Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Mugged by the Tories

Cast your minds back if you can to the 2015 general election. Faced by the possibility of a son  of a communist agitator becoming Prime Minister, propped up by a nasty rabble-rousing single-issue nationalist minority party, the country re-elected the incumbent with an increase in the number of seats. No longer would the Tory PM have to get permission from Nick Clegg to cut the deficit, reform the public sector and the economy, to breathe life and vim into parts of the country moribund after so many years of ignorant socialistic self-defeating rule. Markets would be freed, the public sector refocused on the essentials, assets privatises and taxes cut. The country voted Conservative and the country would thrive.

One of the big discussions in 2010, you may remember, was about Labour's "jobs tax" - a proposed increase in National Insurance "contributions". The Right correctly argued that increasing the cost of employing people reduces the chance that people will be employed. Labour lost that election, quite spectacularly.

Since then we have enjoyed years of firm Tory/Liberal and Tory rule, by what we were led to believe were neo-Thatcherites in softer makeup.

One of George Osborne's triumphs was to increase the personal allowance to take more people out of income tax liability. Championed by right-wingers and lefties alike, this was a bold departure from the Brownian era of fiscal drag on steriods. No more stealthy increases by holding down the thresholds, but a genuine burden reduction. 

Come 2015 the Tories felt confident enough to go a step further. They announced  that the squeeze on relatively higher but still unspectacular earnings had gone far enough: they promised that if elected with a Parliamentary majority they would increase the threshold for paying 40% tax until it reached £50,000 a year.

Well, I have just had a look at the numbers. Very excitingly I am due a £500 a year tax cut when the new thresholds kick in in April. £500 a year is a pretty good tax cut, right? And the threshold isn't even close to the eventual £50k level. There should be plenty more scope for reductions in upcoming  even if my salary doesn't move much.

But wait, what is this? The tax calculator site says that my monthly take-home will be *less* rather than more. Surely some mistake? Ah, I see: my NI "contributions" have bounced by £1000. 

The other day I received a letter encouraging me to donate money to the Tory Party. They had to be kidding, right?

By-Elections - the end of the populist surge?

There are 2 by-elections this week. One in Copeland and one in Stoke.

The Copeland one is about as uninteresting as it gets. A safe Labour seat, Labour are running their traditional 30-seconds-to-save-the-NHS campaign. It is a slam dunk hold for Labour. I doubt many of the people there even know what a Tory is, some kind of baby-eating animal their parents used to scare them with when they were angry. For reasons of needing to fill newspaper columns there seems to be a move to suggest the Tories might win...I mean really. Even when the Tories were led by William Hague and IDS they were not losing seats in Surrey.

As for Stoke, it could have been a bit more exciting if UKIP had a decent candidate, instead the new leader seems as error-prone as previous UKIP candidates and thus is not making much headway. Plus the Labour candidate is also poor meaning the net result will be a very low turnout and thus a likely Labour hold too.

You can get 3-1 for both seats to be holds. At least it means we get to keep Mr Corbyn as our commie-entertainer in chief for a few more months at least. But the likely press angle will be that this is the end of the Populist surge - hhmmmm...that we will have to wait and see about.

Monday, 20 February 2017

"Rationing Police Services" - A Shot Across The Bows

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has delivered himself of the opinion that the Police will need to start "rationing" their services if budget contraints continue.  "Cuts meant police would have to pick and choose more often what they prioritise, and, more controversially, what they will not", in the Grauniad's paraphrase.

One's responses to this range from "statement of the bleed'n obvious", through to "could be pretty sinister".
  • All resources are finite and anyone who imagines there isn't some kind of prioritisation going on, in respect of any service provision, is deliberately kidding themselves.  The NHS gets fairly close to undiscriminating non-prioritisation in the way GPs and A&E are fairly much forced to deal with whatever fetches up in their system.  But after forced entry through the unguarded gate, the patient rapidly gets triaged and filtered and rationed, even if only in ways that are never articulated
  • As BH-H notes, the military and more recently the NHS have forced a bit of recognition of this into the public debate: and maybe the Police should be making matters more explicit in their own manor.  More openness in strategic decision-making has advantages over unaccountable private policy-making, which we all know is what happens
  • I could draw his attention to the situation at a cafe of my acquaintance which, every weekday morning, is home to three and sometimes four patrol-cars' worth of coppers enjoying an exceptionally leisurely morning coffee-break ...
  • How much openness is wise?  It's one thing for the military to state: we can no longer patrol in the Pacific Ocean; or for the NHS to say we can't afford this new cancer drug.  But what happens when the Police say: we can't patrol after midnight?   (Our local force has already unilaterally declared it will not enforce the new 20 mph speed limits the council has imposed.)
  • What happens when 'rationing' get really political?  When (say) a mayor with strong community affiliations tells the local police chief that laws he reckons aren't congenial to his community mustn't be enforced? 
What do we think?


Saturday, 18 February 2017

Robotic Cars - The driver-less future.


America is So ready for robotic cars.

There are already adverts on the television along the lines of "Your insurance local, friendly, family run insurance provider .. securing you yesterday, today.. and with the autodrive cars of the future."

I've been driving in the US recently. I was pleased that the rental car options are two grades above our UK ones. Order a midsize and get a Jeep Cherokee. Fuel is still half UK prices. Despite everything else now costing European amounts of money with our currently worthless overseas currency.
Its about ten years since I've been to the USA. And the 99c hamburger is now $3.99

 Its a much calmer driving experience than in the UK. Much calmer and easier. The cars may be bigger but the roads are wider.The speeds are much lower. Motorway 65. Country 40-50mph.
That doesn't look on paper much different. But many more roads are dual carriageway. Many , many roads, even through the centre of cities, towns and villages are three lanes wide.
Three lanes wide and often with an  emergency lane on both sides. The median guardrail that is within touching distance of a passenger in the fast lane in the UK is a lane and a grass strip or run-off sandstrip away in the US.

The roads tend to be straighter. The traffic lights wait for longer and the signals are above each lane. Three lanes of traffic tend to move at the same speed. A speeding car is quite easily spotted. I saw plenty of highway patrols. A few accidents. And despite what seemed to be every single road in every state I traveled being worked on  by orange clad construction crews with orange and white barrels reducing lanes, traffic flowed exceptionally well.

The USA is ready for the driver-less automobile.

I thought maybe ten years away before we start to see them. But that was with my narrow roads, roundabouts, single lane, farm track, heavily congested, impatient, high speed Euro-UK driver eyes.
It will be much easier in the Americas..

People in the know say on the technology required front, we can have driver-less cars right now. The systems are all ready. The testing has been done. It all works. Its all ready. Millions of accident free miles already put in.
Its the legal issues that are holding the whole thing up. 

What do we think about this new invention?

 Its going to change our lives and our commerce as radically as the internet did. A change to the existing order and the existing structures and systems. With huge cost savings and huge job losses. Winners and losers. With the law and the governments panicking and obstructing and lagging a fair way behind the technology rush.

Are we happy about the driver-less vehicles?
Will you be getting one?

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Turnbull: Not-so-much Wizard of Oz

Reports coming from the other side of the world are not so bright these days.  For whatever it is worth, Turnbull didn't seem to hit it off with Trump - even if that's now being spun as a Good Thing.   More concretely, Australia looks set to be the first major nation to screw up energy policy so badly that blackouts are increasingly the result  (most people had Germany down for that honour).  Its mining policy looks to be a mess, as well - and highly dependent on Chinese demand.

I've been surprised that Malcom Turnbull hasn't been a more immediately successful Prime Minister.  Our paths crossed briefly when he was at Oxford but not so much as I could form a proper assessment of him.  But a friend who knows him well and whose judgement on people and politicians tends to be excellent, reckons him the most dynamic, ambitious and purposeful getter-of-things-done he's ever met.  Turnbull's CV rather bears this out; and reaching the top of the greasy antipodean pole seemed a natural career progression.

So what's up down under?  Turnbull's Oz should be one of our best and most useful friends in the post-Brexit world - and perhaps even more importantly during the extended phase of pre-Brexit diplomacy.  Perhaps it will still be so.

Any C@W readers who can offer some good perspectives?