November 21, 2014

Thornberry is more significant than Mark Reckless

So Rochester's dull Tory MP has won a slim by-election victory for UKIP which may well vanish at the general election. Despite the excitement in the media, when it came to it the turnout was only some 51% - and Emily Thornberry's local white van man, Dan Ware, claimed he wasn't aware there was a by-election at all.

Sky's Sophie Ridge says that
if Nigel Farage wants a well-established party with a grip on Westminster in the long term, a coherent message across the country is imperative.

Mixed messages have served the Lib Dems well for years in different parts of the country. But then they went into government and could only have one set of policies. If Rochester is any guide - the Lib Dems polled 349 votes, far behind the Greens' 1,692 - a uniform message may be the last thing a protest party needs.

And UKIP's policy positions are - ahem - in flux. No one knows what their super-salesman leader will say from one week to the next. That's an argument in favour of trying out different policies across the electorate. Ken Clarke suggested on last night's Question Time that Douglas Carswell's calibre may in time bring some depth and coherence to UKIP's policy offering - and then, with his usual affable geniality, proceeded to torpedo him by saying he had more ability than Nigel. You're a marked man now, Douglas, just as Ken intended.

The most important performance yesterday didn't come from Mark Reckless, but from motormouth Emily Thornberry, with her tweet of Dan Ware's house and van. No doubt the rich Islington dweller was genuinely amazed by what she saw, but that makes it far worse, as several Labour MPs quickly spotted. As Mr Ware pointed out, she hadn't even had the courtesy to ask his permission before tweeting the picture of his house and his van (complete with vehicle registration number).

(Nor did the people who then gleefully tweeted a picture of Ms Thornberry's large house in Islington, but she's in public life. She doesn't seem to think that little people deserve personal courtesies from her.)

Ms Thornberry's reckless tweet quickly went viral. Would the mass media pick it up? Indeed they did, making comparisons with Gordon Brown's notorious Gillian Duffy blunder.

This reinforces Labour's growing image as a remote, metropolitan élite.

We already know Labour's leaders are imposing their dynasties on their captive lower order voters. What now?

How about more pictures of Labour leaders' big houses? The Tories can't campaign on this, as their MPs own some substantial properties themselves. But this campaigning could pay dividends for UKIP.

So let's see UKIP get out there and take pictures of Labour bigwigs' expensive houses. Let's see where the people's leaders live. Let's see how authentic they are.

September 25, 2014

"Carbon" is not the enemy

Labour's policy making seems not to have got beyond student level. It doesn't address the deficit (in the case of their now scoffed at leader, literally so). The party's senior shadows can't answer basic questions about the main policies, as Andrew Neil repeatedly showed in a series of excellent Daily Politics interviews, and Miliband and Balls have never explained how they would eliminate the deficit.

So Miliband has failed. And who are spoken of as possible successors? Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper. Mrs Balls was a hopeless minister and Andy Burnham was the minister who refused request after request for a public enquiry into the Mid-Staffs hospital which killed hundreds of patients. He now weeps crocodile tears for the NHS.

Allister Heath tears into contradictions in a policy area which didn't surface in reports on the Labour conference, energy:
The pledge to make electricity carbon-free by 2030 is at best ridiculous and at worst fanciful. It would cost a fortune to implement. It would necessitate attracting large global energy investors, railroading planning applications and a combination of massive subsidies (paid for by taxpayers) and even higher prices (paid for by consumers).

Given that all of this is meant to go hand in hand with a price freeze on energy companies, and a generalised war on their profits, the chances of the target being met are zero.

Miliband remains stuck in the mindset he used to have while serving as Secretary of State for Energy in the previous government, when he promoted the disastrous dash for green energy that ended up fuelling the cost of living crisis and imperilling our energy security. It beggars belief that a party committed to lower energy prices would dream up a policy guaranteed to increase them.
Sadly it doesn't beggar belief one bit. But if this is the best the main Opposition party can do months before a general election, heaven help us.

The world hasn't warmed since the late 1990's. Estimates of "climate sensitivity" are falling, suggesting a possible temperature rise by the end of this century might be 1-2C (if temperatures rise at all). So cutting "carbon" (actually carbon dioxide) is simply not a policy priority now. If temperatures do start rising seriously (and who knows), and if carbon dioxide does turn out to be a major cause (again, who knows), the world can tackle the issue with the benefit of the technology leaps we will doubtless have seen by then.

It's not only Labour who want to "cut carbon". The oddly named Liberal Democrats have plans for a Zero Carbon Britain Bill.

As Bishop Hill reminds us, the problem for energy policy is keeping the lights on. A problem caused wholly by politicians convinced they know best how to regulate society.

Labour want to control. It seems any target will do. Even the essential carbon dioxide, pilloried by science which is now outdated.

"Carbon" is not the enemy. The enemy is the know-all, controlling politicians stuck in the past.

September 24, 2014

When did Labour stop being a democratic party?

Labour is not longer a democratic party. When did it give up democracy?

Was it when the next Speaker had to be a Tory, and they foisted John Bercow on the Tories because the Tories hated him?

Was it when Tony Blair as Prime Minister repeatedly ducked answering the West Lothian Question, claiming the time was never right? (It was never right for Labour.)

Was it when senior Labour leaders began parachuting their advisers - and spouses - and children into safe Labour seats, treating the workers' welfare party as their own? They regard the party as their fiefdom, and the seats as theirs to allocate. With the permission of the unions, of course.

Was it when Labour blocked the redrawing of constituency boundaries to make them more equal, because it would disadvantage the Labour party? Let democracy go hang if it doesn't suit the Labour establishment.

Or was it when Labour said we couldn't have a referendum on EU membership?

With this track record, it's no surprise that Labour opposes English Votes for English Laws (EVEL). Not because it's undemocratic, but because it would disadvantage Labour. Scottish votes for Scottish laws seems to be easy. But somehow EVEL turns out to raise all sorts of practical problems.

Iain Martin suggests how EVEL could work. But his solution assumes democratic good faith on the part of a Labour government. In practice no contentious measure would be drawn up so as to be purely English. Clauses would be tacked on affecting one or more of the other nations, to make the bill hybrid and thus opening the way for all Labour MPs to vote on it.

Labour is no longer a democratic party. It is a self-perpetuating oligarchy determined to force policies on us, however poorly thought through.

June 26, 2014

Dominic Cummings nails "Cameron's empty Euroscepticism"

Writing in The Times (£) Dominic Cummings reports on focus groups of voters in marginals who voted for Cameron in 2010 but are unlikely to do so next time.

People "now spontaneously connect immigration and the EU".
People also repeatedly mention ... Abu Hamza, who combines immigration, benefits, Europe and human rights in one striking story.
What concerns the third of voters who are undecided is that businesses will close and jobs will be lost if we leave the EU.
The focus of any future referendum choice will therefore be: do you fear economic disaster? If the answer is yes, then voters will reluctantly vote to stay. If not, then the prize of controlling immigration and "saving all the cash" means they will vote to leave.
Cameron is - rightly - distrusted on the referendum. He won't threaten to leave the EU, which confirms suspicions that he is "not serious".

Cummings magisterially concludes that it is unlikely we will remove the supremacy of EU law and negotiate a new treaty until we have a prime minister who can articulate inspiring goals "in a completely different way to the petulant and hollow Euroscepticism of David Cameron": someone who is supported by an unprecedented grassroots movement mobilising small businesses and can exploit "beneficial crises".

We cannot conjure leaders from thin air, he concludes, but we can build the movement as we await the crises.

Cummings is utterly right in his scorn for Cameron, who is merely tactical and managerial, and not much good at either of them. But what do his focus groups tell us? That the EU-immigration linkage is made. That the pro-EU faction is in political terms right to keep hammering at the risks to the economy of leaving.

There's no sign of a leader who can put forward a modern, inspiring vision of life after the EU, together with a robust route map of how to get there.

Probably it will take a political maverick with huge personal ambition to step up and beat this drum over and over again. (No, David Davis, not you, you blew it.)

May 19, 2014

Ed Miliband's "intellectual self-confidence"

A provocative tweet from Janan Ganesh introduces his article about Ed Miliband (£) with the thrust that
There is more to "intellectual self-confidence" than believing in things a lot.
But Janan's argument (supple as usual) is too kind to the Labour leader.

It is easier for Mr Miliband to believe in his intellect because he lacks imagination. He cannot conceive that people affected by his policies might take avoiding action. It is the Gosplan view of human beings as cogs in a machine. Now where did he get *that* from, I wonder!

(We can also see his lack of imagination in PMQs, where all too often he can't think on his feet.)

Secondly, like his brother and oddly for a politician, he flinches from making decisions.

An indecisive PM is surely like a pacific medieval monarch - begging to be swept aside.

April 30, 2014

Compulsory international aid is obsolete

"Britain has just done an amazing thing", tweets Tim Montgomerie. "Hitting the 0.7% target it's an aid superpower." There are all sorts of objections to this. For instance -
  • Long term aid means poor countries' rulers see no need to prepare them to stand on their own feet. The aid keeps flowing in, so the country does not have to made richer to increase its tax capacity. Most countries are becoming more prosperous. Why not all?
  • So trade helps a poor country more than aid. It can also spread power more widely in the poor country
  • Even if aid is desirable, it should be time limited, to encourage rulers to put their house in order.
  • And it is increasing too fast, far beyond the ability of civil servants to spend it wisely and monitor the results in the detail needed.
  • Experience suggests a policy all the Westminster parties agree on is probably wrong, partly because it won't have been challenged enough.
There's also an objection rooted in the donor country. The government, replies Douglas Carswell, is being generous with other people's money. Would you say the same, asks Tim, about taxpayers' money spent on pensions or unemployment benefit? Well, yes. Pensioners have paid in for their pensions. The Malawi government, notes Carswell, has not.

And maybe there's a case for relating unemployment pay to amounts paid in. Maybe Job Seeker's Allowance should be paid for a basic limited period, to be extended depending on what contributions that taxpayer has made. It's not outlandish, even though big government Montgomerie suggests it's a dangerous principle. But why?

Then there's the Big Compassion argument: Surely we cannot walk on by when others are  in need? I'm proud of our commitment to international aid, says one tweeter.

We all have the chance to commit to international aid. In the age of the internet it is (or could be) easy to choose a project to donate to. It's easy to transfer the money. It would be the choice of the individual. We could call it ... hm, let's see ... I know, we could call it the Big Society.

When the Compassionate applaud enforced donation via government, they are applauding compulsion, us being forced to do what They want us to do. There's no need for it, we can make our own decisions, such compulsion is anachronistic.

And that's without considering that government hasn't got the money anyway, that's it's borrowing it from the next generation, that the other people's money we're spending belongs to our children.

Montgomerie is out of date.

March 25, 2014

Time for managerial brutalities in the state apparatus

Yesterday the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) made no progress on the issue of how badly whistleblowers are treated. As usual, most of the MPs could not shift the bureaucrats who spoke wordily of their policies and practices but had mysteriously failed to come to the committee with any information about any particular case at all.

For instance, Charlie Massey, "Director General, Strategy and External Relations, Department of Health", was fluent in acronyms and the discussions that were taking place with a view to putting together new policies about treatment of whistleblowers, yet seemed to have no ideas about how present and previous policies on whistleblowers might have failed or might require improvement. True to form, most of the MPs put wordy questions allowing the bureaucrats to choose which parts to discuss and which inconvenient points to ignore. And most of the MPs are unfailingly polite, as if they were the ones in charge. The bureaucrats realise most of the MPs are no match for them, but the ceremonial demands that they seem respectful and keep straight faces as the charade proceeds.

There are two good interrogators on the PAC, and one of them asked what sanctions had been applied against NHS managers whose treatment of two whistleblowers had been particularly outrageous. Of course the NHS panjandrum had chosen not to bring with him anything so dangerous as specific facts that might have been useful to his questioners. Ignorance is far safer, don't you know - leaving aside the question (asked by 0 MPs) of how you can be in charge of setting a new policy when you appear to have absolutely no idea what was wrong with the old ones.

The answer is, of course, that the aim of the bureaucrats is not to put in place a ruthlessly effective new policy (that would take no more than a month, tops), but to give the appearance of being in a long meaningful process aiming ... well, aiming to give the impression that something is being done which might prove to be meaningful, but won't so long as the process is managed properly.

So it is not only that the NHS is too big to be managed effectively (which it is), but that people at the top are just committee smoothies.

Where are the managerial thugs?

Or, to put it at more length, who ensures that managers who mistreat whistleblowers suffer for it? Of course as long as they can protect themselves with impunity, of course they will do what it takes to stay safe in their organisational fortresses. Managers behaving badly must be punished. But of course they aren't. Goodness, if you made one or two examples, where might it end?

And who would wield the scalpel? Not their colleagues. Their priority will probably be the well-being of the organisation. So in egregious cases ministers should publicly give the organisation a month at most to deliver heads on a platter. If the platter is not delivered, they should send in a hitman. A managerial thug.

Here are two places where this might start. They are not both whistleblowing cases, but they are both instances where state officials have behaved so outrageously that they should be named, and suffer consequences for what they have done - and be seen to suffer consequences, quickly and openly, so that the next time someone in a state managerial fortress is tempted to abuse their power (and it happens all too often), they pause and consider what happened to Ms CoverUp and Mr Bully.

The cover up was at Kettering General Hospital, which killed a teenager - back in August 2012 - but thought it best to suppress details of their numerous errors to avoid stressing staff. Yes, they really did. If someone is not going to be marched out the door for such abuse of power, they need at the very least to suffer such public obloquy that their career will progress no further. They may not feel named and shamed, but they must be named. Their vile behaviour should at the very least incur vilification.

Secondly, we have a statement from a policeman who "raised concerns over policing, police reform, statistical manipulation, the Olympics and lobbying", sparking a parliamentary inquiry into crime statistics which has had a significant national impact. He goes public before MPs and what is his reward? To be treated so badly by his part of the state apparatus that he feels he has to resign. Again, the managers concerned feel safe in their fortress. Again, it's time for some public obloquy of the individuals who did this.

What do these two cases have in common apart from the abuse of the state's power over us? It is that both sets of events events were reported today.

Imagine how much of this is happening on the other 364 days of the year.

If there are no consequences for the managers, other state managers will see no deterrent.

March 24, 2014

A fatuous campaign

Someone who wants to speak for lawyers on twitter is pushing this graphic

Consider. Jeremy Hunt has never operated on anyone. Philip Hammond has never machine gunned anyone.

Is this really the best this lawyers' spokesman can do?

Every producer interest thinks they're they're important. Cuts should be for the less important interests.

Just to remind the lawyers and the doctors and the teachers and everyone else ... there's no more money. 

Indeed, government are borrowing hand over fist. The country is plunging ever deeper into debit. Maybe, just maybe, we can't afford any longer the way our ponderous legal system is run.

Is major change going to emerge from within the legal profession? It's highly unlikely, isn't it.

So I'm glad the Ministry of Justice isn't headed by a lawyer.

Long may it continue.

March 12, 2014

There's still much for Gove to do

According to Ben Brogan and James Forsyth, Tory MPs are sniping at Michael Gove.

Forsyth puts it in the context of the succession to Cameron - as if Osborne had the ghost of a chance of being an effective and popular leader. (He has as much chance of that as Theresa May - that is, none. Any Tory who disagrees should get out more.) Gove, it is said, would support Osborne, even though that would be (in his word) bonkeroony. So Boris's acolytes are sniping at him.

Brogan has it that Gove has done all he can do at Education and needs a fresh challenge. This too is bonkers.

At a recent performance by the clever Fascinating Aida, one of the songs to get the most enthusiastic applause was a long and witless diatribe attacking education reform and even Ofsted. Its theme was that teachers were doing fine, thank you, and government should get off their backs. The audience loved it.

Remember a Question Time last year when a school student said some of his teachers had been more interested in their pay cheques than their subjects? The audience gasp could not have been louder if he had uttered an awful swear word. The panel were dumbstruck.

So Gove's job at education is not done. The structure of the changes may be clear. But seemingly the public remains to be convinced that change is necessary. And you can't do that without attacking the recent record of the teaching profession.

Gove has been reluctant to do this, and no one has been licensed to take on this task of persuasion. The case is clear. But without anyone putting that case clearly and repeatedly, why would the country embrace change (apart from those who have seen it in their own neighbourhoods)?

This critical task remains to be tackled. Until it is tackled, and tackled successfully, Gove's work is not done and his reforms will be at risk under a government beholden to the NUT.

February 14, 2014

Greens are dismal, narrow and self-righteous

Guido reports the Greens' leader, Natalie Bennett, saying that the government should
Get rid of any cabinet Ministers or senior governmental advisors who refuse to accept the scientific consensus on climate change or who won’t take the risks to the UK seriously.
This call for an authoritarian, Stalinist purge comes as Matt Ridley describes what he calls the beauty of science - "the more you find out, the more you realise what you did not know":
The story of human prehistory is not special in this regard. You can tell the same tale of expanding new mysteries in cosmology, neuroscience, the history of climate, the workings of the immune system. On the voyage of science we are perpetually sighting great continents of ignorance that we did not even know were there.
Yet the narrow, crabbed Natalie Bennett worships the "scientific consensus".

Science makes advances through new discoveries. Discoveries. Those things that overturn a previous scientific consensus. The consensus that there was an invisible gas called phlogiston. The consensus that phrenology was a science. The consensus that earthquakes were nothing to do with tectonic plates. The consensus on the cause of stomach ulcers. All overturned by discoveries. Did I mention the scientific consensus that global temperatures would rise smoothly like the blade of a hockey stick?

The Greens are showing themselves as narrow, puritanical, blinkered apparatchiks who are sure that The Truth has been revealed, sure that they possess the Ultimate Truth, the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question.

As Matt Ridley shows, science isn't like that. It doesn't give a fig for consensus. Or for Natalie Bennett's self-righteous preening.