Thursday, 18 September 2014

Indyref: The time is nearly upon us

We don't have many referendums in the UK but usually they are for big questions. The referendum today is the biggest I've experienced.

I'm still convinced that it will be a No vote, but maybe closer than my prediction of 60/40, maybe even 55/45. We shall soon see.

The mammoth TV coverage will soon start, and I'm a sucker for it!

Bring it on Mr Dimbleby Edwards.


Sunday, 14 September 2014

Scottish Independence: One week to go.

We're into the last few days of the Scottish Independence referendum and I thought I'd write some of my thoughts down.

Firstly, about the question. I heard some people asking why 'Devo-Max' is not on the ballot paper. Imagine a not too unlikely scenario where Independence gets 45%, 'Devo-Max' gets 40% and no change gets 15%. What should happen then? It would be wrong to go to Independence as it would not have a majority (on something so crucial). 'Devo-Max' would have come second so it would be weird for it to be enacted, and so the most likely thing to happen would be no change, when it came third! That's why it had to be a straightforward yes/no question.

I personally don't want Scotland to leave the Union, I have many Scottish friends who would then be foreigners. It's difficult to imagine the end of Britain as we know it. I do believe that we are better together.

Looking at the arguments, it appears that the Yes camp have been a bit disingenuous with some of the figures regarding oil revenues, NHS spending etc. and tax figures. The No camp has been more negative, which I suppose was always likely given the nature of the question and risks involved. The better arguments for Yes are through self-determination which appeals to the heart.

The No camp has focused on the question of the currency, which is important - especially as the Yes campaign has stated they intend to use the Pound in a currency union with residual UK (rUK). The UK party leaders have said they won't allow it, but the SNP keep pushing that it will happen anyway. This is especially disingenuous as the rUK would not enter a currency union with a foreign nation, as we have shied away from joining the Euro area. The SNP should have had the nerve to go with a new currency as a backup option.

The implications on the military are immense and not thought through well enough.

Alec Salmond has also repeatedly talked about policies implemented by London by the Tories such as the 'Bedroom Tax' as reasons for independence but that is very short term. Some people think that Scotland would be a socialist haven if independence occurred, but I can see that Scottish politics would eventually move rightwards, as socialist policies increasingly failed and taxing and spending went out of fashion. For the rest of the UK, we may have more Tory Governments initially but the present equilibrium would eventually reassert itself.

Do I think there will be a Yes vote? No, I think the fear of the unknown is a major driver, also I believe that there are quite a lot of people who say they'll vote Yes but will actually vote No - due to the perceived disloyalty of voting 'against Scotland'.

That does not mean that the status quo will remain. If we do get 'Devo-Max' as promised by the UK party leaders there will have to be wider constitutional change for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Wales will certainly demand more powers, and how can England continue to be Governed by Scots and Welsh MPs in such circumstances? There's no way it could continue without the so-called West Lothian question being answered. There would have to be an English Parliament over English only issues.

The days of the existing Union is over, we need to fully think out the future of a more federal UK and this must be put to the people. It cannot be knocked up by the party leaders in a hasty fashion to scare off the Yes voters!

RIP GB 1707-2014.


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Rosberg vs Hamilton: It's war

It's been brewing for a while, but the race at Spa was the end of the cold war. We're now at Defcon 4 in the Formula 1 season.

The incidents that have brought us here are: Hamilton defending aggressively at Bahrain and using the extra-special powerful setting, Rosberg using the extra-special powerful setting in Spain, Rosberg having his 'off' at Monaco ruining Hamilton's lap and finally Hamilton refusing team-orders at Hungary.

You could say it's six of one and half a dozen of the other. Indeed, my own interpretation was that it was all pretty fair and evened up - although the Monaco incident did look suspect but I gave Rosberg the benefit of the doubt.

The race at Spa looked like it was going to be a great ding-dong battle until Rosberg clipped Hamilton's rear left tyre on lap two going into Les Combes. It was a clumsy attempt at a pass by Rosberg but looked like a cack-handed misjudgement.

That was until Lewis Hamilton appeared after the debrief in front of the press, reportedly nearly tearful, and said that Rosberg had done it on 'purpose' to 'make a point'. Maybe fanciful, and Toto Wolff denied that it had been on purpose, but agreed that Rosberg had said he'd wanted to 'make a point'. To me this infers that Rosberg had not deliberately decided to crash into Hamilton at the beginning of the race, but would - if the moment arose - not back out of possible contact in wheel to wheel combat.

Looking at the video footage Rosberg decides he's not going to be able to pass Hamilton and turn's left to avoid contact - and then changes his mind and turns right again leaving Hamilton to drive into him while following the racing line. Given that Hamilton was well ahead and could not have seen exactly where Rosberg was at that time, he had no option and Rosberg cannot complain about not being given enough room.

Rosberg chose to collide with Hamilton in that split moment. He had the lead in the championship, so if both went out so be it. He made his point. Hamilton said that he did not know how to race Rosberg any more, now that Rosberg has shown an unpredictability, nearly worthy of Pastor Maldonado!

Where to go from here? Niki Lauda squarely blamed Rosberg and Toto Wolff was incandescent with rage. They said there would be consequences but it's difficult to see what. We don't know the mind of Paddy Lowe, but obviously he's been with Lewis Hamilton ever since McLaren so knows him well.

If they make some changes to team orders, it will probably favour Rosberg even if that is not the intention. In which case Rosberggets what he wants. They could fire Rosberg but that's inconceivable. They can't dock points from him, as that is up to the FIA.

I think the only way to punish Rosberg, lay down the law, and make sure this does not happen in the future is to bench Rosberg. Bring in Antony Davidson or Heikki Kovalainen for one race, someone who will still get points for Mercedes but leave Rosberg on the sidelines as he watches his 29 point lead get reduced.

It would obviously enrage Rosberg but would be payback and let him know that the team calls the shots.

Do I think they'll do it. No. I expect there will be some changes to team orders and I think F1 will be the poorer. Unfortunately.


Saturday, 19 July 2014

No return to tax and spend for Labour: Pull the other one

Today there was a Labour conference in Milton Keynes for their policy forum. Ed Miliband has announced that the next Labour Government would not return to 'Tax and Spend'.

I have a feeling of deja vu about this. Wasn't this the same mantra from New Labour in 1997? I remember National Insurance tax rises, fuel duty and alcohol escalators and and this was before the crash in 2008. In that time spending went from £352Bn to £527Bn - yes more tax and spend. And where taxes didn't go up, borowing took over. In 2007 after 10 years of growth, Labour were borrowing £30Bn (it has since been revised up by the treasury to £70Bn structural deficit).

So, it's pretty hard to believe Ed Miliband. It might be that it really is his intention, especially in straightened times - but after a while - when some policies fail to live up to expectations the inbuilt Labour DNA takes over and the spending tap is turned on again.

It's why the welfare system got so out of kilter. Initially Tony Blair asked Frand Field to think the unthinkable, and when Mr Field came back with radical proposals to tackle real welfare dependency he was sacked. The Government then spent lots of money on benefits, vastly widening the base for people taking the state's shilling. The Government reverted to type. As always.

Mr Miliband again re-iterated that they would run a surplus on current spending - with the caveat that they would continue to borrow to 'invest'. Hello, we've been here before. Again, the last Government. Gordon Brown just kept redefining what was investment, and changing the definition of the economic cycles to fulfil his own golden rules. Basically, there is so much wriggle room that the promise is not worth the airtime devoted to it.

Take the largest pinch of salt when considering these promises, or at least cross your fingers when putting your tick in their box.


Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Reshuffle: Clarke/Gove

The reshuffle happened yesterday. It was quite big, bigger than recent reshuffles. Here's some thoughts.

Ken Clarke leaving is a conflict for me. He's knocking on a bit, at odds with me on Europe, but is a big beast, affable and is able to get on with most voters. I like him, he was a great Chancellor and really talks human. If he'd been Eurosceptic, he'd have been leader in 1997, or 2001 . It's possible he would have been Prime Minister in 2005, but his undying love for the EU is his undoing. But at least he stuck to his guns and will go down fighting. I admire him for that. And I saw him on the tube twice, very unassuming!

Michael Gove moving on is a great shame. I honestly don't care whether the teachers don't like him. His reforms have been the most significant aspect of this Government. The education of this country has needed the shake up that Michael Gove has brought. Since the abolition of the grammar schools, this country's education system has been an excuse for mediocrity in which you really have to shine to get on. I've seen my schoolmates, who had no encouragement, languish. There's no aspiration. Gove's mission was to change the whole direction of schooling, and he's done more than anyone else that than anyone else. In years to come, we will realise that he was the most inspiration Education Secretary since the war. I'd keep him in post for 10 years!

William Hague leaving is not much of a surprise, he as no ambition to lead the party or the country. He's been there done that. Unlike Iain Duncan-Smith who's also led the party, he doesn't have any great mission and so was there to provide a common touch and gravitas to the Government. He's done a reasonable job as Foreign Secretary, but it's the kind of job which will never let his natural talents shine. He would have been a great Home Secretary, not that Theresa May hasn't!

On other points, I don't mind Philip Hammond being Foreign Secretary - he's Eurosceptic and will not drop the ball - so that's fine. I'd liked to have seen Liz Truss as Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan as Defra Secretary, Anna Soubry as Defence Secretary as improvements on their new jobs. I'm glad the other guys are still in place, but Teresa Villiers could have done with the boot. I'd have liked to see Liam Fox taking her place.

And the new Welsh Secretary is a bit dishy - where did he come from?!

Anyway, not bad but could have been slightly better.


Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Passport received

This is just a post as a testament (or otherwise) to the reported delays to the passport renewal process. My last post on 14 June said that I had sent my renewal passport application two days before and had received a text saying it was being processed that day.

Two days ago I received a text to say the new passport was being printed and would be sent shortly. Today it arrived. If we look at the number of days, it is 18 days in total, or 20 including the days between sending the application and receiving the initial text.

So, slightly less than 21 days or three weeks. In my mind that is great response from a Government bureaucracy, and from one supposedly in deep chaos - a marvel!

 Crisis? What crisis?


Saturday, 14 June 2014

Passport to chaos

There have been conflicting stories about the passport office. In the media this week we had many reported problems about delays. The Government has stated that they are taking action due to an unusually high demand.

I added to the demand this week. I sent the renewal application to the passport office on Monday, received a text to say they had received it on Wednesday and that it should take three weeks to process. Hopefully, as I have a foreign holiday booked in September!

Let's watch this space to see whether the media or Government are correct in their statements.


David Cameron is wrong about the AfD

The Prime Minister has been trying to get the Conservatives group within the European Parliament to not admit the new German party, Alternative für Deutschland. Unfortunately, it's hypocritical to do this.

David Cameron on being elected as leader took the Conservatives out of its traditional centre-right home of the European People's Party, because the EPP was overwhelmingly federalist. When he did this, he angered Angela Merkel, but he was correct to set-up a new group of centre-right anti-federalists, the European Conservatives and Reformists.

He now cannot try to put pressure on the members of the ECR group to not admit the AfD because it would anger Angela Merkel and support a rival to the traditional sister party of CDU/CSU! Although the AfD is not completely centre-right, on the European issues they line up most closely with the Tories - so it makes sense to have them in the group.

Also, it looks like the Prime Minister has mishandled the proposal of Jean-Claude Juncker for head of the European Commission. By being so vocal he's managed to box Angela Merkel in support of Juncker. I'm afraid we're now going to get the arch-federalist and not learnt the lessons of the European elections. Mr Cameron was right to try, but he should have done so in private.