUT, at 34% at this stage, it is a GOOD result for the Conservatives. 28% for Labour is not.

UK election live: Nationalists not done well

Both Plaid Cymru (Welsh nationalists) and the SNP (Scottish nationalists) hoped to do well from discontent with Labour in their traditionally Labour nations.

They haven't. Plaid Cymru's single seat won from Labour hides how the Conservatives have picked up several seats from Labour. The SNP has won none of its target seats.

They both campaigned on protecting their nations from austerity if they were needed to keep either major party in power. Perhaps Welsh and Scottish voters, both experiencing coalitions with the nationalist parties, aren't that enamoured about the prospect of that writ large!

UK election live: Too early for anyone to claim anything

Tory landslide? Not yet.
Liberal Democrat gains? None so far. LibDems have lost a seat to the Conservatives
Labour can hold on? hard to say

A string of Tory gains, but Labour still ahead on total vote share and seats.... but long night ahead

UK election live: Labour thinks it can govern with LibDems

Far too early to say, but Labour Ministers are all saying that they can govern with the LibDems in a coalition.

Funny how the LibDems have not been asked what they think of this. However, it does look like Labour has scared the children into turning out for them.

UK election live: LibDems must be disappointed

Lib Dems hold onto their seats, but not picking up targets so far. The bubble seems to have clearly burst. A key target, Guildford saw a swing from LibDems to Tories.

Conservatives starting to pick up seats, but fail to pick up Tooting which was critical.

So far, modest gains by Conservatives, although Labour safe seats see big loss of votes to Conservatives

UK election live: Conservative confidence growing

Kingswood - first Tory win from Labour.

Torbay - Tory target, LibDems hold. Looks like Labour voters are going LibDem where Labour cannot win.

Report that Gordon Brown will seek to form a coalition if there is a hung parliament

That stubbornness will mean it is a long long night.

Labour has lost three seats so far, it is still far too soon to call it.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

UK election: Northern Ireland trickles in

Alliance wins Belfast East, first time a non-sectarian party has won a seat. NI First Minister loses his seat (DUP). Is Northern Ireland moving away from the sectarian bullshit?

Just safe Labour and LibDem seats otherwise, but clear swing to Conservatives from both Labour and LibDems. Lib Dems can't be too pleased yet. Labour cautiously optimistic, as will be the Conservatives.

UK election live:Less swing in marginals

12:15am - Three safe Labour seats still.

Average 10% swing against Labour, only 6% to Conservatives, 4% to minor parties (UKIP and BNP).

Not enough to make Conservatives confident at all.

UK election: live blogging

So it is 11.28pm BST and there are only two results (safe Labour seats) and a silly exit poll which has little validity because, quite simply, so many have engaged in postal voters.

However, there has been a swing to the Conservatives in both seats. Over 8% in one and 11% in the other.

Could this mean a Tory majority?

Libertarian Party UK publishes manifesto - work in progress


Indeed, but the Libertarian Party UK is young, and needs to grow and mature.

The manifesto was published a couple of days ago, but at least it has been done.

It's not perfect, I for one cannot argue for armed neutrality whilst being a member of NATO. It is quite contradictory. Membership of NATO means an attack on a NATO member is an attack on you. Planning shouldn't be a policy, and it should be about private property rights, and the transport policy is too complicated.

but it IS better than the one I read a few months ago. Albeit a bit too long. Still, light years ahead of the others, and something to build upon further.

Given the appalling state of the competition, it is hard to criticise at this stage, but the UK electoral cycle is up to five years. Enough time to really provide a platform for disenchanted small government liberal Conservatives (who aren't obsessed with the EU) to escape to perhaps?

Bureaucrats prepare austerity plans for the UK

Whatever party wins the UK elections, the Treasury has prepared plans to cut spending drastically according to The Times.

In order to preserve the UK's credit rating, drastic measures are needed:

"Options drawn up by the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions in the past few weeks include means-testing child benefit, cutting disability and housing benefits and freezing all payments in cash terms. Freezing benefits for one year would save £4 billion while freezing them for a whole parliament would save £24 billion in the fifth year alone. "

Welfare is the priority, why? Because it is the single largest item of spending at £200 billion per annum. Yes you read right. The state spends £3300 in welfare per man, woman and child every year, which means it taxes about £5000 per adult to pay for the income of others.

The opportunities are enormous:

"Spending on social security benefits has shot up from £93 billion in 1997-98 to nearly £170 billion this year because of a growing number of elderly people, increased payments to lone parents and working families, and rising unemployment....Billions could be saved by means-testing child benefit, which goes to 7.5 million families at a cost of more than £11.7 billion. Officials are also looking at cuts to disability living allowance, which costs £11.3 billion, as well as setting housing benefit, which costs more than £20 billion, at a much lower level."

Do any of the main parties have half the courage to do any of this?

UK political tribalism from one side

People on the right, whoever they are, don't hate the Labour Party or those who stand for the Labour Party quite as much as those on the left hate the Conservatives. I loathe socialism and loathe socialists, but I don't think that they are, by and large, people with bad intentions. With a few exceptions, like Sue Kedgley and Helen Clark, both of whom absolutely drip with desire for power over others, most of those in leftwing parties are "do-gooders" who genuinely care about other people, and genuinely have good intentions. Yes, they pave the road to hell with them, but rational arguments about the means, and the ends arising from the means they support can tend to sway them to an alternative.

The classic example of this happening on the left was in both Australia and NZ in the 1980s. Both Labour (Labor in Australia) Parties governed with reformist agendas that substantially liberalised markets, opened up sectors to competition, privatised major government businesses and transformed their economies. Let's be clear, David Lange and Roger Douglas both believed at the time that they were acting in the best interests of the country, that the reforms would increase prosperity and the ability to afford the social services beloved of most. The difference was that Douglas saw the means being more and more oriented towards the private sector, whereas Lange was cornered by a certain person who convinced him the means were as important as the ends.

Quite simply, significant number of the National Party from 1984-1990 wished THEY had done what Labour was able to do. Rarely does the left say the same about the right.

This is, in part, because the right rarely does what the left wishes it could do. However, even when the left does NOT turn around what was done by the right (e.g. Tony Blair), there is still a visceral hatred for the right. Gary Younge in the Guardian outlines his own, emotive, irrational hatred of the Conservatives.

He says:

"I hate them for a reason. For lots of reasons, actually. For the miners, apartheid, Bobby Sands, Greenham Common, selling council houses, Section 28, lining the pockets of the rich and hammering the poor – to name but a few. I hate them because they hate people I care about."

Well hold on.

The miners were an issue because Labour nationalised the mines and protected them for so long, prolonging men in jobs that were not affordable or sustainable (and had it not happened then, environmentalism would have closed such jobs down eventually). Communist unionists using violence, who opposed secret ballots for strikes, refused to allow reality to be confronted. Why does he not hate those who essentially saw the other side of the Iron Curtain as an economic model to emulate?

Apartheid was an issue that the Conservatives were slow to confront. There was a real need for a genuine liberal confrontation of the fascist racism that ran South Africa, but no one should pretend that those who embraced Mugabe and the pro-communist ANC were angels either. Apartheid ended when the Cold War saw an end to white South African fears of invasion from neighbouring states. The Labour Party meanwhile campaigned to effectively be neutral in the Cold War.

Bobby Sands was a terrorist, as were many of the unionists and the British forces were hardly innocents. However, if Irish republican terrorists murdered one of your closest friends a couple of years earlier, you might not want to be generous to them either.

Greenham Common? Well if you want to unilaterally disarm against the Soviet Empire then fine, but I have noticed Gordon Brown prepared to replace Trident. The Cold War was won because Marxism-Leninism collapsed in the face of its own failings, and a strong determined Western alliance unwilling to capitulate.

Council houses? Yes, nothing so bad as letting people buy their own council house. However, if you think the big brutalist council estates of the 1950s and 1960s have been a social success, then good luck to you.

Section 28? Yes, that was ridiculous. The Conservatives have shed this fortunately, but then it's a crime to speak openly against homosexuality now.

Finally "lining the pockets of the rich and hammering the poor" is that myth that somehow governments give money to the rich and take from the poor. No, it is quite the opposite. Look at where taxes come from.

So sorry Gary, I doubt very much that when you say "I hate them because they hate people I care about." that they actually DO hate the people you care about.

However, it is clear you fall into the "co-parent" model I wrote about before. You support Labour so it can look after those you "care about" instead of you doing it for them, and you hate the Conservatives for reasons that mostly don't stand close scrutiny.

The truth is your big nanny state is and will continue, and you can keep evading reason, so will keep supporting it. If you want to look at one of the consequences of doing so, take a trip to Athens.

How to vote in the UK general election - if you believe in freedom

Even last night it would appear as many as 20-30% of voters are STILL undecided. So here is a guide to vote, for those who don’t believe the government should do more for them, for those who don’t believe in higher taxes and think, by and large, government should focus on protecting the country and protecting citizens from the initiation of force and fraud from each other.

Step One: Decide what voting means for you. If it is about granting moral authority to someone to be in government, then you might find yourself with limited choices. If it is about choosing the least worst option, then it is easier. If it is about making a statement of values closest to your own, then again the choices are limited. If it is about choosing an individual, then it will be luck as to whether you have a good choice or not.

You see if you want to grant moral authority, then you are saying “I agree with enough of your manifesto, to accept you have my endorsement to implement the lot, and make decisions outside that based on your principles”. If you do that, then you have less reason to complain if the winner is the party you endorsed, and it acts as it said it would. You always can have your opinion and express it, but I will simply be able to say “well you said it was ok for xxx to govern”. Bear in mind that it is mainly party members and enthusiasts who should fit that camp.

If you want to choose the least worst option, then you wont find it difficult. It is how most people vote in my view. You hold your nose, and you decide X because at least it keeps Y out (which is worse). If you believe that way, then prepare to be disappointed. Is X REALLY that much better? Or is it that Y is SO bad, that you can’t imagine X being worse? Bear in mind also that by doing this you are saying it is ok for X to govern you. The least worst option also means choosing a government, which means picking a party likely to win in your seat.

If you just want to make a statement of values, then it is a middle ground. You are not granting moral authority, you are not succumbing to the least worst option, but selecting a party that reflects part of your values at least. That is what I did.

Finally, if there is a candidate who personally represents your values and is in a party where he or she might have a chance to spread that influence, then go ahead, positively endorse that candidate. Good luck finding one though.

Step Two: Check out your constituency. If it is a safe seat then you can at least know you’re either endorsing an encumbent who is likely to win, or you can vote for any other candidate knowing there is next to no chance of that person actually wielding power.

If it is a marginal seat then some will suggest “tactical voting”, but frankly unless you are on the left of the political spectrum it is fairly meaningless. Only in Buckingham, where the Tory Speaker faces no challenge from the main parties, have you got any real alternative (UKIP candidate Nigel Farage, hospitalised overnight from a plane crash) if you don’t believe in socialism. A Labour-LibDem marginal may as well be a safe seat for either of them. A marginal with the Conservatives may make your decision a little more difficult, unless the candidate is a Green in disguise (Zac Goldsmith) or a thief (see the full guide to the expenses claimed by them all).

Step Three: Hold your nose and choose. If you believe in less government, more individual freedom and personal responsibility, then you might consider this list:

1. Where there is a Libertarian Party candidate or one endorsed by the LPUK, or an independent libertarian, give him or her a tick. None are likely to win, but you will be voting against the status quo of big government. If you have no such option then…

2. Where there is a Conservative Party candidate who speaks, writes and talks fluently about free markets, who has not bought into the anti-human agenda of the radical environmentalists and who talks more about less government than about how government can help, then consider voting for that candidate. For the foreseeable future, the Conservative Party is the only major party with a wing of members who DO believe in freedom and less government. Endorsing those who can move it away from the pablum of populism that is currently dished out is a positive step.

3. If there is no inspiring Conservative Party candidate, then if you think you must vote for someone, then consider the UKIP candidate. UKIP believe in flat tax, leaving the EU (but retaining free trade with it) and in cutting state spending to the level it was in 1997. That is enough of a platform to give the Conservatives a message if they do not win a majority, that compromise to the left means losing votes from the core.

4. Finally, if your Conservative candidate is odious, and your UKIP candidate is really a complete wingnut who would be better placed in the BNP (and so should lose his deposit), then write in “John Galt”. It wont count, but one person will look at it and probably ask “Who is John Galt”? and will remember it, briefly. You will then have said, to hell with you all, but you might consider standing for Parliament next time.

5. Oh and if you are in Ulster, then you have a very different choice. You might simply choose to opt out of picking between parties of sectarianism. The Alliance Party is the main party that rejects unionism and nationalism, but it is aligned with the Liberal Democrats. Bear in mind that what happens in Ulster may end up influencing the government, but your choices are not ones to envy.

Whatever happens tonight, it will be a long night. It may well match the 1996 New Zealand election, with Nick Clegg playing Winston Peters, and David Cameron and Gordon Brown playing Jim Bolger and Helen Clark.

I intend to party with some like mindeds from down under, to celebrate every time someone odious loses. What am I hoping for? For Labour to come third in proportion of the vote (or to do worse than in 1983), for the Liberal Democrats to not hold the balance of power, for Nigel Farage to win in Buckingham, for Nick Griffin to come third or worse in Barking, for Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalists to lose heavily, for the Green Party to win nothing, for Ed Balls to lose the seat he is contesting, Old Holborn to win Cambridge, and for the Conservatives to ever so barely miss out on a majority.

Sod them all, none of them deserve to govern.