Wednesday, 28 April 2010


Boring, boring, bloody boring. All the talk of a hung parliament has indeed made me disillusioned and not willing to post the same thing up every single day. Sorry about that.

mind you, it's just been reported that Gordie in an "open mic" moment called a voter who had just harranged him a "bigoted woman." Good move, my man - you just lost a whole new tranch of votes.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Conservative Claims

A little late, but with thanks to the Daily Telegraph.


Key economic policies include:

• A one year public sector pay freeze in 2011 (excluding the one million lowest paid workers) Note no word as to what those lower paid workers may get as a rise...
• Bringing forward the date at which the state pension age starts to rise to 66, although it will not be sooner than 2016 for men and 2020 for women In other words, after the next election.
• Stopping tax credits to families with incomes over £50,000 Actually, I hate to say it, but that is fair – although I should point out I get no credits anyway.
• Cutting spending on Child Trust Funds for all but the poorest third of families and families with disabled children Not sure I agree with this one – but I can’t talk, as no way I will ever take advantage of this.
• Capping the biggest public sector pensions above £50,000 They get that much? I presume they mean per annum, not the pension pot.
• A five per cent pay cut for Ministers followed by a five-year freeze, and a 10 per cent reduction in the number of MPs Well – why not reform the whole package – maybe that will come later.
• Reduce welfare dependency The devil here is in the detail – and I need to study that carefully. I still remember the “shirker society” side of Thatcherism, and that was only partially true.


Specific health policies include:

• Scrapping all politically-motivated targets Is there any other type – ALL health care targets have a political motivation , in that they are designed to make it look as if something is being done.
• Putting more detailed NHS performance data online No, no, no – that means more beaurocracy. More administrators, not less, and less money to health care.
• Improving cancer and stroke survival rates How – preemptive care, financing the new drugs, how?
• Enabling patients to rate hospitals and doctors They do that anyway – I’ve seen “performance satisfaction questionnaires” and I’ve seen better ones designed by “A”-level students!
• Giving anyone the power to choose any healthcare provider that meets NHS standards If they can get a bed – do this, and anyone can go anywhere. Besides, who decides if the standards are adequately policed?
• Putting patients in charge of their own health records Sounds nice – but we are not the experts in this.
• Opening up the NHS to new independent and voluntary sector providers In other words, privatization.
• Linking GPs' pay to the quality of results they deliver As opposed to the hours they are forced to put in in underesourced clinics?


Specific education policies include:

• Raising the entry requirement for taxpayer-funded primary teacher training and requiring new graduates to have at least a 2:2 in their degree to get state-funded training I thought they had to have a 2.2 to get into a PGCE course anyway?
• Paying the student loan repayments for top maths and science graduates while they remain teachers Student loans are the worst possible thing any government has done – and they should all be scrapped. I favour a “graduate tax” to cover the costs.
• Giving teachers the strongest possible protection from false accusations As opposed to giving them the power to discipline?
• Strengthening home-school behaviour contracts They don’t work.
• Establishing a simple reading test at the age of six That is what the old KS1 tests were designed to do – and they were universally hated.
• Reforming the National Curriculum Hmm
• Overhauling Key Stage 2 tests and league tables How about scrapping them and trusting the teachers to assess their pupils?
• Allowing all state schools to offer high quality international examinations You mean fund the International Baccalaureate? That’s an expensive puppy – and involves much more than just exams.
• Giving parents the power to save schools threatened by closure By taking them over?
• Extra funding for children from disadvantaged backgrounds That might help – if it was matched by funding for the schools to provide after school facilities for those kids.
• Providing 10,000 university places this year, paid for by giving graduates incentives to pay back their loans early In the current climate, they can’t even get a job!


The Conservatives' tax plans include:

• Raising the Inheritance Tax threshold to £1 million Not gonna affect me...
• Raising the stamp duty threshold to £250,000 for first-time buyers That buys a one bedroom flat in the seedier parts of London – useless.
• Cutting corporation tax So they can invest in their employees? Some might, some won’t.
• Cutting employer National Insurance contributions for first ten employees of new businesses Hmmm
• Floor under landfill tax until 2020 Interesting choice of words – it implies a minimum, but not a maximum...
• Reform Air Passenger Duty Oh please do – this tax is hated.
A word on the proposed £150 Married Couples Allowance – that’s £3 a week, barely enough to buy two coffees at Starbucks. Derisatory and insulting – as well as demeaning to strong couples who are not married.


Specific European Union policies include:

• A full opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights
• Greater protection against EU encroachment
• Restoring national control over social and employment legislation

This goes against the way the European Union is going – so is this the first stage of an exit policy?


Specific defence policies include:

• Doubling the operational bonus for troops serving in Afghanistan That’s from £200 to £400, right?
• Ensuring that Forces' families and veterans are taken care of They should be anyway.
• Tracking and monitoring veterans' mental health after they leave the Armed Forces How about the third part – treating the problems?
• Launching a Strategic Defence Review A given for all governments
• Maximising efficiency in the Ministry of Defence Cuts?
• Streamlining the procurement process Cuts?


The party's five major foreign policy themes are:

• Creating a National Security Council How does this relate to the Joint Chiefs of Staff?
• Committing to the transatlantic alliance We like Obama
• Deepening of alliances beyond Europe and North America We really like Obama
• Reforming older institutions such as the UN and making effective use of new ones such as G20 We kinda like the other guys too
• Upholding our own values abroad So long as they let us have our way


Key transport policies include:

• Building a high-speed rail link connecting London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds with the Continent They like the idea – it’s the route that’s the issue, specifically...
• Blocking moves for a third runway at Heathrow Airport And plan a major Rail Terminal with the high speed link instead
• Blocking plans for second runways at Stansted and Gatwick airports Gatwick cannot be done for another 10 years – which leaves Stansted.
• Improving Britain's railways After all, it was our party that ruined them with privatization.
• Cutting congestion and making Britain's roads safer How?
• Making local transport greener How?


Voters will be able to elect police commissioners who will hold chief constables to account for the performance of their forces, the manifesto says. Commissioners would be responsible for “setting the budget and the strategy for local police forces”, while the police retain “operational independence”.

So we become like the States, with elected police chiefs and the police under them? Over there, that can make the police a political animal – as shown brilliantly in shows like Hill Street Blues. The police need to be above politics, not embroiled in them.


The manifesto says immigration has “enriched our nation” and the economy needs “the brightest and the best”.
But it says immigration is too high and promises to reduce net migration to “tens of thousands” a year, without giving any more details.
The Conservatives promise an annual limit on immigration, new curbs on unskilled workers, and “transitional controls” on new European Union members.
But with other EU nationals guaranteed freedom of entry, a Tory government would have no way of restricting European workers.

There’s also a lot of opposition from former Commonwealth countries, who see this as an infringement of their rites. This will be a real hot potato in the coming weeks.

Verdict – still not convinced. Next.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Labour promises...

One of the joys of a UK General Electino is when the main parties launch their manifesto - it gives ordinary plebs like me a chance to look at the salient points and speak our mind.

For example, today Labour launched their election document - with thanks to the BBC for doing the heavy work for me, let's look at the salient points...


Secure the recovery by supporting the economy and halving the deficit by 2014 through growth, fair taxes and cuts to lower priority spending Have they changed their assumptions on projected growth? Because if not, there's an incredibly big risk their plans may go askew...

A commitment not to raise any of the rates of income tax and not to extend VAT to food, children's clothes, books, newspapers and public transport fares Big deal - they made the same promise on Income Tax in 2005, and we had a new higher band brought in last week. At any rate, that does not stop them (a) changing the bands of income at which the tax is paid, (b)Increasing the rate of VAT, and most crucially (c) says nothign about the National Insurance increase

National Minimum Wage to rise in line with average earnings by the end of the next Parliament Define average, and if this is a hugn parliament this could easily be ditched.

Government as an employer committed to offering a living wage to staff in all departments. This is currently set at £7.60 - higher than the minimum wage
Promise to keep business taxes "as low as possible" There's a wooly statement if ever there was one - andno mention of potential cuts in said public service staff.

Realise stakes in publicly-controlled banks, introduce a global levy and reform banking rules In other words, we want our money back - and if nobody can pay?

An option to turn Northern Rock into a mutual rather than privatising it as part of a wider commitment to building societies Hmm - is this a recognition they can never sell back this particular bank to return it to the way it was before they bought it?


New rights for parents at schools in England to initiate change in school leadership, with under-performing schools taken over by more successful management teams Right - because parents knwo how to fix years of underinvestment and either demoralised, ill-equipped or downright bad staff?

Expansion of free nursery places for two-year-olds and 15 hours a week of flexible, free nursery education for three and four-year-olds Nice idea - but sometimes it's better to keep kids at home for some of the time. Where's the help fro stay-at-home parents?

One-to-one and small-group tuition for every primary school child falling behind, personal tutors and choice of "good" qualifications for secondary age children Oh, another wooly word - "good". If they said "Appropriate", and defined hwo that can be acheived, I may give them more credit. As it is, it sounds like No Child Left Behind - and my US friends can say how that was received.

Every young person guaranteed education or training until 18, with 75% going on to higher education or workplace training by the age of 30 Well, they;d already started the process of raisign the school leaving age to 18 anyway.

Commitment to raise living standards for the "squeezed middle" from 2012 with a "toddlers tax credit" equating to £4 a week extra for families with one and two-year-olds Generosity - that will buy two tins of follow-on milk or some fresh veggies.

Up to 70,000 advanced apprenticeships a year and Skills Accounts for workers to upgrade their skills See above re: education to 18

Paid paternity leave doubled to four weeks Again, a generous provision - not. The European standard is three months paid paternity leave


Patients in England guaranteed to get results of cancer tests within a week It should be 24 hours if truth be told - and that is possible if the beaurocracy was removed.

Maximum 18-week wait for treatment after initial GP consultation - or private treatment will be offered Err - isn't it a maximum 18 week now?

Routine health checks for those aged 40 to 74, aimed at preventing heart attacks and strokes Again, this is being introduced anyway

National Care Service to ensure free care in the home for those with the greatest needs and a cap on the costs of residential care OH, here we go - one of my personal bugbears is the fact we do nto pay for hoem support for long term sick and the elderly without the need for means testing - that's part of what they paid NI for, after all. Setting a cap is not enough - you need to promise free as needed.

Every hospital to become a foundation trust, with more freedom to run its own affairs No, no, no - with all the talk of consolidation and "efficiency savings", you do NOT make a pledge to do something that will need more administrators!!


Powers to sack chief constables if they fail to meet minimum standards within three years Who sets the standards - and hwo do you account for regional issues/difficulties?

As a "last resort", failing forces could be taken over by more successful constabularies The sound you hear is a lead balloon falling as the force eladers contemplate their workload doublign overnight...

Funding to maintain police and community support officer numbers, with them spending 80% of their time on the beat Not increase, maintain - and who will do the mountain of paperwork they have to fill in now?

Family intervention projects to tackle anti-social behaviour, with financial support for victims to pursue injunctions - with the costs being met by police forces or councils "who let them down" Here's an idea - and I can't believe I'm saying this - but give th epolice effective powers to crack down on the perpetrators of the anti-social behaviour, rather than directing money to failing schemes to tackle the source of the problem.

Harder English tests to be taken by all migrants before they arrive; in the public sector, all employees who have contact with public to have "appropriate" level of English Hmm - not sure where I stand on this one. Let's see what the others have to say.

The link between staying for a set period and being able to settle or gain citizenship will be broken - replaced by a points-based system Isn't that what they're doign now for non-EU residents? Just need calrification...

Public right to recall MPs not disciplined in Parliament after being found guilty of gross financial misconduct Oh please - apply the same rules we have in business. If you're caught fiddlign the books, you're sacked and preosecuted.

Referendums on the alternative vote method of electing MPs and proportional representation in an elected House of Lords, before 2011 I support reform of oru electroal system, and of the House of Lords, but if this is a paper pushing exercise which cna be ignored, it has no staying power.

Fixed-term parliaments and free vote in the Commons on reducing the voting age to 16 In principle, fine - the ability to decide when to call an election should not be in the hands of one man. In practice...

MPs banned from working for lobbying companies and independent body to rule on applications from MPs to take second jobs Let's see the detail - the devil will be in that.


No stamp duty for first-time buyers on all house purchases below £250,000 for two years, paid for by a 5% rate on homes worth more than £1m for those wondering, stamp duty is a tax on house purchase - 1% of the purchase price when it is over £200,000, rising as the price goes up. Personally, £250,000 is too small - that barely covers a flat in London.

A "People's Bank" to be created at the Post Office, helping to sustain the network, alongside legal rights to accounts in private banks and a clampdown on doorstep lenders Funny - we used to have a "People's Bank" at the Post Office called Girobank, before it was sold off...

Labour appear to have dropped their commitment to privatising Royal Mail This is a real politcal hot potato - they want to sell of the Post Office, but it's too complicated and costly to do so without upsetting a lot of people.

Job or training place for young people out of work for six months but benefits cut at 10 months if they refuse a place. Guarantee of work for anyone unemployed for more than two years. How is this going to be enforced - and what sort of work.

A right to request flexible working for older workers, ending default retirement at 65. The link between the state pension and earnings re-established from 2012 On the first one, there's a lot of legal red tape to untangle - and what about those of us who have retirement ages written into our contracts? On the second, the link should never have been broken in the first place!

Commitment to high-speed rail linking London, Birmingham, the East Midlands, Manchester, northern England and Scotland And yet no commitment rto help fund Crossrail in London? Interesting...

A goal that all young people contribute at least 50 hours to their communities by the age of 19 Now, this sounds so like the Conservative announcement on a National Citizen's Service commitment - is this a late addition? And, in addition, what if you don't believe this should be a cumpolsary thing?

Powers for supporters' trusts to be able to buy stakes in football clubs A la Barcelona? Why does this need special legislation anyway?

About 40% low-carbon electricity by 2020, and 400,000 new green jobs by 2015 The sums don't add up on this - but it needs to be compared to the other plans to be announced this week.

Legislation for "Pay as you Save" schemes allowing people to fund home energy improvements through subsequent savings on utility bills Need more detail

Biodegradable and recyclable materials banned from landfill This smacks of "ticking the green credentials" box. Also, is this the first step to forcing homwowners to sort their waste out into different boxes/bags/recepticles?

So, there's my first thoughts. Tomorrow - the Conservatives...

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Is it just fantasy?

Someone will need to remind me, but was it Bill Clinton who had on his desk at the White House a sign that read "It's the economy, stupid?"

You see, if there is one thing that is going to dominate this election it is the economy. To be blunt, Britain is in a real mess in terms of the public finances - everyone, and I mean everyone, knows that there have to be cuts in public spending, and tax rises. Who, however, are the one community that seem not to be able to acknowledge this one simple fact, and say what they intend to do in terms everyone can understand?

You guessed it - politicians.

Take, for example, National Insurance. This is a tax we pay on our wages, nominally to cover things like the National Health Service and pensions. The Labour party want to increase this from next year by 1% across the board - both for workers and the employers, who have to pay this out of their coffers as well.

Labour state this will cover the need for further tax increase, based on an assumption the the national economy will be growing by the time it comes in during 2011 by about 3.5%. Right now, it's barely staying at a level of 0.5%, so we have a fairly big assumtpion right there. They also say they will preserve funding for "front line" services - police, teachers and the NHS - but refuse to say where further cuts will lie. They also just brought in a new income tax level of 50% for earnings over £150,000 per annum.

The Conservatives say they will not impose the increase fro low earners. and freeze it for employers. The money that saves in the NHS, for example, will then be used for cancer drugs, while further savings will be found using "efficiency savings."

I love that term - it means they think cuts can be made in administrative and other areas. It always reminds me of an episode of Yes Minister where Sir Humphrey Appleby says they can make the cuts, but need to take on more staff to make them...

What both parties refuse ot say, at least up to this point ,is (a) where the cuts will land, and (b) what other tax rises may be needed. So, my first challenge to both Labour and Conservatives, as well as the other parties, is this. Tell me, in clear and unambiguous terms, what you will do to try and reduce the deficit and how it will affect me, and I may consider voting for you.

The key words are "clear and unambiguous". It's a challenge - one I hope you can rise to.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

And they're off!

Well, at long last it's official - Gordie is going to pop in and see Lizzie at her London pad today, and then the general melee can begin.

I'm going to use this as a sounding post for my thoughts on the campaign as it carries on - which may or may not turn otu to eb a good idea, but I need somewhere to organise how I feel about this one.

Opinion pols will play abig part in this - but remember, you can't trust these things as far as as you can metaphorically throw them as a rule. Here's the golden rule for this year - for the Tories to win outright, they need a swing of 16% in their favour. The most favourable poll currently has them at about 10% ahead - which is hung parliament territory.

So, let us cry havok and let loose the dogs of war - we have some fun ahead for the next 31 days...