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Empiricising Osborne’s debt interest rate nonsense

February 12, 2012 1 comment

Duncan Weldon has a piece up at Touchstone debunking the ongoing Tory pretence that the UK has low debt interest payment rates because of its economic policies. He quotes Bloomberg:

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s pledge  to eliminate the budget deficit isn’t the main reason U.K. government-bond  yields are at record lows, say most analysts in a Bloomberg survey.

The Bank of England’s quantitative-easing program,  which has so far purchased a quarter of outstanding gilts, was identified as  the single biggest cause by a third of 27 economists polled. Just over a  quarter said investors fleeing other European bonds were driving U.K. rates  lower, while 22 percent said Osborne’s plan was the main reason.

The ‘safe haven’ cause is the one backed in Casenove Capital Management’s latest (to Dec 2011) analysis of its own performance, sent out to the owners of the funds it manages:

Heightened anxiety caused government bond yields to fall substantially during 2011.  The UK, the US and Germany continued to be viewed as safe havens, with 10-year yields falling to 1.96%, 1.81% and 1.83% respectively. The difference between equity and bond yields is a clear reflection of investors’ risk aversion. 

That was the picture as of December (the 1.96% low on UK bonds was reached on 29th December).  So it’s interesting to see what Matthew Vincent has to say in the FT about the latest position:

Investment managers are moving more money into shares, in response to improving market sentiment towards Europe and the US. But opinions still differ over where, and how long, to maintain these equity holdings.

In the past week, several UK firms have announced new, or “overweight” positions in equity markets, having shifted funds out of bonds, cash and other lower-risk asset classes.

Vincent goes on to say that the switch to equities may be short-lived, especially with the ever-present possibility of chaos as a result of “events in Greece.” 

If we do see a sustained movement to equities over the next month or two, however, a concomitant rise in the UK bond yield would provide pretty good empirical evidence that Osborne has indeed been talking total bollox about the reason why they are currently so low.  (The yield on 10 year UK Bonds had already increased by 0.25% since the start of February to 2.23% at close on Friday.)

If yields do rise, it will be important for those critical of Osbornomics not to try to have their cake and eat it too, by blaming any rise in borrowing costs on UK economic policy, at least in the short term.  While Osborne is clearly lying about why rates are currently low as a justification for his continued austerity madness, proper economists should stick with the pretty obvious conclusion that – the effects of QE aside – what rate the UK bond rate continues to depend how much of a mess the rest of the world the big investors think the world is in.

Has Nadine Dorries opened herself up to prosecution?

February 8, 2012 6 comments

I don’t normally bother with Nadine Dorries, MP for mid-Bedfordshire.  There are plenty of other people who do that kind of bothering, and I’m more interested in the 5% of the world’s population currently being cut adrift by the new world economic order, inter alia.

However, the idea that Ms Dorries may possibly have committed a criminal act, by reporting someone to the police in connection with a possible criminal act, does amuse me enough to offer up a quickie.

According to Liberal Conspiracy, Ms Dorries received a tweet suggesting that she had been “misleading” about previous police investigations.  Ms Dorries replied by tweet:

That is libelous and an outright lie. My staff have taken a screen shot and reported your tweet to the police.

The plot then thickens.  A blogger, Tim Ireland, comments on the Liberal Conspiracy piece, including:

The summary is that Bedfordshire Police have made it clear to this MP that libel is not a criminal offence, and not a matter for police.

Now, I don’t know whether Bedfordshire Police have said this kind of thing to Ms Dorries or not.   I could go through the links provided by Mr Ireland, but frankly I can’t be bothered.

But assuming for a moment that she has indeed been told previously by the Police that libel is not a criminal offence, then it does open up the question of whether Ms Dorries has opened herself up to prosecution under Section 5 (2) of the Criminal Law Act 1967:

Where a person causes any wasteful employment of the police by knowingly making to any person a false report tending to show that an offence has been committed, or to give rise to apprehension for the safety of any persons or property, or tending to show that he has information material to any police inquiry, he shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for not more than six months or to a fine of not more than two hundred pounds or to both.

If she has indeed been told that libel is not a criminal offence, but has then reported a person to the police on the basis that they have been libellous, she would, prima facie, appear to have met the “knowingly” and “false report” requirements of this offence, and the fact that any such “false report” has been made direct to the police would appear, necessarily, that police time has been taken up in attending to it.

Just to be clear, I am in no way advocating that she be prosecuted.  I’m just pointing out that she’s a bit silly. 

 

The 1981 Cabinet Papers: Michael Foot as ‘extremist’

December 31, 2011 5 comments

One of the more interesting documents from yesterday’s 30 year rule Cabinet paper release is a ‘Brief for a Debate on Recent Outbreaks of Civil Disorder’, prior to a Commons debate on the 1981 riots( pp. 55-60 of this file).

Section 2 of the briefing is titled ‘Extremists and the Disorders’, and starts by giving details of the recent activities – down to the content of local leaflets – of a number of groups: Militant Tendency, Labour Committee for the Defence of Brixton (noted as unrecognised by the Labour party), WRP, RCG, RCP, The Race Collective, SWP, and Labour Party Young Socialists.

The briefing then go to a subheader to this main title: The Labour party and law-breaking.  Most of the focus is on Ken Livingstone, and it is clear that his activities were being followed very closely, with detailed records of his local speeches kept. 

But perhaps the greatest surprise is what the paper has to say about the Labour leader, Michael Foot:

As Labour Leader, Mr Foot has condemned the recent violence. So, too, has Mr Hattersley.  Neither Labour leader has, however, been able to resist the temptation to refer to the high levels of unemployment as a possible cause of the violence.  Mr Foot’s record in the past has been equivocal.  He gave firm backing to those who defied the Industrial Relations Act, and made, under the last Labour government, some notorious attacks on the judiciary.  These include a reference to “judges who stretch the law… to suit reactionary attitudes (ITV, People and politics,, 9th May 1974)) and the remark that “if the freedom of the people of this country has been left to good sense and fairmindendess of the judges, we would have few freedoms in this country at all” (Daily Mail, 16th May, 1977).

All of this begs questions. 

Did the Thatcher government really consider the mainstream Labour party, including its leaders in the Commons, to be potential violent insurrectionists, enough for the briefing paper to include them under the main ‘Extremists’ header?

Was the establishment actually scared of widespread insurrection, or was this just attention to the details of small groups just a reflection of civil servants operating to its normal code?

Is this kind of briefing still going on?  Is the state still this scared?

The 49% myth and the death of the NHS

December 27, 2011 11 comments

I’ll admit to being a bit nonplussed by today’s media coverage over the Health and Social Care bill, and the ensuing twitterstorm. 

The BBC, for example, announces:

NHS hospitals in England will be free to use almost half their hospital beds and theatre time for private patients under government plans.

A recent revision to the ongoing health bill will allow foundation hospitals to raise 49% of funds through non-NHS work if the bill gets through Parliament.

Yet the removal of the cap on private income was in the bill as it was set out in its first reading to the Commons on 19th January 2011.  Clause 150 in that original version announces the end of the caps put in place by Labour:

In section 44 of the National Health Service Act 2006 (private health care), omit

(a) subsection (1) (restriction on provision of private health services) (b) subsection (2) (cap on private income)…..

The amendment, agreed in the Lords on 15th December, and now inserted at Clause 163 of the Bill (the numbers change as the bill is amended) reads:

The NHS foundation trust does not fulfil its principal purpose unless, in each financial year, its total income from the provision of goods and services for the purposes of the health service in England is greater than its total income from the provision of goods and services for any other purposes.

There are a couple of point to be made on this amendment.

First, it is concerned with resolving concerns about whether the total lifting of the cap would open the NHS up to EU competition law.  It has nothing to do with any the core principle about the nature of the NHS. 

Second, the BBC is quite wrong to peddle the idea that to use “almost half their hospital beds and theatre time for private patients under government plans.”   The amendment refers to income totals, not to bed or theatre time. 

It is quite conceivable, therefore, that in fairly short order most beds/theatre time will be taken up by private patients, given that private providers will cherrypick the ‘straightforward’ patients from whom they can extract maximum profit, while leaving the more difficult, less lucrative treatment and care to be picked up by the public purse.

This is evidenced quite clearly in the Lord debate.  During the debate Shirley Williams argues for a strengthening of the amendment:

In my view, it would be very helpful if there were “belt and braces”, by which I mean a government amendment which would indicate that, in the case of foundation trusts, the majority of patients should be NHS patients. That is, there should be an unquestionable commitment to having a majority of NHS patients…..It is helpful in this complicated Bill to have some islands of clarity that those who are not experts in the field-again, I include myself-can understand. People could understand the simple concept that a majority of patients should be from the NHS, not the private sector.

Tory minister Earl Howe rejects this proposal:

I cannot agree with her [Williams']… arguments that support the need for an amendment. First, we do not agree that legislation should be used symbolically in this way. Foundation trusts’ principal purpose already covers the point that she raised. Secondly, even if we had such an amendment, it would not make any difference to how the courts interpret and apply EU competition law.

From this exchange it seems quite clear that the government envisages hospitals in which many more than 50% of all patients are private (thus opening up a future narrative for the near future that the NHS-funded minority are scroungers).

Overall, I stick with my initial view, set out in March 2010 when I’d seen the initial bill, that the NHS as we know it is effectively dead.  I don’t see major industrial unrest stopping it in its tracks at this stage, and many of the crucial parts of the NHS infrastructure has already been dismantled or will soon be beyond repair.

While of course the left should be doing what it can in the way of rearguard resistance, we should be wary of dilettantism (h/t Leon Trotsky, 1929), and focus on battles that we can win (more around commissioning than around provider services).

Instead to be looking at what a future Labour government should be committing itself to in the form of NHS II, without fetishing NHS I (which has had plenty of faults) and I’ll be writing a lot about that in the near future.

 

David Cameron and the tribute to Caesar

December 17, 2011 10 comments

I have no huge problem with Cameron using the opportunity of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Authorised Version of the bible to talk about how Christianity relates to and might influence modern Britain. 

Such anniversary occasions – most notably Remembrance Day – are regularly used by politicians to remind us of some normative link or other between past and current value bases.  So Cameron’s only doing what you’d expect him to do – milking particular circumstances for his own political cause.

What interests me is that his speech yesterday was so bad, and how arrogant he must be to think he can pass off a selective bible quotation as a proper reflection on the proper place of Christianity and Christian values in modern society.

The quotation comes at the heart of his speech:

The Bible runs through our political history in a way that is often not properly recognised.

The history and existence of a constitutional monarchy owes much to a Bible in which Kings were anointed and sanctified with the authority of God…

….and in which there was a clear emphasis on the respect for Royal Power and the need to maintain political order.

Jesus said: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Let’s leave aside the amusing notion that in a speech about the King James bible he misquotes the text in question, and focus on the message of what Jesus is reported by Matthew (ch.22 v.21) to have said.

The idea that Jesus’s words are an exhortation to respect Royal Power, and to the maintenance of discipline, is frankly bollox.

Cameron and his speechwriters might do well to go back and set the quote he uses in its proper context. 

Jesus is confronted by Pharisees and Herodians, two groups with very different attitudes to Caesar, who have cooked up a plan for “how they might ensnare him in his talk” v. 15).  They try to do this by asking him a tricky question:

Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? (V.17)

‘Tribute’ here refers to the relatively new poll tax imposed by Caesar, one denarius,  which had to be paid in Roman coinage.  This coinage carried the image of Caesar, and was therefore objectionable to the Pharisees for its idolatry. 

Jesus therefore is offered the choice between support for idolatry in appeasement of the Pharisees or support for law-breaking, which would annoy the Herodians.  Jesus spots the trick, calls for a penny of the tribute money and makes clear he’s referring to Caesar’s image on the coin (v. 19-20) before he responds.

“Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” is not therefore an exhortation to obedience: it is, arguably, quite the reverse.  It is telling Caesar where he can stick his power, reflected as it is in his image-laden coinage.  

For Cameron to suggest that Jesus is simply reinforcing the notion of divine authority granted to kings in the Old Testament, rather than presenting a new challenge, is a pretty basic misconception of what what the New Testament is.

Later in his speech, Cameron goes on to talk of how the riots of the summer reflect moral breakdown.  He might do well to remember that just the day before his bit of bother with the Pharisees and Herodians, Jesus starts a bit of a riot in the temple, when he takes issue with those who hold inordinate financial power:

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves (Ch. 21 V.12-13).

Consistent with the Caesar tribute episode, Jesus is attacking – physically in this case – the way in which the 1st century state backs those with financial power.

I have no problem with Cameron covering Christianity, but if he’s going to quote Jesus, he would do well to remember whose side Jesus was on.

Europe: what Miliband should do now

December 10, 2011 5 comments

Sunny thinks Ed Miliband should now:

[A]sk Cameron if he will call for a referendum on the EU itself to clarify whether the UK stays in or out.

He says this because:

[C]alling for a referendum would expose the fact Cameron doesn’t want to be out of the EU despite the crumbs he has thrown at his Eurosceptic MPs. It would put him in a bind and expose the farcical situation that Britain is in now.

I disagree with Sunny on this one. 

I think raising the possibility of a referendum will make Miliband looks like he’s playing silly party politics. 

Cameron will get all the favourable media exposure he wants over the next week or two on this, as he struts around, doing the British Bulldog.  That image is all over the rightwing press this morning.  By comparison, Miliband asking about a referendum will look like an annoying little chiwawa snapping petulantly at Cameron’s heels.

Instead, Miliband should focus on what’s important.  Strategy, not tactics.

Miliband should ignore Cameron as far as possible, other than to point out how much he has sided with the fund managers, and how very typical that is.  The main message should be that Cameron is now an irrelevance.

Miliband should get on with setting out clearly how the removal of the fiscal stimulus option, under the proposed Treaty, would be an unmitigated economic disaster both for the Eurozone and for the UK as a key trader.   He should be pointing out that Germany’s economy has remained fairly strong till now precisely because:

a) Back in 2002, Germany broke the same deficit rules now proposed under the Treaty, but then set out under the European Growth & Stability Pact, using its political weight to have the rules ignored;

b) Germany, now calling for fiscal restraint, has itself used a bigger stimulus  to keep its economy going than any other European country since the 2008 crash.

Miliband should be in Europe every other weekend, talking to Centre-Left and Leftwing leaders about developing coherent alternatives to the proposed Treaty, following on the lead given by François Hollande.  He should not be afraid to go for Merkel’s jugular, calling her out on her hypocrisy.  The message he should try to get over is that Merkel is the important player, not Cameron.

He should be using his Labour MEPs to the maximum to ram home the message that Labour is interested in finding workable, long-term solutions to the European crisis. This will send a strong message, to LibDems in particular, about where Cameron’s tactics have got us, without ever having to mention Cameron, other than as an irrelevance.

Finally, he should recognise that if Francois Hollande does become French President in May, the whole political landscape in Europe will change, and that there is a chance the disastrous Treaty could effectively be stopped in its tracks (even if it has been signed, implementing it is another matter).

He should be talking to the Labour NEC this week about how the Labour party can get behind the Socialist Campaign in France, getting resources and volunteers over in numbers; this campaign is more important now than the Obama campaign in 2008, which saw lots of willing young Labourites lend a hand.

It’s time for Miliband to stop shouting from the sidelines, brush Cameron aside, and get on with the real business of social democratic politics in Europe.

Then they came for the teachers

November 25, 2011 2 comments

The Left has been greatly exercised by the arrival of Free Schools, partly because a loathesome self-publicist and general knob has set one up in London.

I’ve just read the government’s implementation plan for its changes to teacher training, published earlier this month.  I can’t help thinking the whole Free School thing is a clever diversion.   Free schools do not yet signal the end of high quality state education in this country, but this plan may.

The basic idea is simple.  Starting from next school year, trainee teachers will go straight off to schools to learn on the job.  Gone will be the idea that student teachers might first learn something about how children learn, which about 80% of  them currently do at university. 

In Gove’s, teaching is a very straightforward idea.  First, you get a good degree and know loads of stuff.  Then you go into a school and get the basics of controlling a classroom full of kids.  Then you impart your wisdom.   If you were in the army first, you’ll be a better teacher (the Troops to Teachers scheme is on page 4).  Gove’s what teaching should be is, it would appear, based on a combination of Goodbye Mr Chips and Coach Carter.

In the real world, as shown on the telly recently, life is different.  Children don’t all learn the same way.  Children don’t learn life skills by rote.  Education is not the same as the cadet corps.  Education is complicated, and needs both practice and reflection.

But Gove’s not interested.  

He’s not interested in the fact that under the current system trainee teachers already spend two thirds of their time in schools, but do so with proper external preparation, support, and evaluation.

He’s not interested in the fact that hard-pressed schools will find it nigh-in impossible to support trainee teachers, and that many trainees – first class degree or not – will end up sinking rather than swimming.

Gove’s not interested in education.  That’s why he’s the Tory minister for it.

See here for a fuller analysis from the teaching profession.

 

Ed Miliband – a concerning report

November 20, 2011 14 comments

An Ipsos MORI poll in January 2011 had it that 11% of the public liked Ed Miliband but disliked the Labour party, while 20% did not like Ed but did like the Labour party.

In this period Miliband’s total “likeability”, according to the pollsters, was the same as Michael Howard’s in April 2008.

Over the period between October 2010 and February 2011 the proportion of the public who were dissatisfied with Ed almost doubled from 22% to 43%.

Furthermore, the polls picked up a lower “don’t know” percentage than is typical of an opposition leader. This means that many more people have an opinion on the leader of the opposition, today, and according to polls it has been negatively placed.

YouGov, for the Sunday Times, have today revealed another uncomfortable figure that shows Ed Miliband’s “well figure” of 26% equaling the lowest he’s seen.

The percentages for David Cameron have increased by 2% while Ed has dropped 4%. And yet, this month’s ComRes online poll for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror shows Labour to be leading the Tories by 4% – signalling no change for Labour, but a drop of 2% for the Tories.

The perception of Ed Miliband has changed very little over the year. While the Labour party tops polls, particularly now the cuts are starting to bite (despite the majority of the public, according to other polls, saying they agree with the Coalition’s economic policy – though whether they agree with this being frontloaded onto the frontline remains to be seen), Ed Miliband himself is not being trusted by the public.

More disagree today that Ed Miliband would be better protecting jobs than they did in April and January this year, and less agree today than they did in January and April.

On other points of note, most people agree that there is a class system today, while fewer see themselves as working class. Ipsos MORI made a damning statement looking at the Labour party vote in the last election saying a “working class” party, given the percentage of people who identify as such, and the percentage of those people who vote, is not feasible anymore. So perhaps the squeezed middle strategy was right, and so too the appeal against predatory capitalism?

Whatever your thoughts, it is not working for Ed, the figurehead of these moves.

Nothing other than concern can be said for these results. We cannot believe everything we read in polls, but they are the best indicator we have, and they are often very close to correct. We are where Gordon Brown was coming up to the election of 2010 a year later, even with a new leader, and a government doing unimaginable things without mandate. This is greatly worrying.

The Four Tories of the Apocalypse

November 19, 2011 5 comments

If it weren’t for the fact that these people are actually MPs and wield considerable and increasing influence over government’s apocalyptic social and economic policy, their absurd ravings would be entertaining.  As it is, it is genuinely disturbing that these people are MPs.

I refer, of course, to the first four MPs of the eight we are promised by Conservative Home, giving us their ‘insights’ into how to ‘turbo-charge’ economic growth. 

 We have already dealt with two of them.

The first, the Honourable Moron for Dover, managed to get the very first sentence of the introductory article wrong.  He claimed that the UK was in ‘bleak recession’ when the Tories came into power.  In fact the UK was in the third quarter of recovery, and the 1.1% growth in that quarter has outstripped by at least 0.5% growth in any quarter under the Tories.

The second is the Honourable Numptie for West Worcestershire.  She managed to spend the whole of an article supposedly about economic growth focusing on how best to impoverish people.  She praised the US soup kitchen model welfare, and said that teenage parents should be punished for the attitudes she acknowledged they don’t actually have

So who’s next up?

It’s the Honourable Thicko for Staffordshire Moorlands.   She reckons the best way to get growth going is to cut that 50% tax rate. 

Her ‘growing evidence’ for this radical policy? It’s an article in Moneyweek magazine, which she clearly hasn’t noticed is sourced from a Channel 4 news item. which revealed that around 84 more UK bankers were living in Switzerland in 2010 than in 2009.  She reckons this will cost us £53m in lost tax revenue.

Would it be too shooting-fish-in-a-barrel to point out that 84 is not a very big percentage of people in the UK who earn money enough to pay the 50% rate? 

There are roughly 300, 000 such earners in the UK, and 300,000 is quite a lot more than 83.  The increased tax rate on this 300,000 aims to raise around £2.5bn a year in extra tax.  Even with the range of tax avoidance possibilities available, that will be still quite a lot more than £53m.  Up to 50 times as much.   

Unless perhaps she thinks all 300,000 people on the rate will go to Switzerland.  After all, that may be where she skis, and it is very nice.

And finally, (for now, there are still four more to come), there’s Chris Heaton-Harris, the Honourable Prat for Daventry.

He doesn’t like regulation.  Especially EU regulation.  Especially things to do with workers’ rights.  His main source of evidence is the not-entirely-unbiased Open Europe:

Based on over 2,300 of the government’s own impact assessments, an Open Europe study (2010) found that regulation has cost the UK economy £176 billion since 1998, a sum roughly equivalent to the UK’s entire budget deficit.

It looks like Chris H-H may have got as far as the press release on this report. Otherwise he might have seen that this is a study of benefits/costs, not just costs:

We estimate the benefit/cost ratio of the regulations we studied at 1.58. In other words, for every £1 of cost introduced by a regulation since 1998, it has delivered £1.58 of benefits (page 1).

In fact Open Europe’s benefit/cost calculations differ from BIS’s, who give a 1.85: 1 ratio.  But let’s not quibble. Even they acknowledge that regulation, whether EU or domestic, has a net benefit. 

Chris H-H’s method is like me arguing that it costs me £500 a year in transport costs to go to work, without any consideration of the fact I earn money when I get there?   My 9 year old son has been studying the concept of ratios in Key Stage 2 numeracy, and gets it, but H-H is still clearly struggling with the whole thing.

And these people are in charge of the coming apocalypse…..

Categories: Terrible Tories

Evicted if you work, evicted if you don’t

November 14, 2011 3 comments

Tory-run Wandsworth Council is proposing to evict people who don’t get a job.  The council says:

If the policy is adopted, people would be given a council home on the condition that they find work or enrol on a training course. If they fail to stick to their side of the bargain they would face the prospect of losing that home.

This comes in the context of government policy being developed to evict people if they do get a job:

The PM said fixed term contracts should be issued so that people can be evicted if they get a job or start earning more.
And I thought I’d seen everything. 
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