National politics

Brown can’t tell the truth

I haven’t been blogging much lately. It is hard to get fired up about writing about local issues, even London issues, when it seems like our whole economy is in freefall. Today I might have written about TfL’s trial of live CCTV on the buses but I just didn’t have the heart really. As I wrote back at the end of last month “we are going through a worrying, albeit temporary, crisis”. It looks like temporary is going to be the rest of this year and most of next year.

Today National Statistics published the debt figures for September.

As the BBC reported today borrowing is at a post war high. Remember that is at the end of the longest boom in modern history and at the start of our biggest financial crisis certainly since the early 1970s and probably since the 1930s.

Even today of all days our pernicious, lying prime minister cannot tell it straight. Watch this exchange in Parliament today. At 2:39 the prime minister says, without qualification, that “it is because we cut the national debt over the last few years”. If you look at the figures released today, the PSF8 table at the back, you will see that net government debt was £351 billion in May 1997 and is £645 billion today, pretty much double in nominal terms. As a proportion of GDP net debt was 42.5% in May 1997. Today it is 43.4%. Now whilst this is not much worse than May 1997 it is worse not better so Brown was lying point blank and in any case you would normally have to hope for an improvement after a continuous period of growth.

No doubt Labour’s apologists would point out that without Northern Rock that net debt as a proportion of GDP would be 37.9%, still lower than the ratio when Labour came to power. That is to ignore 11.5 years of growth since then and the fact that it was Brown’s regulatory regime that left the government holding the Rock baby.

National politics

BBC spinning knife sentencing

The BBC Today programme’s biggest UK story first thing this morning was headlined “Knife sentencing ‘not effective'”.

Apparently Nicola Marfleet, the govenor of Pentonville Prison, interviewed teens on behalf of the Howard League for Penal Reform who had been excluded from school or were serving time in custody.
Most believed tough sentences (up to a maximum of four years) were only meant to “scare” them and they were more likely to be tagged than jailed. The BBC has used this statement of the obvious to produce a headline that cannot be substantiated with the facts.

Kids are not dumb. They talk to each other in playgrounds and they are accurately reporting actual criminal justice system outcomes rather than Labour spin on sentencing. The most up to-date Home Office figures showed that even when the maximum sentence for carrying was only 3 years only about one fifth of all offenders got ANY custodial sentence at all – the vast majority got tagged or some such. The kids are bang on the money.

It is not the sentences that are at fault it is the criminal justice system that systematically fails to do the people’s will. If one kid in a neighbourhood school got four years for carrying you could guarantee that the schoolyard grapevine would broadcast this message very clearly to local schools very quickly. The message currently being broadcast is that you will not get banged up for carrying.

National politics

Will Self’s private pain

I was struck by Will Self’s hand-wringing in today’s Evening Standard over sending his child to a private school. He follows in the footsteps of a long line of Labour figures who think that the bog standard comprehensive should provide an education for all but their own little darlings. He says he is not a hypocrite:

No, I don’t feel hypocritical just angry. Angry that after more than seven fat years, London schools are in a worse state than ever, angry that those who have not must bear the brunt of it.

At least he has gained the insight that Gordon Brown’s nice decade spending splurge has achieved rather less than advertised.

Old leftie Self is more in line with Gordon Brown’s thinking than he imagines though. In his 2006 budget speech Brown said:

We know the educational benefits of more individual attention, small group teaching and tutoring, and that they are easier to get where the overall teacher pupil ratio is low.

In private schools there is one teacher for every nine pupils compared with one teacher for every sixteen in state secondary schools.

To secure better school results we have improved the pupil teacher ratio and doubled the money spent per year for the typical pupil from £2,500 to £5,000.

But this figure of £5,000 per pupil still stands in marked contrast to average spending per pupil in the private sector of £8,000 a year.

Our long-term aim should be to ensure for 100% of our children the educational support now available to just 10%.

So to improve pupil teacher ratios and the quality of our education, we should agree an objective for our country that stage by stage, adjusting for inflation, we raise average investment per pupil to today’s private school level.

So Brown wants everyone to have the equivalent of a private education provided by the state so Self is not a hypocrite he is merely jumping the queue.

This is one of the dumber things that Brown ever said.

Firstly, he was comparing a private sector that on the whole consciously provides a premium service with a free system for all. If we had universal private education there would be a whole class of “bog standard” private schools that would provide excellent education for a modest sum. This is what Chris Woodhead, controversial ex-Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, is trying to achieve with Cognita Schools. See also Telegraph article here.

Secondly, with the credit crisis in full effect this goal, unrealistic at the best of times, looks further off.

Thirdly, and finally, as soon as the state ends up spending equivalent amounts to the private sector directly on each child then most parents will scream “give me that cash to spend in the private sector”. This is effectively what the Conservatives are offering.

National politics

Echoes of Boris?

I couldn’t stay in Birmingham for the leader’s speech this afternoon as I had to get back to London for work this morning.

I did though get the chance to watch the whole thing on BBC Parliament. It was a long speech but I was enthralled by it. I have not always been a total Cameroon but I loved the way he knitted the past with the future and managed to weave a fabric that encompassed so many issues.

One thing that struck me particularly were two items that are straight lifts from Boris’ London campaign. One was the reference to incivility and the other was the incidence of teen crime. I reproduce two snippets below:

But it’s not just the crime; not even the anti-social behaviour. It’s the angry, harsh culture of incivility that seems to be all around us. When in one generation we seem to have abandoned the habits of all human history that in a civilised society, adults have a proper role – a responsibility – to uphold rules and order in the public realm not just for their own children but for other people’s too.

Just consider the senseless, barbaric violence on our streets. Children killing children. Twenty-seven kids murdered on the streets of London this year.

They worked for Boris. I am sure they will work for Cameron too.

National politics

Crisis? What crisis?

I was in the conference hall this morning to hear David Cameron’s emergency address (full text here) to the Tories.

As Iain Dale says he hit the right note offering to assist the government in any emergency legislation required to deal with the financial crisis.

Dale thinks he even hinted that a form of national government might be necessary. I can’t say I read that into anything Cameron said.

I am sure that we are going through a worrying, albeit temporary, crisis but I can’t help thinking I have seen it all before. I remember the secondary banking crisis of the early seventies because my Dad lost his job in ’74. Do you remember it? Remember the Latin American debt crisis in the late eighties that almost broke Citibank? I was doing business with Citibank just after that so I do. How about the $60 billion bailout of the US savings and loans (building societies) in the late eighties – the US government made a small profit out of this transaction. I’d almost forgotten that one not having been even remotely involved.

This crisis will all seem very distant and unimportant before too long. It is worth remembering that Labour keep going on about Black Wednesday and 15% interest rates. I was visiting the Treasurer of Co-operative Bank that day at 11am when it all kicked off; he very politely disappeared after popping in to tell us what was up. That headline rate only applied intra-day and from September 1992 until recently we have enjoyed relatively benign economic circumstances, engineered by Norman Lamont. No Labour figures like to remember their support for the ERM that led to that crisis. About the only people who were against our ERM entry were a few lonely Eurosceptic figures on the right.

We might have called Gordon Brown’s gold sales in 1999-2001 a crisis, they cost about the same as Black Wednesday, but did you even notice them?

Our current government could have used Norman Lamont’s nice decade to rebuild the public finances but instead Gordon Brown spent 10 years as chancellor trashing them.

PS I wonder if anyone will notice that I forgot to mention the dot com crash.

National politics

No third runway

Nicked from the ConservativesThe biggest news for West London coming out of today’s Tory conference sessions was Theresa Villers’ announcement that the next Conservative government would not go ahead with the third runway at Heathrow. Instead the next Conservative government would go for high speed rail as a way of reducing the demand for air travel around London. See Conservative’s announcement here.

The Evening Standard reports a negative reaction from businesses.

The overall mood at the conference is pretty sombre given the financial news this morning. Grant Schapps, late of the Ealing Southall campaign last July, made much of the slump in mortgage lending announced today by the Bank of Englnad.

National politics

Barnett Formula for Dummies

Whatever your political persuasion if you want to understand what drives the public spending disparities between the so-called nations that make up the United Kingdom the guide published today by the Taxpayers’ Alliance is indispensable.

Even of you don’t like the TPA’s point of view writer Mike Denham, who writes the Burning Our Money blog, is an ex Treasury economist who knows his stuff and writes well.

No doubt the key points below will be picked up widely in the media but I would recommend the whole paper.

  • Identifiable public spending per head in England is £7,535 pa (2007-08). But in Scotland it is 22 per cent (£1,644) higher, Wales 14 per cent (£1,042) higher, and Northern Ireland an extraordinary 30 per cent (£2,254) higher.
  • Just over the last two decades (since 1985-86), higher spending in the three devolved territories has cost UK taxpayers a cumulative £200 billion (£102 billion in Scotland; £43 billion in Wales; £57 billion in Northern Ireland).
  • North Sea Oil has not funded the Scottish spending gap, despite Scottish Nationalist claims to the contrary. In only five of the last 23 years have North Sea Oil receipts exceeded the cost of higher funding paid to Scotland. Even with current high oil prices, the income from the Scottish share of North Sea Oil only just covers the spending gap, and North Sea Oil output is projected to fall by 50 per cent by 2020.
National politics

Nasty McShane

I read the piece by Denis McShane, Labour MP for Rotherham, in this morning’s Telegraph and my first thought was heaven rejoices, etc. He says:

Any prime minister in office today would feel the voters’ anger as they see their cherished plans to spend their own money as they see fit destroyed by rising prices combined with the insatiable greed of the state in all its manifestations to take the people’s money for its own, often incompetent and counter-productive ends.


Only further down he resorts to the SVP-style dog whistling (more rabble-rousing, bullhorn, full-on class ridden nastiness) that is a bizarre side effect of New Labour’s death throes:

This can be targeted at the indigenous working class, furious at the incessant year-on-year council-tax increases above the rate of inflation.

National politics

Coming of age ceremonies

This morning the Radio 4 Today programme is talking about Lord Goldsmith’s proposal that children leaving school should pledge an oath of allegiance in a ceremony modelled on the citizenship ceremony for immigrants.

Oath of allegianceI had some recent experience of these as earlier this year I attended my wife’s citizenship ceremony where she pledged an oath of allegiance to the Queen. She is an American who wanted to be able to vote (against Ken Livingstone in particular). On the whole I thought that the ceremony was well done and did indeed make a fitting way to mark the end of the (quite convoluted) journey to British citizenship. I can see how it might be a useful way to mark a child’s coming of age. Maybe it would be more attractive if some kind of party was included in the package!

The oath you have to say in a citizen ceremony is reasonably full-on even for a product of New Labour:

I (name) swear by Almighty God that on becoming a British Citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second; Her Heirs and successors according to law.

I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British Citizen.

It doesn’t take too long to work out what is wrong with our schools when John Dunford from the Association of School and College leaders said it was “a half-baked idea that should be left to go mouldy”. OK so someone representing a union responsible for people teaching our young people writes off a constructive suggestion with name calling. Not very impressive.

Update: New Labour icon, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, quangocrat extraordinaire, was the first interviewee on Today’s flagship 8:10am slot this morning. On this subject she said: “I’m afraid I groaned … risible … puerile … serious mistake … divisive … coercive … empty gesture …” If this pernicious, Scottish lawyer is that against this idea it must have some merit if only because it so infuriates this pompous, unelected twit.

National politics

Sharma still on holiday

Virendra SharmaI decided to check how local MPs had voted yesterday on the Tory motion that speaks out against Government proposals to reduce funding for those who already have higher education qualifications but want to undertake more study.

That this House is concerned that the Government’s decision to withdraw funding from institutions for equivalent or lower qualification students will have a disproportionate impact on the part-time sector in general and on specific institutions such as Birkbeck and the Open University; and urges the Government to consider ways in which it can minimise the damage this measure will do to lifelong learning and the delivery of the Leitch agenda objectives.

Local MPs Andy Slaughter and Stephen Pound both dutifully voted with the Government.

Northfield and Southall MP Virendra Sharma is clearly still on his holidays, see voting record here.