Friday, 31 January 2014

Smoke and driving mirrors


Some points from The Mirror.

Hundreds of thousands of children are traveling in smoke-filled cars every week.
In England alone, more than 430,000 children aged 11 to 15 are exposed to second hand smoke in cars each week, according to estimates by the British Lung Foundation.
185,000 children of the same age are exposed to smoke while in the family car on "most days", if not every day.
"Given these data only cover children aged between 11 and 15, it is possible that the total number of children affected on a weekly basis could be in excess of half a million."
 
Lots of up to and possibly as many as and estimates  in there. So it might all be a load of blown smoke anyway.
But I ask the readership this. 
IF the medical evidence is correct and IF the debate's key point that children cannot move out of a car as they could with say, a smoker in a family room, is accepted; and that we are thinking of the good of the children as the principle reason for a ban then..
 
Pregnant women MUST be banned from smoking before car drivers?
Surely that must be the first step law as all the same arguments apply only much more so?

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Question time : Refugee edition



 David Dimbleby presents the topical debate from Norwich. On the panel are Conservative cabinet minister Ken Clarke MP, shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry MP, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakeshott, comedian and feminist activist Kate Smurthwaite, and director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs Mark Littlewood.
4 out of 5 in favour of terrorists retaining their passports I think.

  Scoring.
2 pt for a correct guess of the colour or pattern of Dimbleby's tie.{before 10pm} 2 pt for an accurate spot for each of the question asked 2 pt for being the sole entrant to correctly predict a question asked
1 arbitrary point for any partially correct questions, witty phrases, spotting the soundbite, joke, tweet or posting in the comments first.
And the league table will be winner = 1pt
Everyone else - Zero.

Twitter- its often better than the actual show. And its jammed full of  earnest political studies university students and their mickey taking History and English taking friends


@BillQuango  

 

BQ Thinks

1. Economic good news pouring in. Is the recession over?

2. Labour want a 50p tax rate. Something they say they had before. Which they did. For 1.6% of their time in office.

3. Syrian refugees. A victory for nick Clegg? A defeat for Cameron?

4. Immigration debate. Should we retain control of our own law? And if not, Lord Oaksh*t, why have a parliament at all? Certainly why have two parliaments..hmmm?

5. Probably not 5 but maybe changes to school hours that is a great idea that will never happen. 

 

Hall of The Winners 2014

DTP - 2

Measured - 1 

Bill Quango MP -1  

 

BRICS Up Against The Wall

As the Turkish Lira sets slowly in the west ...

Well, not so slowly.  And investor sentiment turns on a sixpence (strange - they always know these things can happen ...)  - I am aware of one big private equity power plant deal that has foundered because of this very recent currency volatility: and the Turks need power plants - lots of them.  These are the kind of crises-in-confidence that spiral downhill quickly.

Ambrose in the DTel paints an ugly picture:
World risks deflationary shock as BRICS puncture credit bubbles As matters stand, the next recession will push the Western economic system over the edge ... Eurostat data show that Italy, Spain, Holland, Portugal, Greece, Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, as well as euro-pegged Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria and Lithuania have all been in outright deflation since May, once tax rises are stripped out. Underlying prices have been dropping in Poland and the Czech Republic since July, and France since August.  
Wow:  here we go again ?  One could imagine quite a flight of capital (to the extent people can get it out of places like China and Russia in times of crisis) and we all know where that ends up.  UK house price bubble, anyone ?

And a holiday in wonderful Istanbul ?  By-passing Taksim square, perhaps.  

ND

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Should part-time work pay so much - the other side of the coin

I am going to get a lot of stick for this post but here goes. The Universal Credit is being made out to be big saviour by the Tories in terms of making work pay and benefits not. However, I have some personal experience in recent months which has made me look at what people are getting and why.

I have had requests to go part-time and people turn down jobs, all because of benefits, not career choices. As readers will surmise, its not like I work in a low-paid industry, but in the City.

But here we go, if you work part time for 60 hours a month and earn say £13 an hour, not great, but far above even the living wage in London, it comes to £720 a month - for effectively 2 days work a week. Annually that is £9360 per year, so no income tax to pay as it is under the free amount threshold. On this there is NI of course, which amounts to £193 per year, so net income is just £9,165.

Also let's say you are also a single mum, you would be in receipt of the full working tax and child tax credit of £7,165 per year. Then there is child benefit at £4175 for her child. Of course, this person lives in Southwark and so get housing benefit and income support to help with the rent and council tax - this amounts to another £7592 a year (I checked).

All in all this is a net amount of £28,097 income. Now, this is post-tax income of £2,341 a month, or a little over £500 per week. I am not saying this is some kind of luxury lifestyle in an expensive City, far from it. It is a net income equivalent to half of what someone would earn doing a full time £85,000 job. Or a normal full time job paying £40,000 a year.

So my beef is that the real cost per hour is huge, when viewing private sector income and state sector support together. The work value delivered is £9360, so even with a margin of 30% this equates to £3000 of added value - but the cost in benefits etc is £19,000. I am yet to work out a way to matrix this with gross productivity per hour which is falling in the UK, but given we are in effect paying £36 an for work that has a market rate of £13, there may be a link?

No wonder to me now why so many of my team are kicking their boyfriends out and begging to go part time. Maybe Universal Credit is the answer, but from my perspective we are a long, long way from a Capitalist economy now.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Price Of Oil Looks Shaky

Back in November when we discussed this before, we all chorused that the price of oil would remain rangebound, $100-120, for the near-term future.  It's at the soft end of that just now, and today we read in the DTel:
Iraq and Iran plot oil revolution in challenge to Saudi Arabia:   Iraq's goal of pumping 9m barrels a day of crude could be a game changer for oil prices
Well yes indeed: there is enough oil in Iraq alone to achieve that.  Whether there are enough competent oil engineers there is another question: I knew loads of the old Iran hands who were sent packing in 1979, and after their departure the mullahs somehow never managed to get the stuff flowing properly again, despite having all the incentive in the world.  It really isn't as easy as it looks, even if the Telegraph is correct when it goes on to say:
BP and Royal Dutch Shell are also poised to benefit from Iraq's ambitious production plans. Both companies are already managing two huge oil fields in southern Iraq which are vital if Baghdad is to achieve its goal.
But that's just the technicalities.  The plentiful Iraqi resources that are widely said to be 'available' with per-barrel production costs less than $10 are probably real enough; but '$10' is before you factor in the need to pay off or repulse every bugger with a stick of semtex for 500 miles.

Now as we know, our old friend Volodya (that's Mr Putin, Sir, when oil is above $100) will be well up a gumtree were the price of oil to plummet.  I don't know what that tells you about the proliferation of semtex in the Middle East but there's probably some kind of inverse relationship to be hypothesised.

One thing the greenie-reds always chime in with at this point is: shale production (gas and oil) is also scuppered by oil prices much below $100.  Maybe, but so what ?  Supply & demand, commodity cycles - stuff happens.  (Sunk costs happen as well and ignorant people are endlessly surprised by how that works out.)  I'm a consumer, I like low prices.  Still, it might mean Putin has a few fellow travellers down his path.

ND

Monday, 27 January 2014

So where is the Laffer curve or the alternative to 50% taxes?

Ed Balls has bought out that good old political trick of higher taxes on the wealthy. As we all know, taxes on someone else are always a vote winning idea.

As the saying goes, if you rob Peter to pay Paul, you can normally rely on Paul's vote come an election.

What is harder to dispute is that 50% is above the Laffer curve. the report from the Treasury thus far is pretty inconclusive. Due to people shifting their incomes, in collusion with their companies, in 201/12, there is little real data to work on. We don't really know if lowering the tax threshold raised more money or not. Equally, due to the timing int he middle of a dreadful recession where tax receipts collapsed, we don't really know if it raised any either. Truthfully too, no one knows where the Laffer curve is or if it even exists; if it did real events will always interfere to skew the results anyhow.

The best that can be said is that in the round of £600 billion odd of public spending, the difference is a rounding error. But of course, politically, this is a good old piece of divisive us-against-them vote-winning.

For Labour, it smacks of desperation as they are opposed to every cut so need some sort of veneer to say they would raise revenue. For the Tories, they are left on the side of big business and 'the rich' - a homely pace but not one packed with voters (although election funding is at least sorted!).

Worse news for those of us who want to vote UKIP. Their policy of a flat tax has also had real problems in the real world. Most of the EU Countries who have applied it also have an equivalent of National Insurance too. Except that the NI is often 30%+, so the nice flat tax of 10% ends up equating to 40% odd anyway.

You just can't escape the need to tax in Countries where social spending is so high and increasing all the time as the population grows and ages.

Personally, I think this is great politics from Labour - useless economic policy, but then they have that mark anyway, it hardens their anti-rich vote which outside of SE England is the key to power for them.





Friday, 24 January 2014

Is the strongest party leader actually Nick Clegg

Of the three party leaders, prehaps four if we accept UKIPs predicted success in the Euro elections will be realised Nick Clegg has been the most effective leader.

Now, hold on..Just think about it. A party leader 's job is to lead. And Clegg has led his party.Possibly to oblivion but that is beside the point. The deputy PM has taken his party pretty much to where he wanted it to be. Can the others make such a claim?

Cameron has moved further right than he intended.. He has made enemies of public sector workers he once tried to make allies. UKIP are a permanent threat so he is forced further right than he would voluntarily sail.
And he is forced by his own party. For a Tory government there haven't been as many squabbles and tantrums in the top ranks as usual. Partly this is coalition. Partly there are just less big ego Hezza's and Tebba's about. And the whole austerity vibe discourages grandstanding.
But however its looked at 'the greenest government' ever isn't standing on the space it intended to.

The Miliband shambles of an opposition had no real clue how to market itself after the 2010 wipeout. 
But it gained confidence among the riots and protests of 2011 and decided that it didn't really need to do much to be carried back into power on the backs of 'anyone but Dave' protest votes.
Since then the Miliband party has had one or two strategic successes but a lot of tactical defeats and the recent better economic news and the same UKIP surge is pushing the welfare party onto territory that they neither recognise, understand nor enjoy. Ed is not standing on his mark either.

And Nigel too has had to face petty scrutiny for every oddball and racist in his ranks and has quite often been forced to defend areas he would rather not have to. UKIP are in a much more comfortable position than the main parties, but even they can't sit back and talk about Europe and nothing else.

So. Clegg. The winner of the political debates who gained much media attention but no seats for that victory

He had the most difficult job of all. He had to lead his happy little band of peaceniks, eco-warriors, fox cuddlers and academics into government. Not just any government. A government with their sworn enemies.

And .. even worse ..Nick had to reveal that the central theme of his manifesto was a big fat lie. That despite promising NO tuition fees, there would in fact be lots of tuition fees.
Then he lost his ablest minister, David Laws, just a few weeks into office. And then the bad economic news kept coming. And the cuts fell onto Liberal areas. Libraries, Arts, justice, local government. He had to defend all that. And a VAT hike. Something he had campaigned against. His own rival for the leadership was imprisoned leaving him with a difficult by-election and the Hancock spy story emerged and his old rival Vince Cable is forever on his rather ineffectual maneuverings. The Proportional Representation vote was a disaster for the Libs. Their reasons for being in a difficult government were disappearing.

In reality Mr Clegg should have been forced from office within months by scandal, lies, U-turns and a torch carrying mob of angry sandal clad, caftan wearing teachers. 
But he wasn't. And the Liberals, despite numerous wobbles and hissy fits, have held up remarkably well within themselves. Their party conferences have MORE unity than usual. the extreme , barmy tendency has been quiet. Liberal voters might have fled, but the Liberal party has remained solid. Well as solid as a party with less spine than a gelatin preserve can be.

Even with the latest groping scandals and threats to sue everyone involved, the story still has the lid on. The feminine wing of the Lib Dems should be being expected to bellow at the outrage inflicted on whatever the yellow equivalent of the sisterhood is by their male powerlords. I'm sure they are. But whatever is going on is behind the curtain. Which is to the credit of Clegg.
The man with the wobbliest party and the flimsiest manifesto and the least reason for being there at all, has managed to keep his show on the road. 

I doubt many others could have done it as well.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Question Time : Going for growth edition


David Dimbleby presents topical debate from Dundee with Scottish government finance secretary John Swinney, leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson, former deputy leader of the SNP Jim Sillars and Scottish Labour's shadow education secretary Kezia Dugdale.

No room for Sturgeon? 

Difficult with the Scots Independence debate still ongoing. Sometimes these Tartan QTs are the best of the series. Anyway ..  lets see if Dimbleby will continue with his Grand Old Duke role. He bossed the battlefield last week. Retrieving fallen Colours and checking sneaky flankers. For the last few season's the old warhorse has been content to snooze by the cannon. Something has woken him up! New contract? Dan Snow looking for work?


  Scoring.
2 pt for a correct guess of the colour or pattern of Dimbleby's tie.{before 10pm} 2 pt for an accurate spot for each of the question asked 2 pt for being the sole entrant to correctly predict a question asked
1 arbitrary point for any partially correct questions, witty phrases, spotting the soundbite, joke, tweet or posting in the comments first.
And the league table will be winner = 1pt
Everyone else - Zero.

Twitter- its often better than the actual show. And its jammed full of  earnest political studies university students and their mickey taking History and English taking friends

@BillQuango  

 BQ thinks

1. Are the Liberals a party of pervs and weirdos. no ..its a serious question. its not necessarily obvious.

2. The economy has not just turned the corner.Its changed gear too. Is it time to increase spending and benefits?

3. Chancellor's idea for a £7 minimum wage. Because as we know Dundee has the same house prices and COL as Dunstable..{I remember flying to Dundee to tell the lads their pay rises when the min wage came in. never seen such happy chaps. they got about a 25% pay increase. Glasgow increase was minimal. Its why i'm against the minimum wage. The Dundee lads were terrific. No problem recruiting there.}

4. Labour to be the party of government in post break-up Scotland. {odd story really. Labour are desperate to play down independence. Saying there will never be another Tory government in Scotland is likey to encourage independence}

5. Syrian refugees. Dave is right for once. Send money to the camps and do a lot more to make the camps secure and safe. Or find people food/shelter/housing in the region where our £ goes a very long way and not in Brixton where it doesn't.

Hall of The Winners 2014

DTP - 1

Measured - 1 

Lib Dem implosion harms Cameron and destroys Coalition politics

The silly 'scandals' around the Liberal Democrat party - which whilst unpleasant would not be frontline new in a world where children are murdered and raped in Syria every day, were it not for a media inspired storm, are nonetheless putting the final bullets into a potential future Conservative Government.

The Tories have long been in a bad position electorally, their votes pile up in the South and nowhere else, leading them to have a large market share, but poor return under firs past the post. With Lib Dem votes now going to leave the yellow's that remaining parties will divvie up the votes.

As the protest party has beocme UKIP, since the LD's went into Government and the official opposition is the labour party it is not hard to see where the LD vote goes. Very little will flow to the Tory party - who are 8% behind in the polls anyway with just over a year to go to the election.

Who would have thought that when the Coalition was formed that it would be such an electoral disaster for both parties. The idea that we have another Coalition Government in the next few years is fanciful - the learning surely will be to try to lead a minority Government.

All that effort on trying to fix the economy for George Osborne has gone to waste.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

China: By The Short and Curlies

This morning the DTel's Alex has a dusky delegate to Davos explaining that his sole reason for being there is to visit his dosh "where I've stashed it in a numbered Swiss bank account, and check it's still there".

Ah, satire: how very timely.  Because also this morning, the Grauniad breaks a story on how the Chinese 'princelings' are building their stashes in the British Virgin Islands - in rather large quantities.

And if Alan Rusbridger and a motley of investigative journos know all about this, we may safely assume our diligent data-hoovering agencies do, too.  It's another perspective on the gradual rise of China in the world, n'est-ce pas?   Offsets some of the less palatable aspects:  they may have an increasing share of the hard power, but soft power remains a bit of a mystery to them.  And when you've got them by the short'n'curlies ...

Capitalism - so flexible, and so ... resilient.

ND

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

IMF Upgrade for UK

It's always nice to see some real humble pie being consumed. As most readers will be aware, the UK remains in a parlous financial state, as does much of the Western world. The whole recovery will be de-railed sooner or later by the next stage of the Euro crisis and by the sheer unsustainability of the debts accrued across the West by their over-purchase of Chinese goods.

However, austerity is not the cause but offers partial solution. Better still would be the re-structure of the welfare state in the West along more Hobbesian lines, but for now that is incompatible with democracy. So austerity of some sort remains the best approach. The Coalition government at least did apply the brakes to Labour spending and after some time is now reaping the rewards with a more stable growth than has been achieved in say the US. The IMF were very quick to blame Osborne for his crazy (read, un-French) policies and now the UK is prediceted to be the fastest growing Western nation this year.

It must make for a little bit of extra spring in the Chancellor's morning jog today.

The real challenge lays on two fronts though. Firstly that there seems to be no political benefit to the 'hated' Tories for engineering a recovery - after all, it's what they said they would do. Secondly, with interest rates at 0.5% and QE in place, we are still deep in the middle of the woods with no clear path out yet identified.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Surveying Shale at the Start of Round 2

This blog isn't going to become a shale cheer-leader forum (go to NoHotAir for that) but our friend 'Hovis' has taken the time to bake a lengthy rejoinder (in the Comments) which deserves acknowledgement and response.  Echoing the 'phoney war' idiom from my earlier post, Hovis fairly recognises that Round 1 has finished, so now we contemplate the state of play at the start of Round 2.  I'm going to take his/her main points head-on rather than endlessly refer back to previous postings, and here we go.  Switch off now if the whole subject leaves you numb. 
I have not seen why, in a Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy type of way you believe it is a “Good Thing”
What I consider a Good Thing is the following:
  •  that private companies should be allowed to establish, at their own expense and risk, whether there are shale gas (and/or other 'unconventional') resources, in economically viable quantities in the UK and elsewhere
  • that this should be done in a safe and environmentally responsible way, under Proper Regulations
  • that bullshit on the subject from any party should be exposed to reasoned and factual analysis
  • Rule of Law should prevail etc etc
It may not be a Bad Thing that local communities see some direct share of economic benefit; and of course the planning process shouldn't be subverted by this (see Proper Regs passim).  For the avoidance of doubt, it is however a Bad Thing - not least because totally unnecessary - that tax breaks are being given (this just adds to my already poor opinion of Osborne).  As you surely know, around these parts we are generally hostile to the socialisation of normal business risk (again, in this case, completely unnecessary).  And, as you kindly acknowledge, I have always said it is Bad that the regulatory regime is so flimsy, though not, I think, entirely non-existent as you suggest - see final point below.

And finally, of course, I think it would be a Great Thing if plentiful economically viable shale gas were to be found.  By 'economically viable' I include bearing the full costs of producing the stuff in the safest and cleanest ways known to man - which isn't some utopian fantasy, it just means doing things properly.
I utterly disagree with you that anti arguments are mendacious
And I have never said that all of them are: there are several that have a grounding in fact, and need proper response.  But many of the 'environmental' scare stories are indeed mendacious; along with other crazy statements like 'there isn't enough water', or 'the UK isn't big enough'.  Space here doesn't permit.
"Shale will bring major benefits to the UK" [is] doubly mendacious
It is absolutely fair to say that some purely speculative tripe is being talked.  No-one even knows if any gas is there !  "74,000 jobs" is, of course, a finger-in-the-air exercise - I have no time for such stuff.  BUT - if  there is even a fraction of what is seen as the potential, there will indeed be huge benefits to the UK:
  • gas prices will soften, if not fall significantly (big topic, for another time)
  • to exactly the same extent the price doesn't fall (because of exports at the margin to continental Europe), tax revenues will increase
  • there will be a boost to UK jobs, industry, expertise and GDP generally
  • we gain greater security of supply in gas, a commodity we need in large quantities for the next several decades in all meaningful UK energy scenarios
  • we demonstrate the fallacy of 'renewables being cheaper in the long run'
  • plus a huge increase in PC Plod's overtime (whoops, sorry !)
At what point do yo [sic] recognise there will be no regulation Nick? ... My question to you is, if there is no regulation should Fracking go ahead on a large scale in this country ?

My answer is - No !    OK ?

ND

Friday, 17 January 2014

Anti-Frackers: A Telling Snap-shot

Earlier this week I suggested that the UK anti-fracking 'movement' was a very broad front, with three potentially formidable bourgeois wings identifiable (the radical intellectuals, the well-informed 'technical' objectors and the county nimbies) amongst the swampies, renta-mobs and all-purpose left-wing trouble-makers.  This mix will presumably be found in varying proportions other nations' anti-fracking brigades, along with some entirely local mutations for which we have no precise equivalent here.

They've all assembled (doubtless via the magic of the interweb - GCHQ will know ...) to hatch a joint 'open letter' to "President Barroso; Commissioners from DG ENVI, ENER, CLIMA, ENTR, AGRI; European Council Members; national heads of state (Presidents, Prime Ministers); Ministers concerned; Members of the European Parliament."  (Not sure whether the various Euro-monarchs have been spared this diatribe under the 'heads of state' category, but I digress.)  You may find it interesting.  

Several points strike me as noteworthy:
  • it really is no mean feat of coordination to get quite so many organisations on board: one shouldn't take fright, but one shouldn't underestimate it either
  • look how many anti groups there are in countries (e.g. France, Spain, Germany, Romania) where fracking is more or less banned at present
  • as always, the primary thrust of the hard core is anti fossil fuels in toto.  Fracking is just a pretext. (Gasland is exactly the same: a few minutes on fracking to start with, then a diatribe against the US natural gas industry as a whole)  
And a splendid flash of light relief: one of the UK signatory-groups is Pagans United.  How they go down with the hard men of the French Left, we can only guess.  But Asterix would probably approve.

The UK's man on the drafting pen is the indefatigable and worthy Mike Hill, who comes under the well-informed technical objector banner.  He is omni-present on the web, promoting his views on what proper regulations would look like.  I can't imagine he subscribes to the 'anti everything' strand, but in a coalition as, *ahem*, broad as this one (not to say thick) he'll have to settle for some kind of messy compromise if he wants to join in at all.

Significantly, Hill's recent tweets seem to indicate he thinks the UK government has triumphed in the latest round of skirmishing in EC circles, by getting Barroso et al off the idea of EU-wide regulations.  Cameron, it seems, can be quite effective in Europe when he wants to be.  The anti-frackers will be getting increasingly desperate, and who knows how that will manifest itself.  At least some of those many signatories look like fairly hard nuts, and even in cosy England the violence seems to be escalating a bit.

The Barroso worm has turned on more than just fracking.  Several years ago we opined he was barking up the wrong tree on renewables, and that GDP concerns would eventually prevail over GHG.  He seems to have twigged - and it won't just be the anti-frackers who'll be tearing their brightly-dyed hair, it will be the entire green movement, and the subsidy-grasping renewables industries.  Boy, this is going to get noisy.

ND  

Thursday, 16 January 2014

BBC Question Time - Bashing the bonus edition.

David Dimbleby presents Question Time from Durham.
On the panel are Conservative Party chairman Grant 'lightweight' Shapps MP.
 Shadow transport secretary Mary 'hot water' Creagh MP,
 El Presidente in waiting of the Liberal Democrats Tim Farron MP, Archbishop of York John Sentamu and broadcaster and , Julia 'no nonsense' Hartley-Brewer.

  Scoring.
2 pt for a correct guess of the colour or pattern of Dimbleby's tie.{before 10pm} 2 pt for an accurate spot for each of the question asked 2 pt for being the sole entrant to correctly predict a question asked
1 arbitrary point for any partially correct questions, witty phrases, spotting the soundbite, joke, tweet or posting in the comments first.
And the league table will be winner = 1pt
Everyone else - Zero.

Twitter- its often better than the actual show. And its jammed full of  earnest political studies university students and their mickey taking History and English taking friends


@BillQuango

 

 BQ thinks

1. Banker bonuses and why does the gummint only stand up for the richest in society.

2. Ohh la la.  Incroyable! La France a un minsiter pour faire du vélo et un ministre pour les scooters?

3. Is it  criminal to feel up the ladies live on air, but acceptable if you lock them in your hotel room ?

4. Should Labour go the whole way and just say they will now only recruit ethnic minorities to the police and damn their own equality and discrimination laws. 

5. Fracking bung. Bribery or good sense?

Hall of Winners 2014

DTP - 1

Measured - 1 

Equitable Life and the Coalition Pledge: Glory Be!

and cursèd be the name of Gordon Brown
How often does a government carry through a manifesto promise ?  Well hats off to the Coalition, then, because today I received my Equitable Life compo cheque !

Yes, both Tories and Lib Dems made manifesto pledges to that effect, and the Coalition Agreement duly carried it forward.  Sadly, the compo is only at the rate of 22.4 pence in the pound (of loss suffered) - and the loss itself is calculated in a rather non-transparent way.  But hey, let's not carp too much.  All opprobrium is to be directed squarely at Gordon Brown, whose complete failure to regulate properly hangs around his neck forever, and whom I shall curse to my dying day.

I haven't seen any write-up of this payout in the press - just widespread recent ads for EL pensioners to get in touch with the compo scheme - but I have to believe I'm not the only one to be getting a welcome letter in the post.  Given that compo cheques in respect of various banking sins are being credited with, inter alia, last year's record UK car sales figures, I'm guessing that many recipients will be rushing out and buying stuff, instead of *ahem* prudently topping up their pension arrangements.

So - yet another Keynsian boost to the economy !  And maybe a few extra votes, assuming Mr Crosby knows how to make a little hay out of this - which I think he does.

ND

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Shale Gas: Phoney War Over

Right from the start the C@W community, above and below the Comments line, have been solidly in favour of the UK exploiting whatever its shale gas resource turns out to be: frack on! say we.  

We also recognised, right from the off, that an abundance of shale would be the death-knell of conventional Green arguments (many of which have been swallowed whole by DECC) for renewables being somehow 'cheaper in the long run' - they'd have to retreat to a purely doctrinaire, faith-based case.  As such, they'd hurl everything they have against the shale industry ever getting off the ground, let alone up from under the ground.  Mendacious anti-shale propaganda is just the soft side of this, but there was bound to be a tougher manifestation. As we said years ago, PC Plod (who sometimes fails to protect entire power stations, complete with security staff and perimeter wire) could therefore find himself fairly well stretched trying to police hundreds of small, dispersed and vulnerable sites the length and breadth of the land.

Finally, while we are in told-you-so mode, we said that the often embarrassingly amateurish Cuadrilla and other tiddlers who were making the running were merely stalking-horses for the big players. 

Some have despaired of the government's resolve in the matter - indeed, we may sometimes have been a bit frustrated too - but hey, once again GDP trumps GHG !  And so it comes to pass.
  • government is really working hard - even if clumsily - across all departments clearing obstacles to large-scale exploration
  • big players - most notably the French, GdF-Suez and Total, who are banned from shale development in their own country - are buying in
  • the LibDems are officially onside, even if some of them can't hide their skepticism
  • and yes, even Labour is now formally on board, whilst inevitably registering some qualifications to its support
This is quite a moment for the Anti camp, seeing the Pro forces assembling on the hillside in front of them at last.  The Antis are a heterogeneous bunch.  On the 'green-red' flank, naturally all the air-headed swampies are milling around.  They are often deployed as berserkers in the fray, but the leadership lies elsewhere. Keeping an eye on the No Dash For Gas website since their extraordinary debut at West Burton, it has been clear that there are some heavy-duty professional troublemakers in their ranks, along with academics and genuinely clever people, all highly motivated, whose capacity for mischief will prove to be extensive.  (As part of the joined-up government planning, the police have been tooling up seriously for this match ever since Balcombe, but their native brain-power and intelligence-gathering will be stretched by the smart tacticians they are facing, GCHQ notwithstanding.)

But if that was the end of the matter, the fertile popular ground that revolutionaries always seek would be entirely missing, and the whole affair would be just a glorified Hunt Saboteur affair.  The really interesting factor is that village by village, a serious middle-class Anti movement is gathering.  Partly nimby, partly countryside-idealist, partly soft-green, it already has more traction than the anti-windfarm lobby.  It's quite a network (trust me on this one), and is replete with 'sensible' experts who know how to run effective planning-permission campaigns, as well as the kind of well-heeled, time-on-their-hands, county-class enthusiasts who have real clout.

The front presented by all these Anti forces is by no means monolithic.  In part, that's its strength, but of course it's a vulnerability too: the county types quickly fall out with the rent-a-mobs after a few noisy, dirty days of skirmishing in the lanes and fields.  Also, as every despairing revolutionary knows, the bourgeoisie always disappoints when the going gets truly radical.  It may be, for example, that the current government multi-disciplinary onslaught (which, as well as bundling Labour onside, has already ended the initial knee-jerk Anti attitude in the Beeb, whose coverage is now studiously balanced) seems responsible - and determined - enough to convince a lot of folks that the Man in Whitehall probably knows best, that it's happening whether we like it or not, and that a bit of extra revenue from business rates and local royalties won't go amiss.  (Look at how the water companies are rushing to join forces with the nascent shale industry.)

IMHO there is a simple step the government could take that will be very helpful in defusing the genteel Anti movement which, to repeat myself, is really gathering steam and is underestimated at their peril.  The Environment Agency is truly too feeble to represent a genuine regulatory safeguard on the very real potential environmental aspects.   Osborne, in particular, seems to think it is clever to take short-cuts here. That is very short-sighted: there is no shortage of money in this game to institute an impeccable, world-class regulatory regime that will satisfy all reasonable folk.

In any event, it's game on.  Will this be Poll Tax Riots 2 ?  Miners Strike 2 ?  or a re-run of the Huntingdon Life Sciences nonsense ?  Could get interesting either way.  Let's hope there is actually some gas down there ...

ND

Monday, 13 January 2014

Construction and Infrastructure is key to recovery and lookig healthy



By that I mean construction and infrastructure investment - like that in Construction and in infrastructure such as oil and gas, rail etc.

Why does this matter more than say retail or other business spend? Well it matters because of the long-term nature of the underlying cash investments. if you build a railway, or invest in North Sea oil exploration and production, these investments, these types of activity take a long time. Decades even, the business plans are drawn up conservatively, lots of people are hired on permanent contracts as the timerline for delivery is so long. The key risks end up being regulatory/governmental tax intervention, rather than business. After all, the business has to stack up to make such an investment.

Even the construction of a building, say a new city centre office block, is a 5 year project from site acquisition to final leasing to the tenants. That these types of project take a long time means that the commencement of so many of these types of project last year and continuing into this year is a great underlying sign for the economy. Banks, lawyers and accountants, as well as retailers, live quarter to quarter. Indeed, business services, which makes up such a large apart of the economy, is very whimsical in its nature. One bad quarter and investment for the next year is scaled back.

I am with my co-writer, Nick Drew, who argued last week that most Government investment is Keynesian in nature and not necessarily reflective of what outputs the Country really needs. Nonetheless, underlying growth is boosted by longer term investment. I doubt very much the UK is going to have a bonanza year this year as the services expansion tails off - at least this wider business investment will mean we have higher levels of activity for a few years yet.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

What A Man! Hollande Dispels the Winter Gloom

Ah the French, what style, what panache.


And going to assignations on an official government motorbike !  


What can our own politicians offer to rival this ?

Friday, 10 January 2014

Ed Davey: How taxes prevent climate change

Surbiton
The energy minister, Ed Davey, today explained to the chamber the dangers facing the nation from climate change. He told the assembled council members..

"We have seen floods and extreme winds with fierce seas and trees uprooted. the climate is changing. temperatures are falling. Daily sunshine is at a low."

 He went on to say he had received a raven from the continental United States.

" Ice has formed across half of that faraway land. Ships are stranded in the ice sea. Rivers have frozen. We can not ignore what is before our eyes .. a winter is coming. The Long Night will last a generation. Thousands will  starve as the crops and fields are buried under dozens of feet of snow.
I don't want to sound alarmist but .. In the darkness and cold of the Long Night, Kings will freeze to death in their castles, same as the shepherds in their huts; and women will smother their babies rather than see them starve, and weep, and feel the tears freeze on their cheeks..."

The shocked council had questions. Hand of the Prime Minister, Nick Clegg asked if all was already lost. Lord Davey of House Limp  replied much time had been wasted with petty squabbles at the seat of power in the south. But that the real battle was to be found in the north. he proposed a new Super-eco-green tax of 'the old gods of the forest', to be levied on every merchant and money-lender. Every Kingdom. Every trader. Every port. Every castle. Every market and every tavern. A 75% levy!

"We must build The Wall. A colossal fortification built  in the north. A wall of ice centered on Castle Black." when asked how much such a thing would cost he said " It would cost £600 billion. A small price to pay for your lives? " Who would man this outpost? "It would be manned by an elite guard of ecology students, University of East Anglia computer programmers and Greenpeace protesters under the patronage of lady Caroline Lucas of House Green."
. 
Nottingham 2015

The council discussed at length and offered to add £8bn to the peasants energy bills and also to add to the Night Watch with some people from Benefits Street.

"It is not enough!" shouted Lord Wet

 " The White Walkers sleep beneath the ice for thousands of years. And when they wake up..."
 And as he stormed from the throne room..
 "In that darkness the White Walkers will come.. They will sweep through cities and kingdoms, riding their dead horses, hunting with their packs of pale spiders big as hounds..."
Colchester 2016

You have been warned.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Question Time:" let him have it !" edition

The winner of the 2013 Question time Premier league was
Nick Drew -4
Well done Nick.
Note* BQ failed to win a match all season and so has been lined up to replace David Moyes at Manchester United.
 Nick Drew - 4
CityUnslicker -2
Measured - 2


Mark Wadsworth - 2
 Malcolm Tucker -1 
  Hopper -1
Dick the Prick -1 



Kilgore Trout - 1


DJK - 1

Timbo614 - 1 
The new series of Question Time kicks off tonight.
 Scoring.
2 pt for a correct guess of the colour or pattern of Dimbleby's tie.{before 10pm} 2 pt for an accurate spot for each of the question asked 2 pt for being the sole entrant to correctly predict a question asked
1 arbitrary point for any partially correct questions, witty phrases, spotting the soundbite, joke, tweet or posting in the comments first.
And the league table will be winner = 1pt
Everyone else - Zero.

Twitter- its often better than the actual show. And its jammed full of  earnest political studies university students and their mickey taking History and English taking friends

@BillQuango

 

  David Dimbleby presents the topical debate from Lewisham in London. On the panel are: Norman 'Mr bun the 'Baker MP, Liberal Democrat Home Office minister;  

Chuka 'Obama' Umunna MP, Labour shadow business secretary;

 Nadine 'I'm so trying to get sacked' Dorries MP, Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire; 

Paul 'nutty' Nuttall MEP, deputy leader of UKIP; and 

Susie 'Foxy Boxing' Boniface, Mirror columnist and author of the Fleet Street Fox blog.

BQ thinks, in this difficult back from holiday match,

Dimbletie - Something yellow with pic of N-Dubz, Dappy on it.

Q1. Mark Duggan verdict. Were the Police killers?

Q2. Where are all the Romanians? Only 2 came on the bus on New Years day. So immigration isn't a problem?

Q3. Is the cost of gym membership the defining election issue?

Q4. The closure of 10 fire stations still leaves london as the most covered city in the World outside of New York. And New york has Skyscrapers. Is this really the greatest crsis to visit the city since the Luftwaffe?

Q5. Were the 'Benefits Street' people forced into drug taking, alcoholism,fraud and shoplifting by the bedroom tax?


'Consumer led recovery dangerous' fail for Labour

Another plank of Labour's economic claims is falling apart. Not only is "too far, too fast" a distant, dull memory, but now the chant of the 'wrong sort' of recovery is unravelling too. Post-Christmas, many of the major stores have not done well and were reduced to offering steep discounts to get product out of the door. Consumer spending was reined in.

By contrast, out today with news of expansion and good growth, is, err, Rolls Royce. That Housing Bubble talk is next in line too, as construction picks up and housebuilding will move to reach record levels (which it needs to if prices are to be controlled).

It does not bode well for very strong growth this year as a whole, much as I expect, more of the same from last year at best. But HM Opposition is going to be in a right mess on its economic policy and positioning if it can't analyses what is going on rather than wishing that its fantasies come true (see triple dip recession, RIP).

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Keynes Has Never Left The Building

They're Big
When you step back from the detail, all the arguments about how HS2, Hinkley Point and all the other white elephants are justified are just so much empty sophistry.

Certainly the civil servants will always come up with complex calculations about how every minute of saved journey-time adds to GDP, ditto every car-passenger-mile that is converted into a rail-passenger-mile.  It's a great game for all concerned.

But at the end of the day, it's the civil engineering lobby that turns up in Downing Street and says: listen, we only exist because of the Channel Tunnel, Crossrail, the Olympics, T5, HS1, the Jubilee Line extension, the Ring Main etc etc etc to the end of time.

Yes, JM Keynes has never left Whitehall.  Keynsian doctrine is the only conceivable rationale behind gigantic programmes such as the onshore and offshore wind-farm mania.  It works for the civil engineers - and the consultants, and the lawyers, the financiers, the lobbyists - all good British service industries.

I wouldn't mind quite so much if the hardware content was more local.  My understanding is that we have a world-class tunnelling industry in this country, so Crossrail (e.g.) is pretty good in this regard (though don't enquire too closely where the worker-ants hail from).  But the wind-farms ... OK, let's not get started on that one.

So -  back to the topic in hand.  Severn Barrage, anyone ?

ND

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum - I Detect an Australian!

So onto the box saunters Cameron and what is his headline New Year message ?  He's going to protect the state pension.  And the headlines duly follow.

What tremendous simplicity.  And eminently memorable for the section of the population that exercises its vote the most.  Not even anything as petty as a Brown-style 'dividing line' - because of course all the other party leaders immediately row in behind him, as they must.

Behind him.  That'll do.  Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum - I think we detect the clear-sighted guidance of his Australian friend and pantomime villain Mr Crosby, who is keen on ditching all policy excrescences ("scraping off the barnacles") and keeping things simple, basic.

Pic: the Beeb ?  Or Someone Else ... 
So Election Campaign 2015 starts now.  Let's hope that actually doing a few clear-sighted, basic things also features between now and then.

ND  

Footnote: the Beeb did Dave proud in its online coverage of this little set-piece, using the photo I reproduce here.  Did Crosby supply that, too ?

Monday, 6 January 2014

Austerity, again and again

An interesting piece of politics from the Chancellor today. Of course, as in any business, the finance director should always be the naysayer and the one with the most negative view of the future. This leaves others in the business, or in this case the Government, to think more optimistic things and yet have their view tempered by reality.

Today though George Osborne's target is Ed Milliband and also the British public. From the recent run of good economic data people could be forgiven for thinking always sorted. However, as the Chancellor is keen to point out, we are not even half way there to clearing the deficit - never mind trying to actually lower the national debt!

The Labour reply is non-sensical, something about economic failure which does not wash with the current facts and waffle about sorting out the cost of living crisis, with funds from the magic money tree.

The Tories though also face a quandary the largest spending departments of the Government are social security and health care. Both of these could provide the £25 billion we need to cut, yet neither can be touched. Some areas are already creaking, lawyers are on strike today as legal aid has been slashed - rightly for some, but for others justice will be harder to come by now with no funds. The Tories too have ruled out further tax hikes, sensible given the already huge tax burden placed on Country.

So its an interesting positioning and good politics to remind the people of the UK of the difficult situation being faced at a macro-economic level and also the lack of choice that there really is about future budgets.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Margaret Thatcher greatest postwar Prime Minister




Iron lady Margaret Thatcher has been voted the most successful post-war British Prime Minister by lawmakers in a survey of MPs. Thatcher (average score of 7.4) emerged as the most successful premier, narrowly beating the former Labour prime minister Clement Attlee (7.3).
Another former Labour prime minister, Tony Blair (6.8), came third ahead of the Conservative Winston Churchill (6.5). Gordon Brown (3.3) came last.


Apart from the satisfaction of seeing Thatcher top and Brown last, not really much to report. Except that 3rd place {Blair}  and 4th place {Churchill} both seem to be placed too high.
Blair's achievements will forever be overshadowed by his wars. And Churchill's peacetime premiership was notable mainly for trying to keep an Empire and Churchill's very seriousness illness.

The 2010 poll of 'leading academics' had Attlee first and Thatcher second. Its pretty much universally agreed that those two top any poll of greatest post-war prime ministers. They both changed the nation and future generations.
 Which is why Blair being anywhere near the top is a surprise. He's third in the 2010 poll also. What was his legacy? Peace in Northern Ireland he likes to say. Which was a major achievement. That alone must make him top 5 of the 12 post war PMs {not including Cameron}.
  But in 13 years what else did Labour achieve? What were the big, nation defining, policies? 

Minimum wage set so low it was barely above the standard wage?
Open borders?
The Dome ?
The M4 buss lane?
Hunting with dogs?
Tuition fees?

Powerful stuff for a Parish Council maybe. Not much of a record for a government.


1. Winston Churchill
2. Clement Attlee
3. Margaret Thatcher
4. Harold Macmillan
5. Harold Wilson
6. Tony Blair
7. Edward Heath
8. John Major
9. James Callaghan
10. Alec Douglas-Home
11. Anthony Eden

12. Gordon Brown

Which shows many of the 27,000 voters didn't read POST WAR in the title. And shows Brown's terrible unpopularity 2 years out from an election that exists still in today's poll. Historically he couldn't have been worse than Eden.

More likely Tony Blair is so high in the new poll for partisan reasons but also because the other runners, with the exception of Harold Macmillan, are no better and often much worse.
 They do make Blair more appealing.

 Heath. Wilson. Major. Douglas-Home.Callaghan. Eden. Brown.
We have not been overly blessed with great leaders have we?


What Does This Tell Us About 'Nuclear Revival'?

The finances of nuclear energy dealings are very difficult to second-guess. For starters, the cash-flow streams are measured in multiple decades (some would say centuries). This means the exponential aspects run wild: assumptions on inflation / interest / discounts rates are absolutely critical, and the merest decimal can make all the difference. 

That alone could defeat attempts to reverse-engineer the financial workings of the players involved. But there's much more for the observer to contend with: 
  • many of the costs are socialised, de facto if not de jure; 
  • the investments are 'strategic', so normal commercial considerations don't apply; 
  • there are few data-points - the dealings are highly secret; 
  • the players are all inveterate liars. 
But I can't help meself pondering. What, for example, do we make of the news that Iberdrola has agreed to sell its 50pc stake in the UK nuke joint venture NuGen for £85m to Toshiba ? (SSE sold up at NuGen two years ago.) 

The corporate aspects are easy. Iberdrola, as we have long been pointing out, is up the proverbial shitty creek - so no surprises there. (If they sell Scottish Power next, no-one can claim they weren't told). On the other hand Toshiba is up to its neck in the radioactive waters of another creek, and must find non-Japanese outlets for its product. 

But what does the de minimis amount of £85m betoken ? It's chicken-feed, almost a free option: the land alone must be worth that. E.on and RWE each wrote off more than that in sunk costs when they pulled out of the Horizon JV. Is it so low because ... 
  • Iberdrola are really, really desperate ? 
  • the EDF deal doesn't look so rosy from close-up ? 
  • Toshiba don't think they'll get a deal as good as EDF's ? 
  • Toshiba don't think the EU review of the EDF deal is in the bag ? 
  • there is a further consideration for the shares we haven't been told about ? 
  • Iberdrola are offloading some nasty liabilities ? 
  • very little engineering has actually been done by NuGen ? 
  • the Toshiba design is nowhere in the UK permitting process ? 
And so on: insert your own puzzled questions here. Even better, insert your clever analysis - can anyone make sense of it ? 

ND