Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Paxo Stuffing

Anyone who saw magnificent drubbing that Howard got at the hands of Paxman on Newsnight will understand the size of the problems that the Tories face. Paxman and a camera crew trailed around after the Tory leader on a weekend trip to Cornwall - where the Tories have no MPs. What could have been a shop window for Tory campaigning turned into a farce, with the leader's helicopter arriving late in a field belonging to a farmer who wasn't a supporter and was happy to say so. Even those Tories who turned out to support Howard, by waving blue balloons in the background, seemed not to know what they were doing. Frankly embarrassing for the Conservatives.

I'm still of the opinion that the best party political broadcast for Labour would be a repeat of the wonderful interview dating from Howard's tenure as Home Secretary, where he denied threatening to overrule Derek Lewis, then Director of the Prison Service, some fourteen times.

And he says you can' t trust Tony?

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Humour amidst chaos

If you are an obscure congressman from Indiana and you are supporting an extension to an interstate highway in your district, you might wear a badge proclaiming that support, mightn't you? In this case, this leads to you wearing a badge proudly declaring 'I-69'. Religious conservatives want the name changed. Teenagers want more badges.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Gone to ground

After 700 hours of debate, 10 votes in the Commons and 7 years since it was a manifesto commitment for Labour, hunting with dogs is finally to be banned.

Don't try and convince me that it is a traditional pursuit - badger baiting, dog fighting, cock fighting and bear baiting have all been illegal for a while. Tradition is a poor argument for anything.

Licensing was a cop out. If we're banning it because it is cruel, then licensing it does not reduce the cruelty.

Ban it and be done with it.

And you lot in the Countryside Alliance? Stop whinging about it being a bad law and that the use of the Parliament Act was wrong. Ten votes in favour of a ban by the elected house in a democratic state, with a general election in the middle suggests to me that democracy has triumphed.

The only reason that they want to keep hunting is that they enjoy killing the animal - why can't they be honest? No part of the law will stop people gathering to dress as they like, ride their horses and use the hounds to follow a pre-laid scent. And as for the hounds being put down as a result of the ban, remember that if these are working dogs, not household pets. When they are unable to hunt, either through age or injury, they are taken out and shot.

Is is it a class thing? Well, the other 'sports' listed above were primarily the preserve of the rural working-class and there was precious little defence for those. Anyone who has seen how the hunt rampages across land - including private gardens, sometimes - knows that the landed gentry have always had the right to roam that has only just been granted to us poor unfortunate ones. The boot seems to be on the other foot for a change and they are VERY unhappy. This is not how the system is supposed to work, in their minds.

Never mind, eh?

So what are they going to do about it?

Well, the army is finding that some landowners are denying them access to land for training purposes - forcing the military to seek overseas locations for training. Some farmers are reconsidering allowing the rail, power and water companies access to their land to maintain their equipment (although this access is generally protected by law). They also plan to campaign against vulnerable Labour MPs in the upcoming general election. Bring 'em on. Let's see what sort of support the hunting fraternity can muster. I suspect that a campaign like that would energise anti-hunting support on a grand scale in most vulnerable Labour constituencies.

What is interesting is the initial legal challenge, which attacks the 1949 amendment to the Parliament Act. If that were to be brought down, the War Crimes Act would fall, as would the laws lowering the gay age of consent and the act that established the party list system for European elections. Watch this space.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

People in glass palaces

"What is wrong with people nowadays? Why do they all seem to think they are qualified to do things far above their capabilities? This is all to do with the learning culture in schools. It is a consequence of a child-centred education system which tells people they can become pop stars, high court judges or brilliant TV presenters or infinitely more competent heads of state without ever putting in the necessary work or having the natural ability"

That's the Prince of Wales. If this comment came from somebody who had a record of involvement with state education, rather than someone whose family attend expensive public schools and walk into Oxbridge educations as a matter of right, then you might listen. If this wasn't somebody who is so sheltered from reality that he even has a servant put the toothpaste on the brush for him, it might carry some weight.

An accident of birth guarantees him the crown without training or any requirement to prove ability. Lack of ability or work has never yet stopped him from commenting on cancer treatment, architecture or farming.

Bear in mind that this was a response to a note from a junior member of his staff asking about training for graduates and you realise that this man has no idea what aspiration really means. While I would agree that everybody should be taught that success is earned through hard work, I can't see what this has to do with the 'child-centred' educational system. It is a great shame that decades of good work from the Prince's Trust is being damaged by these ill-advised comments. The fact that they were made in private is even more indicative of his personal views than any public statement he might make.

Some days, you think the French had the right idea about royals.

Tax and the Tories

Part of the Tory tax dream proposal is an interesting appendix showing the point at which the top rate of marginal tax kicks in compared to the average manual wage. However, it also includes the total marginal tax rates for a pile of countries in 2003.

Hungary 68.4%
Germany 64.2%
Denmark 62.3%
Belgium 59.3%
Finland 57.4%
Sweden 56.2%
Norway 55.3%
Netherlands 52.0%
Greece 49.6%
Australia 48.5%
Switzerland 48.2%
France 48.1%
Ireland 48.0%
Japan 47.8%
Luxembourg 47.8%
Portugal 46.6%
Canada 46.4%
Italy 46.1%
Slovak Rep 45.9%
Spain 45.0%
Poland 44.9%
Austria 42.9%
USA 42.9%
Iceland 42.0%
Korea 41.1%

UK 41.0%

Turkey 40.6%
Czech Rep 40.5%
New Zealand 39.0%
Mexico 31.7%

Yup, the marginal rate of tax in the UK (including social security contribution) is less than most of these countries.

Taxing Questions

Top marks to Roy Hattersley for pointing out that the various policies floated so far have a price tag of almost £14 billion attached.

The Tories plan to cut tax, but promise to maintain investment in services.

Remember the Tory conference? Remember Michael Howard asking the voters to trust him and the party? Remember the speech that promised everything but firm policies?

Well, the policy 'aspirations' keep coming, although the headlines seem to promise more than you actually get. An example was the headline last week promising that the Tories would raise tax thresholds. Aside from the fact that this would only benefit higher earners, it wasn't even a policy. This was in a policy paper which carries the health warning

The presence of a particular option in the consultation paper does not constitute any guarantee or promise that it will form any part of any Conservative budget.

And the plans for the Tories to offset the cost of having a nanny, part of their childcare package is actually part of

proposals now being examined by the Shadow Cabinet

So, not exactly a policy yet then.

The Tories are desperate to appeal to the upper middle class voters who have abandoned them over the past few years. That's why all their policy proposals are tilted in that direction (that word proposal is VERY important - there's no guarantee that they will ever be genuine policy).

  • Tax breaks for nannies
  • Public money for private education
  • Public money for private healthcare
  • Tax cuts for the high earners

All of these benefit those middle earners. The ordinary family can't afford private education or healthcare or nannies and dream of earning enough to pay 40% tax rates. There is nothing in these proposals for most people - don't be conned.

Answers on a postcard please.

How to win an election:

  • Start a war which claims the lives of over 1000 young Americans and untold numbers of Iraqis.
  • Don't forget to leave hundreds of tons of explosives unguarded - those insurgents and terrorists will need it.
  • Oh - and scrap any plans to rebuild the country. You don't need that. Do everything on the fly.
  • Take a budget in surplus to the tune of $127 billion and turn it into a $400 billion deficit.
  • Slash taxes. (These items MAY be connected). This tax cut should be designed so that 38% of the tax cut benefits the top 1% of earners.
  • Propose an education bill that will leave no child behind.
  • Don't fund it fully. If those kids didn't have the foresight to be born to rich parents, that's not your fault.
  • Don't forget your friends in the oil and mining businesses - move to let them dig in environmentally sensitive areas
  • And your friends in the drug companies - don't let people buy expensive medicines from overseas suppliers. You can't trust these foreigners - even the Canadians.
  • We won't leave our defence suppliers behind - plenty of juicy government contracts in Iraq now.
  • Leak the name of an operational CIA field agent in revenge for her husband not supporting your WMD claims. So what if this destroys her career, endangers the lives of her contacts and potentially adversely affects the ability of the CIA to gather effective intelligence? You can just stonewall the inquiries that follow.

What you can do is appeal to the rich by slashing their taxes and promising more. You can also appeal to the born-again Christians by promising a moral regeneration. Unfortunately, you are going to have to deliver - so that's bad news for gay people and womens' reproductive rights, but good news for coathanger manufacturers.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Bye Bye Boris

Was Howard right to sack Boris?

It isn't a nice story - he has a wife and four children and had an affair with a fellow journalist Petronella Wyatt which resulted in her having an abortion. But is it any of our business?

This story has been an open secret for quite a while - Private Eye have dropped some heavy hints about it for months.

If Howard hadn't acted, he might have appeared weak (he sacked him within three hours of the News of the World contacting Boris with their latest story).

However, he has got rid of one of the very few recognisable members of the front bench and one of the most media friendly. Boris may play the buffoon, but he isn't as daft as he looks. Eccentric he may be, but he has enough style to pull it off:

Speaking through the letter box at a pal's house last night, Boris said: "I am sorry this decision has been taken in response to stories about my private life. I am looking forward to helping promote a new Conservative policy on the arts, if only from the back benches, and I will continue to do my upmost to serve the people of Henley and south Oxfordshire. I am now going to have a stiff drink.''

Boris shows the kind of face that the Tory party needs to have - he appeals to a different demographic and opens doors to younger people who wouldn't vote for Howard and Letwin, but might listen to Boris. Let's face it, he's known by his forename, not his surname. People like Boris and the Tories need desperately to be liked. He even has a website and the best Tory blonde hair since Michael Heseltine left (Michael Fabricant doesn't count - that can't be real).

Howard may have done the right thing in the short term, but it could prove to be a strategic mistake for the party.

It might prove to be good for Boris though - it kills the story and lets him sort his problems out without too much public glare. He will also be able survive this and come back after the next election untarnished by the expected failure.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

What the....

You go to bed leaving Kerry looking set to win - Zogby calls the election for Kerry as he looks likely to squeak Florida and Ohio and only needs one of those to collect enough electoral college votes to win.

You wake up and Bush is winning.

Not good. Not good at all.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Poll Position

All the polls say how close the election is - Bush and Kerry zip up and down within a percentage point or two of each other. And yet...

Remember that all these polls have a margin of error - typically 2-4%, depending on the method. They may also miss out on the new voters - more than a million have been registered in Florida alone this year and many more across the country. Those voters will typically go 60/40 for the Democrats, just like the 3/4% of voters who are undecided.

In the end, it will all come down to how easily all these voters can be persuaded to turn out - and whether they all get to vote. I'm expecting queues at the polling places and I'm also expecting legal action to ensure those doors are closed at 7pm, when polling is supposed to end. Watch out for voter intimidation - Greg Palast did another of his reports on Florida on Newsnight a few days ago, but there will be other ways of 'persuading' voters not to exercise their rights. Rumours are spread warning that if you vote, you will be immediately pulled in for any minor traffic tickets unpaid, voters are 'challenged' by poll watchers to prove that they are US citizens and that they live where they claim. Michael Moore claims to have over 1200 professional and amateur cameramen across the swing states ready to film anything going wrong. Both sides have thousands of lawyers on standby to rush to any incident and to file lawsuits on demand.

IF the polls are fair (and that is a big if) I think Kerry will win - and the scale of the victory might yet surprise us.

That being the case, I'd guess that John Kerry can afford to grab a few hours of sleep. We seem to have escaped an 'October Surprise' this year, apart from Osama's unscheduled video released last week.

Helen Thomas, for whom the word doyenne may have been coined, has come out with a brief article warning of the darkness that could descend with another four years of Bush. Bear in mind this is the woman who spent decades as the White House correspondent for UPI and invented the style of ending presidential press conferences with 'Thank you, Mr President' with JFK. She is a voice you can't ignore.

Other voices being raised come from Republicans shocked at the path their party has chosen and prefer Kerry to Bush. State governors, people linked to the Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush Snr administrations, congressmen and even capitalist gods like Lee Iacocca are supporting Kerry. Read on here.

It comes to something when Nixon's own lawyer says that the present incumbent is worse.