Post Election

Time to reflect on the UK’s Election or what might become known as Theresa May’s disaster.

Some of this is extracted from a Goodreads forum discussion.

First turnout.

  • Although pleasing the turnout went up 3% since 2015 we still ended up with only 69% bothering to vote or deciding to vote. i.e. nearly 1/3 of electorate did not care or could not decide.
  • 53 to 48% on UK Brexit out on turnout of 72% of which 62% in Scotland voted to remain in EU and 60% in London did the same. EU vote also included Gibraltar
    55 to 45% on Scotland to stay in UK on 84.5% of eligible Scottish voters – no one else got a say
  • 2015 General election 66.4% turnout with wide variation dependent on constituency. The Conservatives won 36% of that which gave them overall majority of 12 seats in House of Commons

May as P.M

IMHO May got exactly what she deserved. 3 unbelievably bad decisions in under 12 months:

  1. No general election after becoming p.m and failing to seek support across parties for Brexit process after referendum and Cameron’s resignation
  2. Triggering Brexit process but not having election whilst clearly knowing there was a 2 year timetable
  3. Changing mind and having election – again this could have been agreed with other parties based on the Brexit timetable – i.e. the alleged reason of a stable government to agree deal on the timeline

If anything proves that May is not fit to be P.M it should be the above – as if her record as an appalling Home Secretary was any justification for making her leader. I think that was the anyone but Boris Johnson/Michael Gove vote in action. Luckily I was away for a few weeks of the general election campaign but seldom have I seen such a disastrous rabble as the Conservative attempt – again totally controlled by May’s cohorts, at least some of them have had the dignity to resign. Contrast with Scottish campaign run by Scottish Conservatives 1 MP to 13 is staggering.

Now what – the country will have to carry on with May (or have 4 weeks of leadership election) for a period but expect an autumn election – no party can govern without a more formalised agreement as 2010-15 showed – at least Gov was stable – unlike Lib-Lab pact of 70’s. Despite Progressive Alliance discussion Labour would need DUP as well as all the other parties to pass any legislation unless they expect Conservatives to vote for their policies – nationalise railways for example?

Labour

Kudos to Corbyn although losing an election is a funny way of claiming victory. The big losers are SNP but are still the majority in Scotland. My only comment there is if your campaign is entirely based on someone who is not standing i.e. Nicola Sturgeon then don’t be surprised if it get personal. Ditto for heresa May but at least she was standing in her constituency. Labour MPs after this election have 10 less than Labour won under Neil Kinnock in 1987. He resigned as it was seen as a disastrous result. Some Labour commentators have managed to mention the fact that Labour lost.

Some realism at last. To win an outright majority Labour need’s at least another 70 seats. To have a decent majority they need more like another 100. Even with a complete reversal in Scotland (30 back from SNP) a dozen from Wales and no resurgence in Lib Dems, somehow they need another 50 current Conservative seats.

Forecast

If there is another election will Conservatives campaign as badly? Will young turnout (thought to be Labour) be as high will places like Kensington stay with current result. My view:

  • Lib Dems will gain again impact on both Labaour and Conservative but only small number maybe another 5-8
  • Labour will hold more easily in North but lose in South end up same
  • Conservatives will regain Southern losts
  • SNP will again slip back to Labour but might re-gain Conservative wins.
  • Net result – same again but might just give Conservatives 8 seats net gain for overall majority.

I cannot see an alternate candidate for P.M – yes I know people talk about Boris but he does not have enough backing. There is no obvious alternate leader in waiting. I think May will survive for a few months, then again I didn’t expect Cameron to resign and her to become P.M. Let alone to blow the election – I had a bet for 50+ majority. This time I won’t put money on it and a lot can happen between now and then

The BBC’s poll of polls tracker actually showed it. The trend for Labour was up just as it had been for the referendum out vote and the 2015 election Conservative win. What Theresa would give for Cameron’s result now.

Tax

One of the problems of most electorates and the promise of jam tomorrow is misunderstanding how the tax system works and what can really be obtained by raising taxes. The Lib-Dem manifesto was at least partly honest by stating that there needed to be a rise in basic taxation to generate the funds needed for higher spending without just adding to the debt. Remember our UK debt interest payments:

(paying the interest) the public debt amounted to around £43 billion (which is roughly 3% of GDP or 8% of UK government tax income)

This is roughly the same as the defence budget 2/3 of education spending and 1/3 of NHS. In other words this is a staggering amount of money, which is growing daily and current spending activity despite austerity is just adding to it. i.e. the governments since 2008 have made this worse.

If we want more money for these areas (or anything else) don’t treat public spending as a never ending credit card. The difficult austerity measures of 2010-15 were designed to stop increasing this borrowing and failed. The Labour party campaigned (somewhat successfully whilst still losing) for an end to austerity but unless tax intake goes up substantially the debt will rise as day to day borrowing increases i.e. we add to the debt.

It doesn’t mater what you borrow for (infrastructure, deficit, pay) it all adds up to debt – a failing of virtually every country in the world. It’s called living beyond our means – although in most of advanced world it is its not paying our bills. i.e. if we paid more tax privately or from business we could pay this off. Relying on GDP increase to increase taxation is not working.

The other issue on tax is the fallacy that higher earners are not paying their fair share. 25% of £100k a year is £25k. 25% of £20k is £4,000 – ignoring allowances and higher payments (First £11k free of tax for both and higher rate coming in at higher salary) the higher rate tax payer already pays £21k a year more for the same services. So the richer members of society (everyone that pays tax) already give subsidies to the lower paid. At the same time many richer members of society do not use those services e.g. private education and private health/social care.

The old tale of the taxpayers should always be born in mind – yes its glib. For 10 taxpayers substitute ten companies with corporation tax

10 drinkers in a bar who decide to settle their £100 weekly beer bill roughly the same way we pay our taxes. So, the first four men (the poorest) paid nothing; the fifth paid £1; the sixth £3; the seventh £7; the eighth £12; the ninth £18; and the 10th man, the richest, paid £59.

Then the barman decided to give them a £20 discount for being good customers. The group wanted to continue to pay the new £80 bill the same way as before. While the first four men still drank for free, the other six divided up the £20 windfall by following the progressive principle of the tax system. So the fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing, making a 100 per cent saving; the sixth man paid £2 instead of £3 (a 33 per cent saving); the seventh man paid £5 instead of £7 (a 28 per cent saving); the eighth £9 instead of £12 (a 25 per cent saving); and the ninth £14 instead of £18 (a 22 per cent saving). The 10th man paid £49 instead of £59 (a 16 per cent saving).

The men then began to compare their savings. “I only got £1 out of the £20,” declared the sixth man. He pointed to the 10th man, “but he got £10 – the wealthy get all the breaks!” “Wait a minute,” said the first four men, “we didn’t get anything at all. This new system exploits the poor.” So the other nine men surrounded the 10th and beat him up. The next week he didn’t show for drinks, so the nine sat down and had their beers without him. But when they came to pay, they discovered they didn’t have enough money between them to pay even half the bill.

Inflation

Unless we as a society do some fundamental re-thinking of tax income we are in danger of the rich man/company walking away. The amount of money raised by just increasing higher rates of tax is small because there are so few. This is always going to result in less income as the ridiculous 90% tax applied in the 70s demonstrated. The same applies to rich companies – i.e. those that generate sufficient profits or dividends. If the are publicly owned then those dividends turn into investment income for our pensions – yes the senior executives pay themselves extortionate amounts. The richest companies in the world (Apple etc.) employ hundreds of people to move money around to avoid whichever country tries to get more of the income even under a current system. If you make it more expensive for them to trade the directors will be duty bound (and financially incentivised) to try a way to avoid it.  Taking their jobs (from Apple store assistants to financial traders) with them.

By the way increasing wages in any organisation increases costs unless there is a corresponding increase in productivity. Cost = goods / services price rise or cost of service for public sector. Thus either price inflation or more tax required issue. Pay seems to come first, productivity a long way behind, if ever.  Have we learned nothing from the high inflation and high interest rates of the 70s and 80s. Of course the young have an excuse. They were promised in Labour’s manifesto free University education, higher wages, and the old more spending on welfare and social care. They are the now generation and have grown up with exceptionally low inflation. This is not a Conservative manifesto it is baic economics. We as a population are childish and naive. We want something for nothing. We all want jam tomorrow. The current political situation is a reflection of lack of honesty from politicians of all parties who have failed to address the major issues of national income and national debt. If we want good health care and good social care then it has to be paid for. That means tax not borrowing. The trident row is another good example, Whatever the merits of a nuclear deterrent the cost argument is farcical. Trident cost is £100bn for whole life i.e. less than the cost of one year’s NHS spending.

I sometimes think the entire population is unable to understand basic mathematics in particular what a percentage is i.e. the tax take example above.  If we really want to sort out public finances.Institue of Financial Studies produced this in 2015. Suggested reading

And a quote from that document my emphasis – “Of the big three taxes:
  • a 1 percentage point rise in all rates of income tax would raise £5.5 billion;
  • a 1 percentage point rise in all employee and self-employed National Insurance
  • contribution (NIC) rates would raise £4.9 billion;
  • a 1 percentage point rise in the main rate of VAT would raise £5.2 billion.
 If we want £10bn more for the NHS per year we need 2% on basic rate and we will all have less to spend.

 

Drugs, Brexit Divorce Bill, Elections and Musings

I had not realised that it has been over a month since my last wittering. Many of you will be thankful for the silence especially my own son who’s has managed to embed himself into a political party and start campaigning in the UK’s latest election. I’ll get to that in a moment first lets talk NHS and drugs!

NHS

In the never ending debate about NHS spending in the UK – read across to other countries – let’s get a fact out from http://www.nhshistory.net/parlymoney.pdf

In 1950/51 spending amounted to £11.7 billion in 2010/11 prices, or 3.5% of
GDP. By 2010/11, spending had increased more than tenfold in real terms to reach £121bn, or 8.2% of GDP.
Although it has risen consistently over the period, spending has accelerated in recent years.
Between 1999/00 and 2009/10, real-terms expenditure rose by 92%

The Kings Fund has this for NHS in England in dismissing yet another politicians claim of how big an increase the NHS had received each year

Graph showing annual percentage change in real NHS spending

i.e. there has been a real terms increase in NHS spending in England since the 70s with 3 exceptions – so much for NHS cuts. The counter to that argument is that NHS costs have also increased ahead of regular inflation during this period and that is true in particular costs for new treatments i.e. drugs and they are treating more patients due to larger population size, but this is a pot % of a bigger pot as GDP has grown in the same period. There are within the numbers huge variations of what the money has been spent on – a new hospital, pay for cleaners, more doctors and nurses, radiographers, LGBT diagnosis, car parking executives, etc? But lets stick to Drugs.

Drugs

The drug market has recently been in the news with the perceived failure (in economic terms against improved life expectancy) of the UK’s National Cancer Fund. This was set up with the best intentions of funding nationally treatment that local health authorities could not afford. Thus transferring large amounts of money for very expensive drugs produced by pharmaceutical companies. Not surprisingly the results have not been as good collectively as everyone hoped. Some individuals have had very successful treatment, unfortunately most have not. This brings us to the bigger picture of drug companies, cures and such issues of the slow failure of antibiotics (due to over prescription and misuse).

Drug companies are not investing in research to replace antibiotics because there is no money in it for them. There is no money in any drug that produces a cure. What drug companies want is a population that is kept well enough to earn a living thus to pay for drugs that do not cure but keep the customer well. There is no cure for diabetes just a lifetime of insulin injections, blood tests and monitoring. Vaccines cure or prevent treatment is designed not to cure. The only answer to this problem is to either persuade leopards to change spots i.e. drug companies to work for the interests of the patient rather than shareholders or Government to be socially responsible. I have quoted before one terrorism incident provokes millions of tax money spent. Thousands of antibiotic deaths and risks of death provokes barely a whisper.

Brexit

Just a brief word on Brexit divorce bill for my European colleagues. Yes there will be a cost for commitments beyond Brexit date. the liabilities, but there is also a share of assets. Therefore, I presume the UK will be paid its percentage share of buildings, systems, IPR, stored wine, butter, grain, computer systems etc. Of course it appears that the rest of the EU want the UK to pay maintenance for the rest of the EU countries lives, like a distraught spouse who wants to stay in the family house and not work for a living.

UK Election

Both the elements above are key UK election issues. I know my pleads will land on deaf ears (or blind readers) but can we have proper facts. If a cut is claimed (See NHS) above please have the Oxford English Dictionary refine what the word cut actually means. I thought after Trump alternative facts might go on the back seat but no such luck. To add to NHS lets look at Education

http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.XPD.TOTL.GD.ZS?locations=GB

The graph on that link shows a less than 1% reduction in Education spending as % of GDP between 2010 and 2015 since reversed and trending back upwards. This is in turn with a growing GDP i.e. higher % of higher total pot. Again internal inflation may reduce value of increase but it is not a cut. Spending per pupil – another measure may be down overall but that is because we have far more pupils than before due to net population increase, thanks to birth rates, lower death rates and better health care. Immigration may also have an impact but where more children come from is less important than the fact that there are more children living longer – I have covered this before. Normally we talk about age and long life pushing the population numbers up but higher birth rates and lower infant mortality do the same then 70+ years later add to the aging population. Just one example not in my local area and not a hotbed of immigration (unlike London), Somerset County Council had an increase in pupil numbers of 0.8% just between 2014 and 2015. This amounted to 521 pupils i.e. a decent sized primary school capacity needed. Have you noticed all the new schools being built, and the sewage systems, the roads the hospitals the…. You get my drift

I could also hope that people not actually standing in the election but in political parties might shut up for ten seconds so we can view the actual candidates – already a forlorn hope. Farage, Blair, Osbourne, Sturgeon I mean you. We then have the endless comments about voting for May, Crobyn, Farrow etc (other candidates are available) We do not have a presidency. For any one of these they first have to get elected by their area’s constituents. None of these people are standing where I live so I cannot vote for any of them. I can only vote for candidates standing in the area I am registered to vote. I continue to see commentators, media and the general public asked who they will vote for with the answer one of the leaders. All of these discussions are not in the the respective constituencies. Why is this question even asked?

Once elected as an MP, then ,if they manage to be the current leader of the largest political party (or other grouping), in the UK’s parliament, you may be asked by the monarch to form a government. If the numbers do not add up (326 MPS) you may still be asked if with other partners you can form a government as happened from 2010-2015. Sorry regional governments that’s why you still have national elections not regional ones Ms Sturgeon please take note, if you want a say on UK politics please stand as an MP and be accountable to your constituents to the UK Parliament otherwise please stick to running the bits of Scotland devolved to the Scottish Parliament. This specifically does not include foreign affairs, defence, security etc.

France

Of course by the time the UK goes to its national poll (we have local elections before that) France will have a new President. On current polls (can we believe any of them?) the likely winner on 7th May will be Emmanuel Macron and not Marine Le Pen. Here unlike UK they are voting for an individual. The whole EU leadership seems to be behind Macron as he is seen as pro-EU and business. Of course I am certain that no EU funds have been used to support any of the candidates apart from the funding all candidates in France receive from the EU – what you did not know that the EU funds political parties?

http://www.welcomeurope.com/european-funds/funding-of-political-parties-foundations-european-level-180+80.html#tab=onglet_details

It Almost Makes Sense

In the UK there are major restrictions on funding of political parties, hence potential prosecutions over expenses in the 2015 election, meanwhile the EU funds all sorts of groups and clearly the UK currently pays (via its net contributions) for this. Perhaps this is the real reason the EU wants funding to continue post Brexit. All those political parties and institutions are dependent on it just like a drug company wanting unwell patients that are never cured.

Re-Moaners and Trump’eters

Another few weeks drift past and yet the same issues which seem to have been in the news all year, remain.

The US never-ending election still has over 3 weeks to run and just when you think the behaviour and approach of both camps can’t get any worse they manage to achieve it. If it’s not sexual abuse allegations it’s more leaked emails. I pity the American voter. I thought our choice this side of the Atlantic was pretty bad but the candidates there look appalling.

I watched the clip of Gary Johnson who is apparently also standing as a Libertarian Party candidate – I mean really? Over five years into a civil war in Syria and this man who wants to be President of the most powerful nation on earth does not know what Aleppo is?

At least Trump and Clinton have managed to answer some questions on the subject. It’s not unusual for foreign affairs (not the sexual kind) to play little part in a US election, but one might have expected that confrontations with Russia over Syria, Ukraine and Crimea, to have some impact. Likewise relations with China over the Spratley Islands rather than ridiculous notions of simplistic arguments over manufacturing jobs in the US should have some policy. It remains completely unreported what either candidate’s plans for North Korea are. Better not ask Trump but his rhetoric can’t be worse than the accusations from US Security services that NK was behind the Sony attack.

What still amazes many commentators is that Trump is still popular with large swathes of the US electorate despite all the gaffes. It demonstrates how unpopular Clinton is but more importantly how upset many American voters are with the established political class which Clinton embodies.  Here we have some of the parallels with the UK EU debate despite the referendum.

Although there is an element of the moaning bad loser side in some of the pronouncements from what was the remain side, many did set out the risks to the economy an no-vote would bring. Several senior economists have stated that the currency changes that we have seen since end of June were a long overdue correction to Sterling’s position just exasperated by the vote for exit and on-going uncertainty of what that means. In the percentages shown everything is referred to the currency position post 23rd June, failing as usual to mention that Sterling’s value had risen significantly in the lead up to the vote.

Euro over 5 years from here shows a different story than the headlines might have you believe on 19th Oct 2011 the exchange rate was 1.14 and it closed on 14th Oct 2016 at 1.11. In particular, the rise of the pound in 2015 and the lead up to the vote is dramatic. US Dollar to Sterling is a significant fall over the same period 1.57 to 1.21 and the comments on reserve currencies should be concerning, but at the same time interest rates have been signaled upwards in the US and stay the same or lower in the UK which does not help Sterling investors. By the way Euro to US Dollar has gone down from 1.37 to 1.11 in the same time period.

I have picked an arbitrary period but some of us can remember much better and worse Pound to Dollar rates. It reached a low of 1.05 in February 1985 after the ERM fiasco and was as high as 2.11 in November 2007 as sub-prime crashed the dollar

What do we learn from that brief history- currencies fluctuate – sometimes a lot – thousands of traders around the world make money doing that.

Final discussion for today is on Credit Rating Agencies and their comments – yes the same folks that branded those sub-prime investment funds as AAA, are doing all their warnings on where the pound might go next. All the discussion is based on what the UK might do as if what might happen in the Euro (How is Greece by the way and Italy, Portugal, Spain?) will have no impact. Remember Euro zone and other EU exports to the UK, exceed UK Exports to the EU – we both have a lot to lose if we are stupid and put in unnecessary tariffs.  World trade will be damaged if Trump introduced tariffs to protect American jobs and cancels NAFTA. Likewise what will be the impact on the dollar if Trump wins and implements that piece of rhetoric.

Guess what the pound might go up or down or sideways.  Can we moan about currency traders instead?

In, Out or Shake It All About

I did not think I would return so quickly to the UK’s in out referendum as a blog topic but here I am. Once again I am heartily sick of this misinformation that is allowed to run across our media outlets without proper questioning.

This week much has been made of the legal status of the agreement with the Council of Europe and whether it is binding. Bottom line on this, in my view, is that the agreement is binding in intent but only becomes formalised after treaty change. As I explained in my previous post, this will require referendums in several other countries. If rejected by the constitutional process in those countries then what?

There continues to be a lack of clarity on many areas of our relationship with the EU regardless of the agreement negotiated. The in/out decision is really about this for most out campaigners. Regardless of the renegotiation details which appear almost to be a side show. I’ll focus on three elements Finance, Security, Rights and Trade.

Finance

The UK’s is the 4th largest contributor but the 2nd largest net contributor behind Germany. This net contribution is effectively a membership fee and that contribution is used by the EU organisations to subsidise and support other EU nations of which Poland, in 2013, was the largest recipient. In other words it is overseas aid for the EU.   This fee in 2015 was £9 billion based on £18b contribution, £5b rebate (Mrs T) and £4b in farming via Common Agricultural. As a comparison the UK currently pays £43b per year in interest on its National debt of £1.6 Trillion.

The UK is the 5th or 6th largest economy in the world depending on which source you site. G7 membership, G20 membership IMF etc are not dependent on EU membership.

Security

The In campaigners claim we are safer inside the EU. The Out disagree.  So facts:

Under Article 51 of the UN charter all nation states have the right to self defence. The UK is a permanent member of the UN Security Council – one of five. Under Article 51 NATO operates its collective defence policy of an attack against one is an attack against all. NATO is the same size as the EU in terms of members, but they do not align. Several EU countries are Neutral (Austria, Finland and Sweden. You can add Ireland based on non-belligerency) therefore they cannot help with that type of security. Of course the USA and Canada are not in the EU but help with security. In/Out this does not change.

Security has other forms. The UK is one of the so-called 5-eyes which share intelligence information this is (CIA, MI5, MI6 , NSA, GCHQ etc with Australia, New Zealand ,Canada and the USA).  No other member of the EU is; therefore, there is intelligence information that the UK does not share with those countries. There are separate agreements with some countries (France, Germany, Netherlands etc) and NATO shares some. So much for the contribution to the EU security.

Europol is put forward as  a good example of EU security. Norway is mentioned as European, non-EU member that shares information. What is Europol? It has 800 members of staff of which 145 are liaison officers from member police forces. Under 5-eyes MI5 which along with the Met Police has Counter-Terrorism responsibilities, can’t share info with Europol. In fact much activity in 5-eyes is spent spying on our EU partners. Mrs Merkel’s phone for example. Do we really believe that Europol cooperation would stop if the UK left, or would a Norway arrangement be made. Then there is Interpol which is in 190 countries with many of the same aims as Europol. We would still be a member of that.

Rights

We are protected by the UN, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. Both predate and are separate from the EU. The European Court of Human Rights is not an EU institution, nor is the War Crimes unit nor the International Court. The EU does have the CJEU or the European Court of Justice which arbitrates on EU law i.e. the rights and wrongs under the treaty. This was the argument on legality disputed by the two sides this week. In effect they are both right. The CJEU could over turn but it has never done so so it will not or might not but could.

Some rights I believe the EU has done a much better job on then the UK authorities. Data protection is one are where the UK’s Information Commissioner has been an abject failure primarily due to the powers granted to the ICO. The EU has been much stronger striking down the pathetic Safe Harbor agreement with the USA as offering no protection. Whether the UK alone would stand up to the USA in these matters is doubtful, given 5-eyes its unlikely. This might mean that in event of an exit the EU may not be able to exchange data with the UK. That will be a major impediment to trade so would need to be addressed. In this case EU protection offers more than just UK.

Trade

Following the letter from several major companies promoting stay in the airwaves and print were full of disagreements on what exit might mean. I return to World Trade Organisation, G7, G20 and other agreements. Based on import export the EU needs us in a free trade area more than we need them especially as the EFTA agreements have not fully supported the trade in services.  BMW and Audi will not want to lose access to the market. Any hint of trade tariffs or protectionism would just escalate on both sides. The actions of the Eurozone will make this more and more difficult for those members

In or Out

I still don’t know but I want to see much stronger reasons for staying in then I have seen so far. The new agreement does not change that as I cannot see anything fundamental changing. Removing ever closer union from a treaty (if approved) means nothing when the Eurozone is doing just that and has to do that to make the Euro work.

 

Mischief for Scotland Join My Petition

It is a year after the Scottish Referendum with a result with a clear majority in favour of staying in the UK. This was supposed to be a once in a generation decision, and the SNP leadership agreed that it was. Still if you don’t like the result you can always change your mind. Perfect EU principle as Ireland discovered.

It is only four months after the UK’s general election result. Despite this, we still have the SNP calling for another referendum or how the UK government has no democratic mandate to rule in Scotland. This is because 56 of the 58 regional MPs are from SNP. This opinion carefully ignores the views of the other 594 MPs representing other areas of the UK and in particular claiming that the 331 Conservative Party MPs have no democratic mandate to rule in the UK. Full result here. I make that a democratic majority just in the Conservative party without taking into consideration the views of other parties on the subject of the Union. I am unclear what the new Labour leadership believe.

Although I believe that the United Kingdom is better together, that does not mean I am not heartily sick of hearing the SNP moaning about how badly treated Scotland is. Still it keeps the public’s eyes away from their actual record as the governing party of Scotland, with the current devolved powers of the Scottish Parliament. How about a few questions about that BBC and the rest of the media.

So in the spirit of helping the SNP out, I want to start a petition, not for them to have a referendum, but to be expelled from the Union. This should be a much faster process and for once, the rest of the United Kingdom might get a say in the matter. You can sign up via the UK Governments petition web site.

Click this link to sign the petition:
https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/108874/sponsors/MJjAp4IjbnqBhJ1kg8

My petition:

Expel Scotland from the United Kingdom

There are only 56 MPs from the SNP, but they believe the rest of the 650 should carry out their wishes, whatever the consequences for the rest of the UK or what the UK voted for in May this year.

The SNP continues to press for an new referendum on membership of the UK. The Scottish people voted less than 12 months ago to stay; however, the remainder of the UK has had no say. If Scotland continues to ignore the democratic wishes of the rest of the UK it should be expelled.

Not An Election Post

Aside

I was making a major effort not to write about the election. With this I have just failed – sorry.

First rant on the way is about coverage. This is a vote for MPs standing in 650 constituencies across the UK. The MP once elected is supposed to represent all the constituents not just the minority that actually voted for the individual, whatever the rosette.

Second rant concerns who we can vote for. I cannot vote for David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Nigel Farage, Nick Clegg or any of the other party leaders. They are not standing in the constituency in which I live. They are not standing against each other either. The constant portrayal by the media of the battle between them is factually and practically wrong. Another reason why the TV debates were farcical. Yes, as leaders of their parties they may be involved, if re-elected by their constituencies, with one exception for one leader. Nicola Sturgeon is not actually standing for Westminster but she seems to be the only focus of much of the coverage. She is so convinced that she knows what is right for the UK she has decided to stay as an MSP. This fact has not even received any coverage – democratic deficit anyone? Her former boss Alex Salmond is standing (after allegedly retiring) this reminds me of Putin becoming Prime Minister so that he could comply with re-election rules in Russia before returning as President. Is there something the SNP is not telling us.

It was supposed to be a six week campaign leading up to the vote on the 7th May but thanks to the new fixed terms it seems we have gone straight from the Scottish referendum into the General election. As I have previously covered, when discussing the referendum, the media seem to be totally focused on the role of the SNP and the likely results in Scotland deciding what the rest of the United Kingdom should do. Whereas in the referendum we had over 6% of the electorate deciding whether to breakup the UK we now have the potential for the similar 5% deciding who governs. The lower percentage is due to the 16 and 17 year-olds who could vote in the referendum but cannot vote in the General Election.

At the end of the 2010 election we had the Liberal Democrats forming a formal coalition with the Conservatives who were by far the largest party and had the largest share of the UK vote. The Conservatives missed out on forming a non coalition government by 23 MPs. The SNP in its public statements has already ruled out any support for a Conservative led government (although in the Scottish Parliament the SNP has in the past relied on Conservative support). The public statements have been made by Nicola Sturgeon the SNP leader who is not even standing in the election! She next stands for election in 2016 in the Scottish Parliamentary elections. Therefore she is saying that regardless of the result in the rest of the UK she will not support potentially the largest democratic vote.

Of course combined with Labour the share of the vote may well exceed that of the Conservatives, but previous results have shown this not to be the case. Boundary changes were supposed to correct the anomaly. Scotland’s 5% of voters 9% of population equates in Westminster MPs to 9% of MPs (59 out of 650). Polls seem to indicate that the SNP may win over forty of these, predominantly from Labour. As with public sector spending per head Scotland seems to be batting above its position. UKIP proposes to change this position by reforming the Barnet formula for devolved spending. Of course UKIP may have some MPs itself to support or otherwise any planned coalition.

Meanwhile the polls tell us it is too close to call but that some informal or formal arrangement nay have to exist. Labour has said no to any formal coalition with SNP. Liberal Democrats have said they will work with anyone depending on the results. The Conservatives only talk about overall majorities. If the Conservatives do have an overall majority will the SNP respect the democratic decision of the majority of the voting population?

Enough politics I have books to write!

Ramblings

There has been a lot going on since my last commentary blog. The Paris attacks are a notable case in point. These have once again prompted the powers that be to insist that they need more powers to monitor communications as a way of preventing further attacks.

Once again no specificity is provided on how exactly the systems proposed would have prevented an attack, given that the purveyors of the UK’s 7/7/ and Lee Rigby attacks and the Paris attackers were already known to the security services and could therefore have had a warranted watch put on them.

In the House of Lords in the UK a small group of peers attempted to re-introduce the proposed “Snooper’s Charter” via a back door amendment into another bill. It failed but all the main political parties seem to be keen to re-introduce such legislation in the next Parliament. It may only be a temporary reprieve. I am torn between the need for the security and police services to have the tools they need against the wider civil liberties objections. It would really help if actual facts were provided rather than meaningless ascertains.

What was truly astonishing was the demonstrable lack of expertise exhibited by any of the speakers. By their questions they could not describe how the technology works, why current systems cannot do what they want, or how they can be circumvented? This against a back-drop of Post-Snowden cynicism. Itself created by the continuing release of so much information on how the 5 Eyes have already misused their powers. Then there is the misuse of existent legislation, like the use of RIPA to spy on everyone from journalists to dog fouling pedestrians. The bland statements of we acted within the law whilst pressing for changes to those same laws. Of course with CCTV on every corner even private face to face meetings can be monitored if only the pictures were not so rubbish – traffic enforcement does not seem to have the problem.

Frankly if the security services or police want to intercept get a warrant. This gives them all the power they need. Of course it may help their argument if tapped phone calls etc were admissible in UK courts; yet these same organizations do not want that. So what is the information for?

Even where full surveillance is in place in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack the security services and police managed to kill the wrong target (Mendes) or used their authority to investigate the family of innocent victims (Lawrence) Both of course actions under the stewardship of the then Met Police Commissioner Blair. The same Blair who tried to get the amendment through parliament.

Another Blair (ex PM this time) of course has stated how keen he is for the Chilcott inquiry to finally report on the actions leading up to the second Iraq war. The report has again been delayed until after the next election. Much like the Bloody Sunday Inquiry – good job if you can get it – unlimited budget, no delivery timescale and a no requirement to come up with interim or other conclusions. Even parliamentary scrutiny can be ignored or not answered. Independent judiciary or cover up for their mates? It is difficult to decide. Of course I would love to see the outcome in light of the background story to my own books (needed to get a plug in somewhere) An Agent’s Demise and An Agent’s Rise. One reviewer thought my story was far fetched – clearly they have not read about the machinations of the politicians and spy agencies to justify their actions.

Still another election is looming and the electorate are far more concerned with who will win Big Brother rather than who is behaving as Big Brother!

Ramblings on a Referendum

IMG_0169 I’ve just returned from a week in Las Palmas in The Canary Islands of Spain, don’t worry this is not trip advisor. Away from the UK my wife and I missed the Scottish referendum election and much of the ongoing horrors in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine alongside the Ebola crisis. Not that these events have gone away, even the referendum will have ramifications for months in the UK as the politicians will decide which of the bribes they proposed to the Scottish electorate will be fulfilled – oh and England, Wales and Northern Ireland may get some constitutional change too. How generous, although the argument now seems to be either: from Labour on what the impact will be on reducing the ability of Scottish Labour MPs to vote on English matters; the Conservatives need something to continue their fight with  UKIP.
Meanwhile another group of MPs continue to receive their salaries and benefits of MPs without ever attending Parliament or taking up their seats. Sinn Féin step forward no news there.

As I discussed in a previous post the whole referendum process for Scotland was anything but democratic for the rest of the UK in the end 55% of those voting which was 85.5% (thanks for bothering, but what happened to the other 15%) of the 4.3m, or 3.6m decided the future of 64m. We had the unedifying view of all the main political parties disappearing to Scotland with vague promises on DevoMax which they had all decided previously should not have been on the ballot. Promises put forward by Gordon Brown, so we can all believe those!. I think the SNP were right to describe this as a pointless halfway house if Scotland really wanted control it had to vote yes. Further devolved powers do not make us more united. Of course the independence movement failed to mention the real problem – with so much legislation decided by Brussels or other treaty obligations even an independent Scotland would not have had that much control just like Westminster does not. That was if the EU (Spain may well have vetoed), NATO (would take defence commitments) and the UN (they will take anyone) accepted applications. What about the World Bank, IMF, World Health Organisation these international institutions are all part of legislative and economic power base of the world. Would an independent Scotland have joined the European Space Agency? Perhaps it was this and the currency uncertainties that tipped the balance in favour on a no. Who knows perhaps it was the colour of the flag that appealed.

The Liberal Democrats (remember them they are still in the Coalition) have proposed a federal organisation of the UK as part of the reform. My son who has studied this stuff likes the idea. If it creates another layer of bureaucracy which the previous Labour regional assembly proposals did then I would be against. Labour wants to follow the example of London for more power to big cities but then what about those of us that do not live in big cities? Whatever happens Parliamentary reform is long overdue we should have far fewer MPs given the devolved powers already and even fewer in the Lords. Perhaps 500 MPs with devolved powers to regional parliaments and 250 in the Lords – elected please.

Meanwhile the Pope thinks World War 3 is effectively under way due to the conflicts throughout the world. Not quite; however brutal and the number of conflicts. Clearly it makes no difference to the victims whether the Pope thinks it’s a World War or not but human history is full of mostly unreported conflict. The battles in Africa seem never ending mostly based on tribal divisions made worse by the colonial false borders. There seems no easy resolution of the Syria conflict without supporting Assad, the very man the Western powers (and others) wanted removed, in order to defeat the allegedly bigger threat of ISIS, IS or ISL.

The appalling beheading on video of hostages adds to the fear element in the West allowing/forcing the politicians to act as if that one death is worse than the death from Ebola, Malaria, AIDS, or cancer. Horrific yes but so is a bomb from a coalition aircraft or a shell from an ISIS fighter. Remember those wonderful pictures of precision bombing. Someone’s son, brother, father, daughter, sister or mother has just been publicly killed. No squeamishness from western media in showing that video, but of course the victims are not journalists or aid workers. Not that we know who was in the vehicle or building alongside the fighter. The famous unverified reports beloved of BBC speak especially when dealing with sensitive subjects, must not get in trouble with the government when the next license fee discussion is under way even to the point of not reporting a story about a famous tennis player in case his view influences (only during voting day) the Scottish Referendum – really? The BBC’s efforts not to fall foul or the Electoral Commission are sometimes laughable, just like the promises of constitutional reform which we will now have to sit through.

The West Lothian Question

I have refrained from blogging about the Scottish Independence referendum on the grounds that anything an English person living in England says on the subject will be ignored or treated as either patronising or irrelevant and probably both. Following last night’s debate, between Alex Salmond First Minister, SNP and leader of the campaign for a Yes vote and Alastair Darling former Chancellor of the Exchequer and leader of the campaign for a No vote, I felt it was high time I did write something.

Firstly, I am annoyed that I don’t have a vote. There was an act of Union between Scotland and England, Wales and then Ireland and yet only one part of the union is getting a say on the subject as to whether it should continue. This does not seem to be democratic to me. Of course there is no telling what the voting in the rest of the United Kingdom might deliver. Perhaps they might vote Yes!

Secondly, the talk is that if there is a No vote (current poll prediction is 56% for No), Scotland will be offered further devolved powers. In this scenario what about England? We have devolved powers from Westminster to the Northern Irish and Welsh Assemblies and a greater range of devolved powers to the Scottish Parliament. Scotland has always had it’s own legal system for example. Despite current devolved powers Scottish (and Welsh and Northern Irish) MPs and Peers have continued to vote in Parliament on matters that are devolved to the individual nations and principalities. This is the famous West Lothian question and has not been addressed by any of the political parties. As part of any further devolution settlement can we at least address this undemocratic system. As all MPs represent geographical constituencies having no votes on particular subject like NHS in England would only be fair in exchange for devolved powers. Given the ability of any TV programme to count and handle millions of votes in a TV talent contest in a few broadcast minutes it seems inconceivable that our elected representatives cannot agree out of 650 MPs who can vote on any given subject.

Thirdly, demographics matter and one of the comments I heard today was on the relative voting power of London and Scotland. London has 73 constituencies serving a population of 6.5 million living there, whilst Scotland has 59 MPs for 5.3 million. This is out of 650 MPs. The ratio is approximately the same 89,000 eligible voters per MP. Yet London MPs cannot vote on devolved matters but 59 Scottish MPs do when it does not impact their own constituents.

Relative economies are interesting as well. London as 22% of the UKs GDP of $2.5 Trillion dollars (approx $550 billion). Scotland has $214 billion of that. London’s share of the UK minus Scotland would therefore go up to nearly 24% and the runt of the UK would drop to $2.3 Trillion. These figure are I’m sure disputed by the SNP and Yes campaign.

In terms of a democratic and economic deficit it is London that is being ignored and on a wider scale England. Scotland has no prescription charges (nor does Wales) and no University tuition fees for residents. According to the ONS here, Scotland receives £10,152 per head of population of Public Sector spending compared to England’s £8,529. Again who has a democratic and economic deficit? It is not Scotland.

In the end as with all independence movements around the world the vote (at least there is one) will be down to the Scottish voters who turn out and tick a Yes or No vote. In the last Scottish Parliament election in 2011 turnout was 50.4%. I would hope that more than half of the Scottish residents on the electoral role would bother to vote in this referendum, after all the SNP has changed voting rules to allow persons over the age of 16 to vote. Let’s say that the turnout is 100% of the 4 million on the electoral roll; therefore, each campaign needs a minimum of 2,000,001 votes to win. Out of nearly 64 million people in the UK it’s future could be decided by less than 3.2% of the population. How’s that for democracy?

Controversy for Controversy’s Sake

I recently commented on the GoodReads forum http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1471999 discussing the subject “Would You Write About Controversy

I said I might blog so here it is starting with my own comment, I haven’t reproduced others’ comments as I haven’t asked the writer’s permission.

One of my favourite discussion subjects along with censorship.  Freedom of speech in the UK is not as formally protected as it is in the USA, but it is protected.  There are always controversial subjects although the USA arguments of religion and politics are not as ribald, neither is abortion.

One of the most interesting controversies, over the years, has been Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.  Irrespective of political viewpoint it is a work of fiction, but look what it led to and that was mostly in a pre-Internet Social Media age.  Did this book sell more copies because its opponents were so vociferous in denouncing it and the author?  Has Salmon Rushdie sold more of his other books as a result or has he changed writing subjects to avoid further death threats?

In my own work, controversial decisions and some politics are backdrops to my stories.  In my first attempt, it was the creation of the dossiers to support the war in Iraq.  With Syria going on, the recent UK decision to not support military action can be traced to the Iraq dossier debacle.  In my second, I deal with several controversial subjects like rape and summary execution, hidden in a story about survivors.  My third has insider trading to generate huge wealth and the misbehaviour of big business.  Who knows what I might write next as news stories often provide a creative spark.

At the front of all of my books is a disclaimer.  This is a work of Fiction, in other words I made it up, it’s just a story, I don’t necessarily share my characters opinions, although I like to have a basis of fact behind all my stories.”

That said, is controversy useful?  In an age of trolls, flame wars, email barrages, and 24/7 media sound and video bites, should a writer of a blog, article or book deliberately try to be controversial.  Another quote attributed to Brendan Behan

There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.”

In the UK we have had threats of rape caused by promotion of the image on a bank note followed by more threats to female writers and journalists who had the temerity to comment on the threats.  Opinion piece writers in newspapers and other media are supposed to be controversial, that’s why they are employed.  A newspaper editorial and front page headline are designed to support the political leanings of the newspaper and act as an advertisement for sales.

Let’s be controversial then – Martin Luther King, Jr said

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

A nice uncontroversial quote, so lets dissect it.

The ultimate – really this is the ultimate meaning the peak, the top? Are we sure it’s really the ultimate.

Measure – by what metric is this a measurement and to what standard and against what comparitor?

Of a Man – Many commentators would regard this as sexist, but of course at the time of the quote man in this sense meant humankind or to use the terminology mankind still shouldn’t the same measure be used for women?

I’ll stop there I have no wish to denigrate Mr King who was a fantastic orator on the speeches I have seen, I don’t know if he was a good man or not I didn’t know him personally or professionally.

So, if I write about abortion in a novel, will I face controversy and criticism regardless of the viewpoint the character, or characters, propose.  Under-age sex or any sex often causes controversy.  I’m not sure why, it has always happened and despite sex education, moralistic pronouncements, campaigns and so on it always will.  Should I avoid that subject to avoid controversy?  Because a character has under-age (a subjective legalistic viewpoint with different morals, laws and conventions around the world) sex in a story should that automatically rate a book as adult only content?  If I write about it does that make me a paedophile (another nice controversy there).  If I look at a naked woman in a Rueben’s picture in an art gallery that is cultural, if I look at a naked woman on a porn site it’s bad or degenerates women.  For women is a Michael Angelo sculpture porn?  It’s a naked man!  My word we cannot show that on prime time TV and if the man had an erection it would be porn and not suitable for any regular TV viewers.  In case nobody noticed the human race has survived and expanded thanks to sex including erect penises.  If you don’t want them described in a book or film don’t read or watch, but why would you avoid human nature.  I don’t particularly like watching people chew gum, maybe we could censor that, but of course I might just be trying to be controversial so you will read my blog, if I tag it correctly for Internet searches.

If I argue for against creationism, Islam, Christianity, Scientology, Buddhism, etc., etc., will I attract more interest, more blog followers, more complaints, will that sell more of my books.  Who knows?  There are millions of blogs, tweets, and emails.  Thousands of newspaper articles around the world and nearly seven billion people on the planet each with their own opinions and beliefs.  Just because a politician, media outlet, or journalist says something in Iran, the UK or the USA does not make it so or true.  In general I think there is too much opinion dressed up as facts.  If you hear the words common sense, the people believe, it is God’s wish, step back, ask if that is really true is it a fact or an opinion?

If you don’t discuss controversial subjects then you are simply avoiding facts which is often the advice given for polite conversation – no religion, sex, or politics.  Whichever side of an opinion you may take, remember it’s an opinion not a fact.  I like to argue, I like controversy, I think I’m right and so do you.

Now back to writing my next story about a homosexual atheist who rapes a disabled veteran on his nation’s flag whilst looking at kiddie porn having forced his 14 year old sister to have an abortion only because the father was a black Islamic preacher– or maybe not.  Still it’s an idea…  now for the tags, light blue touch paper stand back and….