Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Its the economy stupid

What if nobody is right ?  What if the economy isn't going to grow endlessly anymore ?

The present Government has been an economic disaster/cleaning up the mess it inherited depending on your point of view.

One thing however seems clear, the Government is borrowing far more money than it intended and making fewer and slower cuts. Given that the Labour Party advocated pretty much that course of action, you would have thought they would be pleased, but no, apparently, even when doing what Labour would have done, the Government has got it all wrong. 

It is a strange thing, but not so long ago there was an acceptance that money or GDP (Gross national product) wasn't everything.   David Cameron and his Conservatives were going to measure happiness and quality of life.   Gordon Brown was much happier following his moral compass than bean counting every last penny.  There was a mood of generosity which made caused like cancelling third world debt not only popular but fashionable.

With the sad death of actor Richard Briers, it is a suitable time to reflect on the good life - many of us fall into the habit of saying things - I'd give anything for my health, count your blessings,  it's the little thing that matter, you can't buy love,  family and friends are what's important, not material things.

Perhaps some of these sentiments are more of a coping strategy, a way of coming to terms with the impossibility of us all being millionaires, but on the other hand, they would probably only work if they had a huge element of truth.

So what if the economy can't grow for ever ?  Some people have made predictions in the past and these have proved inaccurate, and human innovation and ingenuity are enormously difficult to factor into predictions.

I wonder though if it would be a bad thing if we all got used to using a little less and living a little more ? 

What's the point ?

The re-trial of Vicky Pryce is not yet over.  Readers will hopefully know that she is accused of perverting the course of justice by having taken speeding points for her husband Chris Huhne. 

Her defence relies on the unusual defence of marital co-ersion.

It seems odd to me that Chris Huhne has not been called as a witness to the trial by either prosecution or defence, as it would seem to me that his conduct is central to the defence and at the moment, the jury largely have his ex-wifes account of his conduct.

Much has been made of the questions the jury asked of the Judge in trying to help them reach a verdict.

It raises another point, about what role juries might play in getting to the truth.
As I understand it, juries can only go on the evidence presented before them, they cannot ask their own questions of witnesses, the judge, prosecution or defence.

I suspect many members of the jury would like to know why if Vicky Pryce had been living with the dreadful burden of taking points for her husband, she did not go to the Police shortly after he left, rather than make repeated efforts to leak the story to the press.

It is clear that Vicky Pryce would often bring up the speeding points issue in arguments with her husband - was that using it to coerce him ?

Can one be both coercer and coerce ? 

Juries have a habit of sometimes doing not what is legal but what they percived to be right. Thus they might think that legally Vicky Pryce is guilty, but that she ought not to be, and thus find her innocent. This is I beleive known as being both judge and jury.

Personnally I am very uneasy about the huge expense of time and money that this trial and investigation has cost.  Part of me knows that no one is above the law, but another part knows the law ought to treat everyone the same and if as the AA claim, 200,000 a year take points on behalf of someone else, it does seems both Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce have been treated unusually.

Trident - Oh Ed, not you too ?

It has been announced, leaked, hinted, suggested, confirmed, take your pick that the Labour Party will go into the next General elections supporting a like for like replacement of the Trident Nuclear Submarines and Missiles.

£25 billion is the cost - although of course estimates of the 'true' cost vary.

It is a reminder hopefully for those who view the Labour Party with rose-tinted spectacles (are their any left ? yes a few) that in many respects they remain incredibly similar to the Conservatives, worse really, because undoubtedly most conservatives MPs think Trident is useful, whereas most Labour MPs one hopes know it to be a white elephant but are still haunted by the electoral crushing they got from supporting unilateral nuclear disarmament in the 1980's so they go along with supporting it.

It will be interesting as welfare cuts bite to wonder who will spot the connection between saving money on benefits so the Government can spend money on Trident.   Just a reminder, the Government is currently spending over £2 billion pounds a week more than it gets in in taxes. It can only do this by borrowing money.  So the money to pay for Trident will be borrowed, making it doubly wasteful.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

A lot of shirkers ?

It seems that the work ethic is very strong despite the inane ramblings of some Conservative politicians.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Great Book by Bill Clinton

Back to work - why we need smart government for a strong economy by Bill Clinton ISBN 978-0-091-94413-1

This was a bit of a shock to read .  A book by a politician full of policy and argument :-O  Actual policies set out, as opposed to cliches recycled and philosophical musing of little relevance to public policy.

It is a concise and easy to understand case for the form of Liberal Government espoused by Bill Clinton.

What was depressing is that it is so unlike any book you are likely to read from a UK political leader.

Bill Clinton takes on the arguments of the Tea Party and defeats them.

He covers the whole range of USA political views, Democrats, Republican, Libertarian, Conservative, Progressive, even Tea Party and tries to show where they ought to be able to make common cause if they follow the logic of the evidence.

It sets out clearly the problems with leaving the deficit untackled and sets out how to tackle it.  He puts a case for Government taking on the argument that all Government is bad.  The shows the flaws and inconsistencies in the particular brand of politics that has dominated the republican party since the 1980's.

Sadly too, it shows how little the Labour party in the UK had learnt from Bill Clinton.  It took the slogans but rarely the policies. In fact the Labour Party in Government was more like the Republicans in the USA -  spending without raising taxes, not reshaping Government but creating more of what Governments do badly.

Quick Reads

"Quick Reads are brilliant short stories by best selling authors and celebrities"

Well for once the hype is true.

The quick read I have just finished is one of 53 listed.   Short books of about 100 pages priced at £1 to encourage people to read.

I have read all six Dr Who ones and several of the others, all have been excellent.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Where's the beef ?

Where's the beef, as Ronald Reagan used to ask. The answer, possibly not in your processed food.

If some good things come out of this whole horse meat in food 'scandal' it could be

1. An acknowlegdement that horse meat was probably better than some of the mashed up mechanically removed slurry that it replaced.

2. More people buying meat from butchers - and hopefully buying free-range

3. More people cutting down on the amount of meat they eat

4. Another blow for the people who say - "leave it all to market forces, let the buyer beware".  The reality is that most people don't want to, shouldn't have to and prorbably can't tell whether their fod is being adultorated. There is a role for state regulation.

Monday, 11 February 2013

God Knows

What a muddle the Church of England and the Catholic Church are getting into over the issue of homosexuality.   Quite honestly I struggle to understand why anyone Gay would wish to have anything to do with either Church.   It seems to me undeniable that both Churches have had a long history of being anti-Gay and it seems equally absurd to me that a Church can claim to follow the unchanging teachings of God and yet revise those teaching.

Time was God used to appear as a burning bush and tell people what he thought, these days his mobile number or email might be better, rather than leaving people to pray to him and receive very different answers.

Defiance - Jewish Resistance in WWII

Defiance - The true story of the Bielski Partisans - by Nechama Tec  ISBN 978-0-19-538523-6

In 1942 a small group of Jewish resistance fighters escaping Nazi persecution established a community in the forests of western Belorussia.  Within 2 years they numbers more than 1200 men, women and children.  It was the largest armed rescue of Jews by Jews in the war.

The leader of the Partisans - Tuvia Bielski emphasised that saving Jewish lives as being more important than killing Germans.

The book chronicles the reality of living in very difficult circumstances, the huge achievements by those living in the community and the challenges they faced.   It is not a well know part of history and deserves to be better known.

Defiance - was the basis for a film staring Daniel Craig - aka James Bond. The film is not very historically accurate - as is the way with most films
that try and condense events of two years into 2 hours.

Double Cross - the true story of the D-Day spies

This book by Ben McIntyre sets out the story of the 'double cross system' where spies who the Germans thought were working for them, were actually working for British Intelligence.

Although a work of non-fiction, it reads like a gripping adventure yarn.

The central claim of the book, is that the culmination of the deception was that the German military where misled into thinking the D-Day landings were a division for the 'real' invasion planned for Calais. This is both undoubtedly true and also meant that many lives were saved and that WWII ended sooner than it might otherwise have done.

It is heartening in a way to read of the often deliberate incompetence of many Germans working for the German intelligence services.   Resistance to the Nazi regime could take many forms.

The bravery shown by those of the agents that flitted back and forth between England and occupied Europe is extra-ordinary.

McIntyre paints them all as complex and often flawed individuals - who never the less did extraordinary things.  Some of the stories seem almost beyond belief, as has been said, fact is often stranger than fiction.

Friday, 8 February 2013

The original X factor

Another strange case of life imitating art.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Something fishy going on

At last the EU looks set to take action to end the practice of fish being caught and then being thrown back(dead) into the sea.

I don't eat fish myself, but for those who do, sustainable fishing is the only sensible option.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The real scandal of Housing Benefit ?

It used to be (Sept 2009) that £18 billion a year was spent on housing benefit in the UK, going to 4.4 million people.

How much ?

Well, lets start with the issue of a Billion Pounds. In the UK that used to refer to a million times a million, but now it is used to describe 1000 times one million.  So £18 billion ie £18,000,000,000.   If you divided £18,000,000,000 by 4,400,000 people who get housing benefit, then that works out at £4090 each.

But things have moved on, since the Government has tried to bring down the housing benefit bill,  the number of people needing housing benefit has increased to 5,000,000 and the total bill is now around £23,000,000,000,000
that's an average of £4600 each.
The Department for work and pensions estimates housing benefit payments to people living in property rented from private sector landlord were on average £107 a week (May 2012), which actually gives a figure of £5564 a year.

Private sector rents in May 2012 were on average £8544 a month.

Three major points to note

1. Tenants do not in the end get paid housing benefit - it is paid to Landlords
2. The Government could build or buy a whole lots more properties for the same money it effectively hands over to private sector landlords.
3. That ought to be considered the real scandal of housing benefit

The major change pioneered by Labour was the introduction of the Local Housing Allowance, by which tenants were limited to an a housing benefit payment in the private sector which reflected the average for their area. As an incentive to shop around for cheaper rents, they were allowed to keep a share of any savings should their rent come in lower.