Saturday, December 12, 2009

Economist take on Gordon's class war


The Economist has a very good analysis of Gordon Brown's attempts to split the nation by class in the hope of hoovering up a few votes. The full article is here, and this gives a flavour of it:
But—even leaving aside the inconveniently privileged upbringing of some members of the Labour cabinet, and the open question whether Eton and Oxford is a weirder background than a Scottish manse and a lifetime in Labour politics—Mr Brown’s salvo risks backfiring. It is negative and retrograde; it makes him look distracted by antiquated obsessions. Eton gibes might just work as knockabout humour; but Mr Brown doesn’t seem to be joking.
It also makes another important point, that class division can run in many directions. One you decide that Britain as One Nation is no longer government policy then what's to stop the upper and middle classes taking against the poor?
Britain has seen that kind of downward hostility before, in the 1980s, for example. Those at the top end of the scale become cross about their tax burden, and doubtful of the value of state services (which they often don’t use much anyway). They start to think of the poor as scroungers and cheats; good works are abandoned; the social contract frays.
Gordon Brown doesn't care about this of course. There is nothing about the man that suggests he thinks in the long term. Everything is tactical and for his short-term advantage. If he trashes our economy and our society, well, that is secondary to keeping G. Brown and his cronies in the rather good situation they currently find themselves. I firmly believe that one of historical questions generated by the first decade of the 21st century is how a man of with such a demonstrable lack of character or ability managed to become our Prime Minister.

Basildon Council doing well according to the Audit Commission

The Audit Commission has rated Basildon District Council as doing well, scoring 3 out of 4 under the Comprehensive Area Assessment process. This is obviously very good news, and reflects very great credit on our officer team, including our excellent Chief Executive Bala Mahandren. It also says very good things about the Conservative stewardship of the Council, and the Audit Commission specifically picked out leadership as one of the Council's strengths. This was all announced at the Council cabinet meeting on Thursday, where there was an interesting debate. The Labour leader took the line that 'this is all very well but...' and went on to make the point that the Council doesn't get everything right. Of course it doesn't. We know that and there was nothing that even looked like complacency from the administration. It is nice to be told you are doing a good job, but that is not was drives me and my colleagues. We want to do the best job for the people of Basildon District and we are acutely aware where we fall short. So, thanks Audit Commission, but we won't be resting on our laurels.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Brown dumps the national interest

You hold political power in trust, at least in a democracy. You are supposed to use it to advance the interests of the electorate while you have it and then pass it on in the best condition possible to the next incumbent. That is unless you are Gordon Brown, who is cynically using what will probably be his last days in power to shore up the Labour party and lay traps for any incoming Conservative government. That he is wrecking the economy so that it will take a generation to fix seems to interest him not. That the media almost to a man have seen through his grinning fa├žade doesn't seem to bother him either. At least the answer to the future pub quiz question 'who was Britain's worst Prime Minister' is clear.

It seems that Alastair Darling tried at least to start addressing Britain's crippling budget deficit, but Brown and his acolyte Balls put him back into his box. Maybe he's going for 'who was Britain's worst Chancellor?'.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Labour's pathetic class war

You have to wonder if the Labour leadership get out much. Class war is a dead issue, among real people that is. No-one, at least almost no-one, particularly cares about someone's parents, at least not to the point of evaluating their worth as a human being. Labour haven't really cottoned on to this, however, at least not their cocooned, desperate leadership. Their idea is to try to brand the Conservative leadership as 'toffs from Eton' in the hope that people won't vote for them on that basis. Well:
  • It isn't true, the Conservative leadership actually come from very diverse backgrounds.
  • It makes no sense, why is it bad that people have had good educations?
  • It does not even pretend to be a debate about what is good for the country.
  • And, worst of all, it is an exercise in nasty prejudice that would probably be illegal if applied to any other aspect of a group.
It is also a window into the deep contempt that the Labour party feels for their own core vote and the British people as a while. Basically, they expect that voters are so stupid and so small minded that they will respond to a vicious characterisation of the Conservatives over any other issue come election time.

I have news for them. Our people are better than that.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Climategate gets worse

You should all know about the scandal that has been dubbed 'climategate' by now. Basically, a large amount of email and other data relating to the work of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia has been leaked, and it does not present a pretty picture. We have conspiracy to evade Freedom of Information Requests by deleting data, schemes to freeze out academics who disagree with the CRU's position on global warming, and emails that suggest holes in the base data that supports Climate Change. However, the worst of it is that the computer models on which so much current political policy worldwide is based appears to be seriously flawed. Programmer notes suggest poor error handling, poor input data, and a number of hardcoded values in an effort to get the programme to match observed climate behaviour in the past. This raises doubts about the model's actual ability to predict the future. Complex computer models can quickly descend into complex garbage without good inputs and well-formed processing. Neither appears to be present here.

It appears that there has been very little effort on the part of the CRU to build decent software using proven programming and software engineering techniques. Instead we seem to have a very bright, but unqualified and inexperienced programmer churning his way through masses of computer code at a level of professionalism that can only be described as hobbyist. Knocked together programs are all right as one-off support for a Phd thesis or as part of an experimental cycle, but definitive climate modelling demands something better.

All of this leaves us with plausible hypotheses on global warming and climate change based on evidence that appears increasingly flimsy. Most seriously the CRU says that it has thrown away much of the base data on which their models are based, making some of their work unrepeatable and therefore unverifiable by anyone else.

Right now there is a broad consensus on climate change among the three main parties, based on what was supposedly solid scientific theories. If these are no longer solid, and if the public belief in global warming continues to slide, then this consensus will fracture.

Maybe it should.

BNP Want to hand over Gibraltar

Extraordinary story in the Sun. Apparently, the BNP want to hand back Gibraltar to Spain. So, this so-called 'patriotic' party would force 30,000 British citizens to become Spanish despite their repeated votes to remain British.

The problem with the BNP is not that they are basket-cases, but that they represent a thoroughly reprehensible political ideology that places ordinary people dead last when considering policy. For Griffin and his ilk it is all about personal power and the power of the State. The little man can just shut up and soldier, literally given the history of countries where nationalists have gained power.

Basildon Hospital

I was in China when the Basildon Hospital story broke, but the details seem clear. The hospital seems to have got much of the medical science and advanced therapies right, while at the same time falling down on basic management and nursing standards that would have been recognisable to Florence Nightingale. I think that I join with our community in feeling a basic sense of betrayal by the hospital management that they have managed to associate the name of Basildon with such a scandal, never mind the lives that have been cut short by their apparent incompetence.

China Trip Review

Back from China, no blogging in the interim because, well, you can't. Certain URLs appear to be inaccessible from the People's Republic, including blogger.com. Reading blogs is also a bit of a challenge, but can be got around.

To the trip itself, well it was pretty hard work with tours of factories, universities, research centres and vocational colleges. We also had some time at tourist sites, but that was as tourist sites rather than as excursions if you get the difference. The Chinese looked after us very well and you could not fault the organisation from the government of Changzhou. They made sure that we had a guide always on hand and that the programme really covered what we needed to do. Of course this was only a first step, with a formal signing of a Letter of Intent between Changzhou and Basildon that will hopefully develop into a fuller Memorandum of Understanding.

However, the key question is, of course, what's the point? What was worth about £8000 of taxpayers money to take a four-person group from Basildon Council for a week? Well, it is like this: Basildon already invests quite a lot of time and energy in economic development. We have about 20% of the Essex GDP, a much larger share than our population suggests because of our very extensive industrial and commercial areas. This is done to promote business, which in turn means jobs and prosperity for our local community. Much business today is, of course, international, but a District Council does not have the capacity to run relationships all over the world, so we need to focus. China is the most populous nation on the planet and is undergoing rapid growth. Business opportunities abound, and that means prosperity and jobs for both Britain and China, because international trade when done right benefits everybody. Councils' have a role to play in this particularly in China because of the importance of local government in the Chinese business environment. A business relationship that includes the Council and our opposite numbers in Changzhou is likely to have a much smoother ride than otherwise. This is not just my opinion by the way, but was strongly articulated by the British businessmen that we met. If we have good relationships in China then that makes it more likely that British business that trades with China will come to Basildon District, which means more jobs for our local people. Even though we were only out there for a week, we identified two opportunities that may lead to new assembly plants in Basildon that are tied to Chinese engineering. Details are confidential, but if either of those comes off it will pay for a relationship with Changzhou for a decade, never mind one trip, and that is without the other benefits of cultural, sporting and educational contacts.

So, this was definitely worth doing, and is certainly worth building on for the future.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Basildon Council trip to China

Next week I am going to China as part of a trade delegation. This includes representatives from Basildon Council, Chelmsford Council, Essex County Council and a number of Basildon and Essex businesses. Now, I am perfectly aware that one reaction on hearing ot such a trip is to assume that this is some sort of 'junket' designed for the pleasure of those travelling as opposed to the service of the public. You do hear of some Councils' foreign travel where the rationale seems, well, weak. However, Basildon Council does not indulge in such things for entertainment. When we go anywhere it is for the benefit of the people of our District and our track record in securing investment in Basildon as a result of being represented at events abroad is pretty good. We fund a great deal of economic development through involvement in a European New Towns grouping for example, and our work at the European MIPIM event has brought in millions of direct funding, never mind attracting general investor interest in Basildon. This has added up to infrastructure, jobs and homes that vastly outweighs the cost of plane tickets and hotels. These are not holidays, just work done somewhere else, and that is how we treat any foreign trip.

I have never been to China before, but Essex County Council has developed relationships there for a number of years with the aim of connecting Chinese and Essex business for mutual benefit. This trip is a first for Basildon, and so while we know what we want to achieve we will have to see if it returns the value that we hope. It certainly appears to have few of the characteristics of a 'junket' though. Industrial cities in China are not really holiday locations, and the weather is pretty much the same as here. Its an 11-hour flight, and we seem to have a reasonably full itinerary. This seems to fit my definition of work rather more than what most people would describe as fun.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Childcare Vouchers and means testing mania

Many years ago I heard Frank Field MP speak, and one of the themes of his speech was the evil of means testing for benefits. His view was that this created benefits traps, with huge marginal rates of tax if people tried to improve their situation, and discouraged thrift. In fact means tested benefits as they operate today mean that it makes economic sense for the poor to stay poor, because increases in income or the accumulation of assets are punished by the withdrawal of means-tested benefits. Unfortunately, Labour under Brown are obsessed with means testing, which is one reason social mobility has decreased under the current government. Despite this, Gordon Brown's latest brainwave is to replace the current system of tax relief for childcare vouchers with, you guessed it, means testing. The argument is that too many people who can afford to pay for childcare are benefitting from tax relief. So, a system that works well is to be replaced by one that gives people an incentive to stay poor. That is even if they take up the benefit at all, becaue means-tested benefits have a much worse take-up rate than universal benefits.

Of course, there is also a political dimension because with an election coming up quite a few Labour MPs have worked out that withrawing childcare tax relief won't be, well, popular. There is already a large online petition against the move and dozens of Labour MPs have stated their oppositon to Brown's policy. These do not include one of our local MPs though. Angela Smith has been in the local papers telling us what a good idea it all is. She is Brown's PPS after all, so not much choice there.