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.


Thursday, 1 May 2014

Ed Miliband: Meet me in Venezuela

Today's announcement that a future Labour Government would introduce rent controls for private landlords by limiting rent increases is another reminder that Ed Miliband would be a dangerous man to be elected as Prime Minister. They say you could put 10 economists in room and get 15 opinions. 95% of economists think rent controls are a disaster, leading to worse housing stock and fewer rental properties.

On top of energy price freezes and bans on zero hour contracts we are beginning to see the patterns of a very interventionist Government putting its fingers into all sorts of pies. It all sounds a bit tame at the moment, but where does it end? Into how many further businesses and areas would the command economy mechanisms intrude? The 'Cost of living crisis', created by the Labour recession, is a great cover for old fashioned socialism.

It must be stopped. This is where we were in the 70's. It's where Venezuela is now, starting with control of oil it now has controlled shops with rationed buying and shortages of toilet paper.

We learnt via Mrs Thatcher that the 70's command economy could not be successful. Let us not fall into it again.


Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Ayrton Senna: 20 years on

I'm writing this whilst watching the Portuguese Grand Prix of 1985, Ayrton Senna's first race victory. On Thursday it will be 20 years since that fateful day in May when Senna lost his life, so I thought I'd give you my thoughts.

I first started watching Formula 1 when I woke up early to find my Dad watching TV on a Sunday morning in 1986. It was unusual as my Dad used to enjoy his lie-in. He was watching F1; it happened to be the Australian Grand Prix. I'd never watched it before but a British man was about to win and then bang his tyre blew up. That scene has been replayed many times when Nigel Mansell lost the World Championship slithering down the slip road at 200 mph. I was hooked and gutted, it may have been patriotism or just the excitement of this high speed incident but I've been hooked ever since and not missed a race.

That race gave me my first hero. Mansell was just so exciting to watch. Wherever he was, something was about to happen or just had. I had to wait a few years for him to win the World Championship, and his big rivals each won their own Championships in between. Alain Prost in 1986 and 1989, Nelson Piquet in 1987 and Ayrton Senna in 1988, 1990 and 1991.

Piquet didn't seem that fast to me, Prost was too calculating to be exciting, but in my eyes as a partisan fan, Ayrton Senna was the enemy. To me, he was the only equal of my hero. Super fast, super committed and super ruthless. In truth I knew he had the edge.

Of course the rest of the F1 community was consumed with the rivalry of Senna and Prost. Maybe because Prost had reached his peak in 1985 and 86 and Senna was just reaching his, I thought that Senna was much faster and way better in rain. And just to prove it, on my TV screen Prost has just slithered off the race track into the wall. The only man to beat Senna, in my eyes, was Mansell-  if only he had reliable cars!

The races which stick out were the Hungarian GP of 1989 and Spanish GP of 1991. In both cases Mansell pulled off spectacular overtaking moves on Senna. It's a measure of my underlying respect for Senna that it was that beating him meant more than beating Piquet at Silverstone in 1987 and Prost in Magny Cours in 1991.

Even when Mansell had the best car in 1992, it was Senna who deprived him of sure race wins in Canada and Spa, and spectacularly so at Monaco when Mansell was 2 seconds per lap faster.

Looking on after all these years, I appreciate that Senna was by far the best at the time. So quick. So precise. Watching the Marlboro McLaren dance around the streets of Monaco in 1988 qualifying is sheer mesmeric. The fact that he won so many pole positions when the car had no right to be there is testament to his speed.

The man oozed charisma, interviews left you hanging on every word. The most interesting of all was after he won the World Championship in 1991. He opened up about the fact that he had deliberately taken Prost out the year before, which takes me to his ruthlessness. For all his brilliance, he did start the trend for none sporting behaviour which has been the hallmark of Schumacher and Vettel, which is not to be welcomed.

I remember the race in which he died in 1994. The weekend was awful. Rubens Barrichello's accident on Saturday, Roland Ratzenberger's horrible fatal accident on the Saturday and the start line horror for JJ Lehto were all signs that this weekend should not have happened. When the Williams shot off on lap 7 at Tamburello it didn't look too bad, but there was no sign of movement from Senna. Me and my F1 friends in Portsmouth sat on the sofa, fearing the worst. We watched as Schumacher won again, but we all felt that a light had gone out. Indeed it had. Senna had died. We all realised what we had lost. A great talent, and what what would have been a fantastic season between the best in the World and the Young Pretender. We were robbed that day.

But on that note, on my TV, Senna has just crossed the finish line in horrible wet conditions to take his first win. Let's remember that sublime talent and thank our lucky stars that this man found a way to demonstrate it so emphatically.


Saturday, 12 April 2014

Jeremy Browne: The curious case of the MP who doesn't know what party he is in

This week we've heard a lot from Jeremy Browne, the ex-Lib Dem Foreign and Home Office minister, who now has a new book out. I like Mr Browne, he's one of the more sensible Lib Dems in parliament but he's confusing me with some of the things he's saying.

His book and statements are a brilliant vision of a Liberal Britain, and if there was a party which represented this view I think I would be one to sign up. He seems to think he is in the Liberal Party, the continuity Whigs. Unfortunately, that party disappeared in name in 1988 and had disappeared in liberal ideas many years before that. I don't think Mr Browne has mentally adjusted to it.

The 70's Liberal party was a centrist party between old Labour and old Tories, wedded to the post-war consensus. When the radical Tories of the 80's came in  and Labour sped to the left, the Liberals seemed closer to the moderate Labourites and the newly formed SDP. That's why the Liberal-SDP alliance was such an easy match.

The true Liberals had no home but the Liberal party, but maybe had not recognized that the Liberal party was not truly a Liberal party any more. They went along with the merger forming the Lib Dems.

People like Jeremy Browne and the Orange booker's tried to bring back truly Liberal ideas to the party, but the vast majority of members are more centrist or lean to the left. The Dem part of the party is much larger than the Lib part. I've talked before of the identity crisis at the heart of the Lib Dems - which drives it to the centre. Mr Browne is not reconciled to that, and so will continue to smash his head into a brick wall.

If he really wants a Liberal future there is no alternative but to form a new party: the 'True Liberals'. I'd be tempted to join. Liberal economically and socially.