Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014 ends, 2015 begins

As is customary at this time I mark last year's predictions and create some new ones for the coming year.

Firstly, last years:

  1. The economy will grow by 2.5% to 3% this year. 1 point
  2. The opinion polls will end the year at 36% Tory, 35% Labour, 12% LibDem, 10% UKIP. 1/2 point (Tories and Labour are level pegging)
  3. The European elections will give Labour the lead, UKIP 2nd (just behind), Tories 3rd and LibDems 4th. 0 points, UKIP led and the LibDems did worse
  4. Lewis Hamilton will win the F1 World Championship. 1 point
  5. The Ferrari power plant will be bad, leading to Alonso ditching them and joining McLaren for 2015. 1 point
  6. Tony Blair will speak out against Ed Miliband's leadership. 1/2 point (he sort of did yesterday and backtracked today)
  7. Vince Cable will resign or be sacked (hopefully). 0 points, still hanging in there 
  8. Peter Mandelson will do Strictly. 0 points
  9. Scotland will vote against independence. 1 point
  10. Gordon Brown will announce he's leaving parliament in 2015. 1 point

Overall 6 out of 10. Not bad this year, certainly better than last year!
Now for 2015 predictions.

  1. The economy will continue to recover, and will grow by 2.5% this year. Wages growth will really begin to outstrip inflation/
  2. The General Election will be close, final tally Tories 36%, Labour 31%, Lib Dems 10%, UKIP 12%.
  3. Tories and Lib Dems will form a second coalition.
  4. Lewis Hamilton will win the F1 World Championship again.
  5. Sebastien Vettel will not perform as well as Alonso at Ferrari, and Ferrari will end the year in greater turmoil with Raikkonen being sacked.
  6. Labour will have a leadership election with Chukka Umuna winning.
  7. Vince Cable will lose his seat in the election (hopefully)
  8. UKIP will gain 2 seats at the General Election, but Rochester & Strood will not be one of them. Douglas Carswell will be re-elected.
  9. Hilary Clinton, Jeb Bush and Rand Paul will all run for the US Presidential primaries.
  10. Nick Clegg will resign the leadership of the Lib Dems.

Ok, let's see what happens. The General Election is going to be the most unpredictable in generations, so most of the above could  be wrong.


Sunday, 23 November 2014

Well done Lewis

Fantastic result. Well deserved.

Now to 2015.


Four hours to the title showdown: Hamilton vs Rosberg

You may be reading this after the race and know the result, or just before and in anticipation of the culmination of a fascinating season.

Yesterday, as so many times this season, Nico Rosberg grabbed pole after Lewis Hamilton was strangely off-colour on a Saturday. Usually, however, Hamilton has come back stronger and faster on Sunday, and I expect no different today. Hamilton is quick around Abu Dhabi, and without any other issues I'd expect him to prevail.

There's 17 points difference and Hamilton only needs to come second, but I don't expect him to tighten and win just by settling, like he did in 2008. Let's really hope that there are no mechanical issues, and I think the mechanics on both sides of the Mercedes garage will be desperate to avoid any issues.

Nico Rosberg has shown prodigious speed this year, and has surprised many, including me. He's also shown ruthlessness with the deliberate actions in Monaco and Spa, he definitely isn't the Mr Nice Guy we all presumed. There is an arrogance there which most F1 champs have. For another take, read Will Buxton's blog.

Lewis Hamilton has shown a lot more maturity this year, he's made more mistakes than I would expect, but he always bounces back, which he wouldn't have done a few years ago. I think he's more tense than he appears, but that is understandable. He has shown brilliant race-craft, which is such a stark contrast to his wayward 2011 season, where he would quite often collide with Felipe Massa! If his Saturday's have been more troubled than usual, his Sundays have been spectacular. I think by 10 wins to 5 and by coming back from a points deficit twice, he deserves this championship. For another take, check Will Buxton's Blog again.

Just a few hours to go.

Now to another issue. The demise of Marussia, possible death of Caterham and struggles for Force India, Sauber and Lotus has highlighted the terrible financial state of Formula 1. It's absolutely crazy that Ferrari and Red Bull get over £100m per year, and Marussia were getting £7m! I don't mind having a premium for success but that is just ridiculous. I would say increments of £3m for each place in the constructor's championship. Meaning that the gap between the top and bottom teams should be £30m at most. If I can see this, why can't F1?

Bernie Ecclestone has been name calling the three teams of Force India, Sauber, and Sauber and his behaviour is becoming increasingly bizarre. He recently said that F1 doesn't need young fans who can't buy Rolex watches! Hello? Where do older fans comes from, younger fans you idiot! I'm still watching and can afford a Rolex, but I started at the age of 14, when I couldn't. It's time for Bernie to toodle off.

Finally, how to tackle F1 in the absence of a change in money. Three car teams and customer cars have been raised. Christian Horner, as Ecclestone's mouthpiece, has complained about the new engines and wants to go back to the old V8s. That would be a disaster for the whole grid. The new formula is interesting and gives F1 a new purpose in developing hybrid car technology for the future of the human race.

But the new engines are expensive at £25m and the old engines were only £5m. I would suggest we did something similar to the late 80's where there was a choice of turbo or normally aspirated engines. We could allow slightly de-tuned or RPM limited old V8s to be fitted to cars. The cars would be unlikely to win but could make it to the midfield. In 2006 Toro Rosso was allowed to run de-tuned V10s, so it's not so bizarre an option!

Anyway, rant over.

Enjoy the race!


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Rochester and Strood

Today has been the Rochester and Strood by-election following the defection of the Tory MP Mark Reckless to UKIP.

This is supposed to be a key by-election for the Tories, UKIP and Labour. Maybe a verdict on Ed Miliband, maybe whether the Prime Minister can keep his troops in line until the General Election, and maybe the end of the UKIP rise.

Exciting then? As a resident of Rochester I looked forward to discussing issues with the candidates as they came canvassing. Unfortunately none came, which disappointed me. We got plenty of leaflets, however, two from UKIP, around six from the Tories, two from Labour and one from the LibDems. But no people. The high street was busy with the shops converted into makeshift political offices.

Make of it what you will that UKIP took over a spiritualist ex-wiccan shop, the Tories an old games shop and Labour the old butchers (I still miss their fantastic sausage rolls).

I did go to one of the hustings in the corn exchange. The Labour candidate was the most impressive but was poorly supported. One of the other candidates was in the audience and asked whether the main candidates wanted disabled people and pensioners to have a sex life! A strange question, which was not answered!

This morning I voted early (at 7 am), there were four others in front of me - which is quite brisk in my view. I don't know what this means, which candidate out of the two possible victors it favours.

I'll be watching as much coverage as possible tonight, hoping for an early result as I have work to go to tomorrow morning and busy weekend of F1 championship deciders to watch.

Still exciting.


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Do the Tories want to lose?

I ask the question because last night's debacle over the European Arrest Warrant vote makes the party management look very amateur.

They had the vote in the bag and David Cameron had promised a vote before the Rochester by-election so why did they bottle the vote on some kind of technicality? It looks evasive and breaks a promise. What is the point? I despair sometime.

Was this David Cameron's mistake or maybe Michael Gove or even Theresa May. Whoever it was needs to have a serious talking to. It was a real gift to UKIP and right wing backbenchers.

I sometimes think that the whole world is wanting us to vote bloody UKIP.

On a second point, I attended the hustings for the Rochester by-election and the most impressive candidate was the Labour Party candidate, Naushabah Khan. I'm afraid that the Tory candidate was disappointing and very defensive and Mark Reckless was evasive.

Really, I'm not sure any of them deserve to win!


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Where is the Ferrari announcement?

It's been an interesting and also sobering time in F1.

The injury to Jules Bianchi overshadows everything. I read that he hit his head with a force of 92G, it is a wonder that he's still alive. I hope that he manages to make a recovery and can make it back into a car, as he has shown such promise.

The season has been fascinating. For a while it looked like the bad luck would completely destroy Hamilton's campaign, but since Rosberg's error in Spa the momentum has all been with the Brit. In fact the latter half of the season has shown Rosberg is prone to errors under pressure and so far he has yet to better Hamilton in a straight fight.

We're entering the end of the season and mileages on the engines are going to get critical. Is it a possibility that for the last double point race Mercedes decides to have penalties and replace the both engines? Maybe, just in case there is a danger than one of the cars might not finish.

The big news on driver moves is that Sebastien Vettel is leaving Red Bull. He's been out of sorts all year, and when he learnt that Alonso had exercised his get out of Ferrari clause, he leapt upon it. So Vettel to Ferrari. Or is it? The likelihood is yes, but it's weird that Ferrari haven't announced it. Why wouldn't they?

An off the wall thought. It looks like Alonso is heading to McLaren, but they're just trying to tie down the contract. Maybe McLaren have signed Vettel too! It would explain why Ferrari haven't announced Vettel.

Probably not, but you never know! Maybe Ferrari are looking at a way of getting rid of Raikkonen who has been a disappointment this year. Maybe Alonso will take a sabbatical with the aim of getting his backside into a Mercedes in 2016 (in which case I think he may be disappointed).

Looking forward to the last three races, but I don't want double points or reliability problems to settle this championship. If Rosberg wins at the last race with Hamilton out, the win tally could be 11-5 to Hamilton. It would be a travesty.



Saturday, 11 October 2014

Could Douglas Carswell's election as UKIP MP be bad for them?

I quite like Douglas Carswell. He believes in democracy and better structures to support democracy. He is very independently minded. In fact, he could put the Independence into UKIP.

He's now a big fish in a small pond, rather than a small fish in a big pond. He will be on our TV screens a lot more as a spokesman for UKIP.

I think though that we'll be seeing some obvious differences of opinion with the leadership of Nigel Farage. He's already been highlighting a different opinion on immigration to the leadership, as he pointedly mentioned it in his victory speech in Clacton.

For now, though, he is the only UKIP MP and although not the leader he is now the most senior elected representative of the party. A full on general election campaign, this time round, will be looking for major differences of opinion between the leader and its first MP. Expect there to be more controversies.

I think it's likely Carswell will win re-election in 2015, but what happens if La Farage does not become MP? The differences could get more extreme.  I foresee fireworks! In fact I can imagine a leadership challenge which Carswell might win. Afterwards, though, if Farage is not leader he would be very grumbly and UKIP could lose it's best electoral asset, as Carswell doesn't have the common touch of the current leader.

We might just be in the phase of peak UKIP, it might be downhill from here. It's possible we've just witnessed a new Kilroy-Silk moment.


Nick Clegg's Speech: Verdict

A bit dull as he was only talking to his own base.

He did the usual 'plague on both your houses' section which is now getting so old it needs a pension. Lambasting Labour for breaking the economy and Tories for being mean. Only the Lib Dems can save us! In which case Lord help us.

The big offer was some improvements on mental health. Whilst worthy, it doesn't exactly set the pulse racing.

He was trying to gee up his own base for the election next year rather than talking to the electorate. As I say, rather dull.

The Lib Dems, although in Government, increasingly seem like an irrelevance.


Thursday, 2 October 2014

UKIP want Labour to win

Most commentators think that UKIP would prefer there to be a Tory Prime Minister and a European referendum campaign rather than a Labour PM. Not true.

The nightmare scenario for UKIP is that the Tories win, David Cameron wins some marginal powers back and manages to sell it to the country in the referendum.

In much the same way that the Scottish referendum was David Cameron's gamble in that would take independence off the table for a generation, UKIP think the same is possibly true about the EU.

Any way in which Labour win and deny us another referendum will further the calls for us to be out.

It's possible, though, that they could get us out of the EU sooner rather than later. Though, it would be a pretty big gamble on their part. In this scenario, they'd need David Cameron to win and hold the referendum. After a period of stability, we may be about to see a bigger Euro problem than we had two years ago.

EU interest rates are at rock bottom and it looks like there may be a period of deflation. At the moment inflation is 0.3% and looking to go lower. Growth is anaemic. Germany is faltering. France and Italy are sick. The ECB would have no options, it would be up to EU Governments to save their economies - difficult given their levels of debt!

Given this back drop we may actually see more convulsions than we did in sovereign debt crisis. If Britain can keep growing while the EU, including Germany, starts to really have difficulties then maybe the whole Euro and even the EU could be on the table. Maybe then we'd want to be out.

As I say, a lot of things have to happen for this scenario to occur. But you never know.


Cameron Speech: Verdict

What a difference a week makes! Last week we had Ed Miliband's forget-athon, a real lesson in why he should not be Prime Minister. This week David Cameron made the best conference speech of his premiership.

When the PM's back is against the wall he really can turn it on, and he did. He's shown that he can do the no notes speaking before - in fact it was he who started the trend - but he has eschewed this tactic to be more prime ministerial. And it works.

The speech was serious when it needed to be. He mentioned Patrick Churchill, a D-day veteran. In this year of remembrance it was a fitting tribute. He did not go on about all the people he met whilst walking around the leafy suburbs of Hampstead Heath who managed to speak Ed Miliband-ese.

The PM did not revert to the Tory comfort zone either. He was visibly moved to tears when mentioned the anger he feels when being accused of not caring about the NHS. He also said he would banish exclusive zero hour contracts and modern day slavery.

The PM obviously got into his stride when talking about raising the personal allowances at the 20% and 40% bands. I would have wished he'd raised the level at which National Insurance starts being paid, rather than the personal allowance. This would really help the lower paid being taken out of income taxes altogether. Its about time NI was rolled into income tax completely by the way!

He was good on Europe, but I want him to kill off a line of attack by saying that he would be prepared to recommend leaving if he cannot get what he wants. Maybe he can't make himself a hostage to fortune as then he'd need to outline his exact dividing lines.

He laid into the hypocracy of Labour's education policies, though it hasn't changed them in 40 years - it's not about to start doing so now. I wish he'd really go for them on the brass neck they have about English Votes for English Laws.

It was a great speech, whether it translates into a change in the polls is difficult to say. But it should. Anyone with an iota of common sense can see that there can only be one realistic candidate for PM after the next election. Ed Miliband is a walking disaster, and he'd turn this country into one.