Thursday, 28 August 2014

Douglas Carswell's honourable error

UKIP have an MP. Well, almost. There is still the matter of a by-election in a safe Tory stronghold and trying to prevent the understandably upset former UKIP candidate having a hissy and disrupting the program. Carswell is popular and reportedly a very good operations man. But he has made a mistake.

By doing the honourable thing and defecting and then immediately calling an election, he has avoided the charge that he lacks candour and is an unprincipled bounder of the Shaun Woodward type. Woodward left the Tory party, having been elected in a safe Tory seat, and joined Labour, who welcomed him with open arms. 
 Despite all sorts of protests from constituents and party Woody refused to hold a by-election and served out the remaining two years until the election, when new Labour parachuted the multi-multi millionaire, butler employing, 7 homes, Sainsbury husband into a safe Northern Labour seat, to the disgust of that local Labour party, and to the further erosion of voters faith in the electoral system.

So Douglas has done the right thing and declared he won't be just taking his previous voters for mugs, and will pit himself and his new beliefs against those of his former colleagues at the ballot box.
There are lots of good reasons for doing this. his integrity. The views of his constituents. Detoxifying his defection. Shutting down the very negative betrayal aspect of the story. Its a very Kippy thing to do. To be seen to be doing what loacal residents would wish, and not what Westminster masters would want.
And best of all, holding a by-election keeps him, and nigel and UKIP, in the news for months.

But its a mistake.

UKIP have no MPs. The defection is great news for Nigel.  But is Douglas Carswell fails to win the seat its a disaster. Quite possibly a catastrophic one that would irrevocably damage UKIP so soon before the big election. 
Carswell could quite easily have remained in place. Citing the sound precedent of every MP that has ever gone before him. A few nasty remarks from Labour quashed by the Woodward story. The liberals silenced by Emma Nicholson, who pretty much did for John Major. The Tories themselves have serial floor crosser Winston Churchill to point to. Carswell could have ridden out the taunts with ease.

But by taking this course, Doug has made it much less likely that other defectors will follow. 
An MP who has to immediately stand for re-election is taking a large risk. And others who are wavering won't have Carswell's fortune to be standing in the seat considered to have the most UKIP profile in the land. So only those very sure of a win, or those so sure that they will lose in the 2015 election that it makes the gamble worthwhile, will even consider a defection.

In february the UKIP Treasurer said he had had talks with seven disaffected Tories, who he was hoping to persuade to jump ship. 

Once those waverers see just how awesome the funding, manpower and resources the Tories are going to put into winning Carswell's Clacton seat, they may well decide not to open the box, but keep the money.

Carswell will probably win anyway and become a UKIP MP.
But his honourable stance on the by-election might well mean he is the only one.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Mr Boris Farage & Nigel Johnson

 "These are my principles and if you don't like them, well I have others" Grouch Marx

Having been away for a couple of weeks - thanks to ND for manning the ship though a long, and err, wet, summer - it has come to my attention that after an enormous amount of fumbling about two of the 3 great demagogues of our time have finally got round to finding seats to stand for at the next election for the Westminster parliament.

With Labour having won the demagogue leadership game with Tony Blair for 13 years it has been a long time coming for the right wing of British politics. Alex Salmond, peddler of sweet nothings (in a literal sense) to the Scots I doubt will be seen much in Westminster in future.

So that leaves us with Mssr's Johnson and Farage. Both claim to be disciples of Thatcher and her 80's reforms. Both claim to be anti-Europe and both lay claim to be libertarians. However, as any even slight analysis shows, Boris can be both pro- and anti Europe at the same time. His vision of libertarianism is mainly confined to reducing taxes over which he has no control and shows little light when faced with tough decisions like tackling London air pollution. Such is the power of his rhetoric though, that when matched with the short attention span of voters, he comes across well.

Farage too has the happy knack of being a man of the people whilst being no such thing. A well made City man from Kent, he has styled himself with some success the people's champion. Farage is probably more posh in strict terms than even Boris. Farage too claims to be libertarian but is against gay marriage and is for much that is socially conservative. At least he is committed to something in wanting to leave the EU which it is unlikely even Nigel will renege on.

Yet here we are with both likely to be elected to Parliament and if they are then it will be with a weak Labour PM and a vacancy to lead the right win in British Politics. If Scotland has voted fro Independence, then they will have a real struggle to sort out the future of England between them. Oh what a lovely war to watch.

It's odd though that two men with much in common and the same skills in may ways will be fighting it out in 2015 in such a manner. In fact odd enough that if Labour could find a real John Major type man of the people they would be well placed to capitalise on their already lucky fortune of the current electoral cycle.

 "These are my principles and if you don't like them, well I have others"

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Privatisation Revisited

A wet Bank Holiday weekend encouraged a goodly take-up of the 'privatisation paper' challenge in the post below, yielding lots of important challenges to the Gruaniad writer's attack on private ownership of what he considers to be essentially public assets.  His provocation will stir me to write a few posts on his themes, and a good starting-point is this para from part-way through the piece. 
There's no doubt that since privatisation the old nationalised industries have sacked colossal numbers of workers and brought in new technology. If efficiency is doing the same job or better with fewer workers, many of the privatised firms are more efficient. But this simply suggests some or all of the nationalised industries should have been commercialised – that is, had their subsidies shrunk and been removed from direct government control, obliging them to borrow money at commercial rates and operate in a world of market prices without making a loss.
 The first operative word is colossal, acknowledging as it does that there was massive inefficiency in play, in some of the very largest industries of all.  This is no trivial matter and, given that many of them including the biggest were monopolies, his flippant 'solution' - should have been commercialised - is laughable.  No economy can be sanguine about monstrous systemic waste in vital sectors unless (as, say, the French sometimes claim) it is a conscious part of employment policy.  Even then, quantified justification in terms of a proper cost-benefit analysis would be a major challenge: and we capitalists already know what we reckon the outcome would be.

For this first riposte, and particularly for those too young to know these things from first-hand experience, harken to one of Old Drew's tales ...

Back in the early 1990s, the opening-up of the gas market had only just got properly started.  (The 1986 privatisation per se had been an empty gesture because ther old British Gas Corp was sold off as a de facto monopoly, a privilege it guarded and enforced with commercial brutality.)  But things were gradually changing for the better, and one day an experienced US gas company obtained regulatory approval to do something that had never been done before: an independent company was going to build an entry-point for gas going into the BG grid system.  (Previously, BG built them all.)  Obviously the new entry-point needed to be compatible with BG's existing infrastructure, so the newcomer was given BG's technical specifications, one of which was for provision of metering, a very necessary aspect.

The metering spec was for three densitometers be installed (for measuring gas density - one for use and two for back-up), and likewise three gas chromatographs.  For those who don't know, a GC analyses the molecular composition of the gas very accurately, and simple A-level chemistry allows things like calorific value - and density - to be calculated quite precisely from the results.  

Now both these pieces of equipment are standard, robust, and very reliable.  It is entirely reasonable to provide for a back-up (which will probably never be used) because continuous accurate metering is vital: but a single back-up meter is universally considered to be adequate - universally, that is, excepting for BG in 1990.  So the US interloper - a company well-recognised for its expertise in such matters - refused to install the third meter.

It gets funnier.  BG's operating procedure was for the GC density calculations to be compared with the densitometer readings at all times: and in the event of discrepancy, the GC calculation would always prevail.  In other words, no densitometers were required at all ! 

So the newcomer refused to install any.  BG resolutely insisted on 3 of each: the regulator was invoked, and wisely ruled in favour of just two GCs and of course no densitometers at all.

But here's the sting.  Obliged to accept that the newcomer needn't install a third GC, or any densitometers, BG itself installed the utterly redundant 4 pieces of kit ! - 'at its own cost', which needless to say meant at the cost of all gas users everywhere.  We may be 100% certain this accurately reflected gross inefficiency the length and breadth of BG's extensive systems.

And lest we forget, that ladies and gentlemen is why monopolies must be resisted everywhere: and, when they are found to be inevitable (as occasionally they are), they must be watched over night and day.  It is to the various attempts to resolve this problem that we will turn in later pieces.