13 May 2010

Reasons to be cheerful

Now that we've left behind the mess of last weekend, I'm feeling optimistic.  It looked as if there was a real possibility (as seen from outside) that a Lib-Lab pact could be formed, keeping Brown in power for months or years.  The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats seemed to be struggling to reach an agreement, and various die-hards in both parties were telling us all about red lines.

In important ways, the components of the new Government fit my views perfectly.  I'm an economic conservative, strongly so; I believe in markets, opportunity, rewards for enterprise and penalties for failure, and having been a borrower, I hate uncontrolled debt and spending money that can't be paid back.  Socially, many of my views are liberal; some views expressed by readers of some of the more right-wing papers make me sick, and I think that we should fight hard to maintain the tolerance for which this country is renowned. This Government can steer a middle path, leaving extremists behind - the best of all worlds.

I think that both party leaders have played a blinder.  Clegg has achieved more for the Lib-Dems than could have been thought possible last weekend, and Cameron has gone further too.  Maybe Brown's death-bed conversion to the faith of electoral reform was the catalyst, but never mind.

The combined parties have offered Cameron a much larger pool of talent from which to fill the roles in the new Government.  His appointment of more Lib-Dems than demanded by the coalition agreement is a master stroke, money in the bank when decision-making gets tough in the fight against Labour's legacy of debt.

All in all, it's been a great start.  I'm concerned about electoral reform; I don't want to see BNP MPs at Westminster. The horse trading that we saw in the last week could have allowed a cynical Lib-Lab pact to deny the people the change of Government that we so badly needed; 'first past the post' elections usually allow the electorate to choose.  I'm nervous about the consequences of fixed term Parliaments that stop the country from voting when a vote might be the best solution.  But these questions can at least be addressed with careful consideration rather than as the sort of stitch-up deal that could have happened.  Reasons to be cheerful...

09 May 2010

The West Lothian question writ large

The new UK Parliament will meet in Westminster with no party able to command an absolute majority.  Although there was a decisive rejection of Labour, there is still the possibility that the defeated Government will be able to cobble together an agreement to stay in power, needing an unholy alliance of nationalists to reach the magic figure of 326 votes.
What's really striking is the way that England is overwhelmingly represented by Conservative MPs but others can control events. English MPs can be - and frequently have been - overruled on questions of education, local government, economic and social policies by the MPs of the other three countries of the Union. In contrast, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have their own assemblies, where English MPs have no influence.
This issue was exposed by the great parliamentarian, Tam Dalyell, who asked
For how long will English constituencies and English Honourable members tolerate ... at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
Due to boundary reform, that figure of 119 is now 116, but the West Lothian question (as Enoch Powell dubbed it), is vitally important as the UK electoral system faces a significant shake-up, whichever party reaches an agreement with the Lib Dems.   Should MPs from the other countries be allowed to change the electoral system in England?
Here are the statistics.  I couldn't find such a table online, so this analysis is based on the Daily Telegraph results page and used the BBC results as an additional authoritative source. I've gone through the table relying on my own geographical notions to split by country, and if I've slipped up, no doubt someone will be kind enough to let me know.

Eng Other
Plaid Cymru
Sinn Fein
NI Other





N Ireland


The current Speaker is counted as a Conservative and the Thirsk and Malton constituency didn't vote due to the death of one of the candidates.

01 May 2010

Please can we restore the meaning of 'investment'?

One happy outcome of next Thursday's election is that we'll probably have a new government that can tell the difference between spending and investment. For the last thirteen years, our finances have been run by a man who deliberately perverted these terms to hide his extravagance. During this time, a large amount of real investment was unfunded by the taxpayer.  Many hospitals, schools and other facilities were built using Public Finance Initiative (PFI) funding, where instead of paying capital, the contracts allowed the developers to own the facilities and receive operating income at very attractive rates for decades to come.  Result: many projects that should have been capital investments (in the true sense of the word) have been turned into massive and inflated future spending (revenue) commitments.

The Tories flirted with Public-Private Partnership (PPP), an early version of PFI in the mid 1990s. They rapidly worked out that it was too dangerous. Brown grabbed it with both hands to run up another £500 billion of future debt while turning much of the normal capital investment into bribes for voters or jobs for the boys (and girls), especially in marginal and safe Labour seats. We will be paying for this man's lies, recklessness and dishonesty for the next thirty years.