Johnson Chunterings

It was pretty despicable of Boris Johnson to start blaming Labour for the release of Usman Khan when he clearly still posed a danger to society. Usman was sentenced in 2012 to Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP). He would serve at least eight years but could not be released unless he had convinced the Parole Board he was no longer a threat. The Conservatives (and Lib Dems) were in Government at that time, and months later IPPs were abolished. On appeal, Khan’s sentence was reviewed and he would serve 8 years before receiving automatic parole subject to license conditions.

The fault lies in the sentencing rules in force in 2012. It does not matter under whose Government those rules were devised. Labour had been out of power for 2 years at that point and there was plenty of time for Tories and their Lib Dem partners to review the rules and update them. We know they did actually did this because IPPs were abolished. That review failed completely to deal with the impact on prisoners such as Usman Khan. Seven years on and innocent citizens paid the price for this error. The error was 100% the fault of the Government at the time of sentencing and in the seven years since when they did nothing to mitigate for the risks. It would be nice if Tom McNally owned up to the Lib Dem culpability to set an example of how politicians should act when events prove them lacking. I’d have more respect for that stance and I think most people realise hindsight is a wonderful thing and it would have been impossible to predict what would happen in 2019 back in 2012. An apology is all that is really needed, nothing more.

It was notable that Johnson did seem to try and distance his Government of 120 days from the Cameron and May administrations in order to try and wriggle out of having to accept even a modicum of responsibility but the bottom line is Conservatives, the party he leads, have been in charge of the Justice, Prisons, and Probation services for nearly 10 years.

Next to the appalling event on London Bridge on Friday, it seems trivial, but Johnson and his cronies seem determined to try and claim that they are creating 50,000 new nursing jobs, when they are actually retaining 19,000 due to be cut and adding 31,000. Same as police – recruiting 20,000 new police officers having already cut 20,000. Net result, zero. The maths involved is worthy of Diane Abbott on a bad blood sugar day.

I’m struggling to work out how, given every conceivable version of EU Exit carries a hit on the economy, all Johnson’s spending plans are dependent on getting brexit done. Magic Money Forests I guess.

In the meantime, the Daily Express (is that still going?) reports that “BBC viewers turn TV off as Andrew Marr ‘loses temper’ in interview with Boris Johnson”. This seems to be based on a number of Johnson’s cronies going onto Twitter and ranting that their Glorious Leader had been prevented by Andrew Marr from deflecting every question asked and rambling off onto a different subject, usually guesswork on what Corbyn would do. Marr, rightly, wanted to hear what Johnson would do on all the issues. This does seem to be a Tory tactic to avoid the awkward questions – tell the questioner what the opposition would do about something completely different followed by “get brexit done” to cure all ills. Corbyn is perfectly capable of burying himself and doesn’t need Johnson’s help with that. Back to the Express, I guess technically if two Johnson-supporting viewers switched off the headline is truthful. Putting “loses temper” in inverted commas means even the Express doesn’t think Marr lost his temper and they were just quoting. It’s good to know that fake news is alive and well in the UK and the Express are leading in that particular skill set. The Express now has a readership of 320,000, down from their high of 4,320,000 when they were a real newspaper. Is it any wonder?

Corbyn Annihilation

As Theresa May had her turning point in 2017 when her campaign came off the rails over social care, so I witnessed yesterday the most comprehensive annihilation of a political leader ever when Jeremy Corbyn was interviewed by Andrew Neil. It has to be a major impact on his credibility amongst those watching directly or even just viewing clips or reading press reports. My mind had been changing over the last week or two on my tactical voting plans, and that interview was the final straw. I will be voting Lib Dem after all and nothing right now could convince me to add my X to a Corbynite Labour candidate regardless of the risks.

The headlines are mostly concerned with Corbyn’s inexplicable failure to apologise for past anti-semitism in the Labour Party. That simple act might have closed down that entire line of questioning but he chose not to.

However, his inability to grasp that bonds are debts subject to interest was appalling. Technically if I buy a house on a mortgage then I have a debt and an asset that hopefully becomes worth more than the debt. They cancel each other out. However, that relies on the house value not going down and me keeping up the repayments. Buying train operating companies and Royal Mail are major risks, not dead cert profit makers with a guaranteed future value. Most of the energy companies make only very small profits and some make losses – hence many many failures in that market.

And then let’s move to Labour’s tax-raising plans. As Neil proved, those plans don’t just involve the most wealthy, even if they stay and pay, but will put up taxes for those on low incomes too, those claiming the married person’s allowance, those reliant on dividend income. He will put up taxes on small companies and on online sales, mostly small businesses run from spare rooms. Anyone who might inherit their family home in London and the South East will be paying up to £60,000 more in inheritance tax. Labour is targetting everyone . The policies disincentivise small business, entrepreneurs, high earners, and homeowners.

Overall, when you add together the failure to properly tackle anti-semitism, ridiculous nationalisations, and the intention to attack small businesses, entrepreneurs and pensioners reliant on modest dividend incomes, it is clear that a vote for Labour is a vote for economic collapse far in excess of what the Tories can achieve with their Brexit plans. Corbyn will turn us towards the Venezuela economic model. In the meantime, Labour moderates are letting Corbyn get away with this, presumably hoping a drubbing in the election will bury him and Momentum forever. It’s a dangerous tactic.

I only hope Mr Neil does the same hatchet job on Johnson, although I am resigned now, I think, to leaving the EU being the only way of lancing the boil and making the case for rejoining quickly, maybe not completely but along Norway lines. Johnson has to fail spectacularly in his Brexit to close the argument down for all time. Nevertheless, the way the polls are working at present, as Labour drops, the Lib Dems rise so a steep Labour decline at this point will only help us. Maybe Jo Swinson won’t be PM but she has a much better chance after last night of perhaps making major advances in Parliamentary numbers. The Lib Dems might be able to stop Labour extremism if Labour end up as the largest party.

EdX: Free University Education

I was lucky enough to go to University in the days where not only was tuition free but students got grants for living expenses (mainly beer and chips). Later in life my then employer paid for me to do an Open University Professional Certificate in Management. Today I’m doing courses at a variety of top Universities from around the world via EdX. These courses are completely free of charge. You can pay for verification and certificates if you want at nominal cost but if it is the learning you are after it won’t cost a penny. Currently I have courses at Berkeley and University of Washington on the go. This is all done via online videos and other course materials. Courses delivered to thousands of students globally at the same time, paid for by the verification fees from a relatively small number of those.

Whilst Oxford University has a single course available, no other British University seems represented, yet US and Australian institutions are enthusiastic participants. It strikes me that we, as a country, are way behind the curve here. It is disappointing.

Is the purpose of University education to educate the people, especially the workforce? Countries that invest in education reap the rewards in terms of productivity many times over. Or is it to maximise the fee income of universities? Like retail moving more and more online and high streets changing beyond recognition forever, so education at this level will start to move the same way. No longer will students be restricted by geography but, for many subjects that don’t require physical attendance, they can choose from any university in any country.

Here is my suggestion for a Lib Dem education policy. Within 2 years every publicly funded UK university should have at least one free course available on the EdX platform – centrally coordinated by the Open University to avoid too much duplication of content. The cost would be relatively low and perhaps self-funding via the verification fees, the benefits significant, and because the EdX platform is global, it helps sell the UK as a major centre of learning, up with if not ahead of the game. In case anyone is tempted by the suggestion, no, we should not set up our own platform. Why reinvent wheels and a major plank of the EdX approach is that it is a truly global collaboration not under the control of one country. Whilst our Government shouldn’t control the platform, it can oblige participation.

This ties in with current policy to give everyone a Personal Education and Skills Account to help them pay for education and training in later life – at least £3,000 three times over the course of their adult life, from age 25. That £3,000 times three would go an awful long way in validation and certification fees using EdX.

In the meantime I would encourage all to look at what is available from current EdX partners and take advantage of some of the best free education in the world.

Lib Dems Promise to Add £85 Billion of National Debt

That and £15 billion in extra taxes. £100 billion over 5 years to tackle the effects of climate change and protecting the environment. That’s an extra £1300 in national debt for every man, woman, and child in the UK. Tackling climate change is a laudable policy. Bankrupting the country and indebting future generations in a futile attempt to reverse it is anything but laudable. It is reckless.

The UK cannot, on its own, influence climate change. We can prepare, we can lead, we can mitigate within our borders, we can’t stop it as we don’t control the globe. There is plenty that can be done for a fraction of that money. You can spend £1 billion on reversing deforestation of the Amazon. You can change building regulations to make all future buildings zero carbon. You can invest in renewable energy technology and electric vehicle development – affordable conversion kits for all cars, vans and trucks. You can cancel HS2 and spend the cash on local public transport improvements. You can put VAT on meat to cut demand for farting cows. I could go on and on. But it doesn’t add up to £100 billion over 5 years.

This borrow and spent recklessness, wiping out every single benefit of debt reduction austerity we’ve been suffering for 10 years, makes it very difficult for me. I couldn’t stand on a doorstep and try and explain this degree of irresponsibility to a potential voter. It is almost as if we have returned to the days of making up fantasy policies justified by the knowledge that we’d never get anywhere near having the power to implement them. We can promise fairy dust powered flying carpets to solve congestion problems to get a few votes. But this is serious. We could, like in 2010, actually hold the balance of power and be held to account for failing to implement absolutely crackpot ideas. And in 2015 we were severely punished for that kind of failure.

I despair, I really do.

Added: 17/11/2019

I have received a response to the above post. It reads:

You don’t seem to understand what the National Debt is. The Government is essentially a huge bank. On the one hand it creates the currency by spending money into the economy. On the other it takes in savings in that currency and in the process creates a so-called National Debt. So if you buy £100 of Premium bonds you are adding to the National Debt.

So its not something our children and grandchildren would ever pay off. It is their asset.

The government spends money into the economy and gets some of it back in taxes. But it can’t get back more than it has created in the first place. The difference is the deficit. That’s quite normal.

If the Government always ran a surplus then it would, in theory pay off the National Debt after a time. But a surplus takes money out of the economy. When it paid of the ND there would be none left and we would be reduced to a barter economy.

Firstly, thank you for taking the time to respond; it is appreciated. I’m not an economist, but there again neither are 99.99% of ordinary voters. So I make no apologies if I have used incorrect terminology. If you borrow £85 billion through bonds then you create a debt of £85 billion that someone someday will need to pay back. Comparing a Government with a bank doesn’t work in my opinion. This Lib Dem proposal involves borrowing £85 billion. In the absence of information to the contrary this will involve lenders – individuals, countries, banks, institutions. The asset belongs to the lenders, not to the nation. It will need to be paid back by the debtors, the nation. It is a national debt even if it isn’t The National Debt. If I am misrepresenting how £85 billion will be found to fund this policy then the fault lies with how the policy is communicated because I suspect 99.99% of voters interpret the announcement in exactly the same way as I have. If it’s too complicated to explain to 99.99% of voters then drop it because others will tell them what it means and you won’t like their explanation.

Corbyn is also using the same cost neutral argument to explain how mass nationalisation costs nothing. If I take out a loan to buy a house for £200,000 on a 100% mortgage (they did exist once), technically I have a debt for £200,000 and an asset worth £200,000. But the asset is only mine when I’ve paid off the debt. Until then the asset really belongs to the lender. And the lender will want interest so I will actually pay £400,000 for my house. If I don’t look after the house and spend more money on maintenance and repairs it might lose value so maybe I pay £400,000 for a house that then gets sold for £100,000 or falls down and it costs me more money to clear the rubble. You could also argue that since I could make do with a £100,000 flat (I do live in the North), I’ve borrowed and spent £100,000 plus interest and maintenance more than I actually needed to. I’ve gone short on essentials and worked longer hours to make those repayments when it wasn’t actually necessary. The idea that you can buy things through borrowing and it costs nothing is absolute nonsense, arguments to fool the fools. That applies to Corbyn and also to Lib Dem excesses.

I would also add that if I borrow £10,000 to plant 5,000 trees with no intention of harvesting them ever for their wood, it isn’t a realisable asset and I haven’t increased the land value. It’s just nice to look at and good for carbon capture. I don’t mind any Government promising to borrow and spend £500,000,000 to plant 250,000,000 trees, great. Just don’t pretend it won’t really cost anything.

Labour: Free Steak Bakes for All

I shouldn’t watch Question Time. I always end up yelling at idiot politicians spouting nonsense and/or not answering the questions asked. Tonight the victim of my rant was Alex Phillips of the Brexit Party (not the Green Party MEP of the same name) as she attempted to address a question on the NHS. The Brexit Party doesn’t appear to have a Health Policy or any other policy other than Brexit and they can’t make their own minds up about what that is it seems.

That aside, Labour today pledged free broadband for everyone. Yesterday it was a 4 day working week whilst being paid for 5. Tomorrow, I am assured, it will be a free Steak Bake and Cup Cake for everyone, paid for by nationalising Greggs. I’m sure that a future Labour Government will find a place for Nicolás Maduro as an economic advisor should the people of Venezuela ever achieve democracy. And yet I might vote (tactically) for them. And the reason is that 75% of Labour MPs are not far left loonies and will act as a brake on their “leadership”.

And then we come to the Tories. Under their stewardship hospital waiting times in England are the worst since records began. It is an incredibly damning position for any Government to find itself in, especially during an election campaign. People are literally dying and it is Government policy to blame. Brexit, discouraging medics from other EU states from coming here, makes matters worse. But I don’t see the Opposition capitalising on this breathtakingly incompetent performance as they should be.

Instead Labour’s 32 hour week policy, and confusion about what that really means, would also do immense harm to NHS productivity. Welsh Labour and the SNP are not doing great things themselves on their devolved NHS performance. Which leaves the Lib Dems. Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Luciana Berger said the Tories had a “shameful” record according to the BBC. Berger is our Health spokesperson? When did that happen? She only defected in September. However, 1p on income tax to pay for additional spending is at least honest and quite easy to understand.

To my mind it is a complete mess. I don’t trust the Tories with the NHS. Their semi-privatisation and internal market have clearly failed. Labour has confused thinking – a 16% fall in hours = a 16% fall in productivity, basic maths. The Lib Dems at least have an honest funding approach but I have no real confidence that someone who served most of her political life as a Labour MP is now a true Liberal Democrat.

On health alone, hard Brexit aside, my vote is… drum roll… spoilt ballot. A pox on all your houses. But if I had to choose, at gunpoint, it would be the Lib Dem approach as long as Berger is closely shadowed by someone with more than 2 months of party membership. But here’s a suggestion… stop reforming the NHS every couple of years; give it some stability and consistency. I know it is so tempting for a politician to tinker but don’t, just don’t. Leave it alone and let the professionals run it at arm’s length from the politicians.

Time Up Labour

Labour’s 32 hour week proposal is amongst their most dangerous policies. Currently full-time employees work on average 37.3 hours a week. This proposal would reduce productivity by over 16%. The economists can grind that number to determine the reduction in GDP and profitability but I think we can guarantee that it won’t be a positive outcome.

The proposal will also create significant gaps in essential services – healthcare, policing, fire fighting. It is hard enough right now to access healthcare due to staff and skills shortages, let alone if their hours are cut.

The Labour suggestion is that this change would be phased in over 10 years. That isn’t really a consolation other than giving big businesses a fairly long lead time to pack their bags and leave the UK for more sensible, more productive, and more profitable locations. They haven’t got far to go – Ireland is close by.

The country could not afford to pay pensions at 60/65 and it is now rising to 67, an additional 11,500 hours for women, 3,300 for men. For younger workers retiring at 68, add a further 1,600 hours to that. So we all have to work longer to pay for our retirement. It’s a policy backed by all the main parties. McDonnell is now saying we can take off 10,000 hours by working 4 day weeks throughout our working life. What was the point of that? He can’t add up, clearly, and that’s pretty dangerous for a Chancellor.

There is an interesting article on Lib Dem Voice at the moment where Eddie Sammon makes a case in favour by using voluntary tax breaks for employers. It’s a better approach but some of the comments are not quite as supportive. I particularly chime with what has it got to do with the Government what hours I work. Preventing exploitation is the Government’s job so progressively reducing the maximum working week from 48 to 45 hours, and including all NHS workers, is a good idea. For environmental reasons, working your average 37.3 hours over 4 days instead of 5 makes sense and a lot of people already do that. Neither require a 16% reduction on the average working week.

If I may quote Eddie’s final line: “I still believe that GDP growth is desirable, but as Jacinda Ardern and Jo Swinson have said, a country’s prosperity cannot be judged on economic growth figures alone.” I completely agree with the latter sentiment although I am not convinced GDP growth is that desirable in a stable and wealthy economy as it sucks up natural resources in creating ever more growth. What we should be looking at is distributing GDP somewhat fairer than we currently do.

Tory Brexit Failures

I’m sick of Tory politicians blaming others for their abject failure to deliver Brexit. It is true that most Labour and Tory MPs signed up to Article 50 and stood on manifestos committing them to respect the results of the 2016 Referendum. However, bearing in mind that Brexit is not a binary issue, Labour did not commit to supporting a Tory interpretation of Leave into which they had zero input.

Had Theresa May been a collaborative leader, keen to find a consensus, we would now be in Transition, outside the EU, and negotiating trade deals everywhere. But she chose to design her own Withdrawal Agreement and blueprint for the future, adding red lines that no-one confirmed in a public vote. She reluctantly, at a very late date, decided to have talks with Labour but refused to budge on anything of significance – phoney talks for appearance sakes.

The sensible approach would have been an all-party constitutional convention to work through all the options and come up with a proposal that could be supported by an overwhelming majority of MPs, accepting that to Lib Dems, the SNP, and some others, any form of Leave would be unsupportable; nothing you can do about that. The Tories were not sensible though. They have tried to force through a hardcore Brexit that did not have a popular or parliamentary mandate and, thanks to Speaker Bercow, didn’t get away with it. Now they are keen to blame others for failing to back their narrow and dangerous extremism, including the latest Johnson wheeze to put a Customs border down the Irish Sea.

All Opposition candidates have a duty to counter these Tory excuses and point out their lack of collaboration and consultation with a broad spectrum of viewpoints is a direct cause of their failure to deliver a Brexit that a majority of people and MPs could support. They are the authors of their own misfortune and you cannot trust them any longer.

Cummings and Goings

I kind of stopped posting for a while as most things I wanted to say were quickly overtaken by events. I didn’t expect Johnson to comply with the Benn Act even though he sent the letter, unsigned. I didn’t expect a Conservative and Unionist Party deal that put a Customs border down the Irish Sea. I didn’t expect Labour to go along with a General Election when sitting 16 points behind in some polls. I didn’t expect my local Independent MP to say he was going to stand again but then I definitely hadn’t expected him, as a former Labour Remainer, to be trooping through division after division with the Tories. Few of my thoughts on how things would pan out have been accurate and I suspect that I am far from alone in that. All this is the work of weasel Cummings, puppeteer. Even at this point I confess I have zero idea what his game plan might be. One thing is for sure though, he is still trying to pull all of our collective strings. Even if Labour storm to victory something in the back of my mind would tell me it was part of a Cummings strategy for World domination starting in 2024.

I will, at this point make a couple more predictions. I predict our own leader won’t be PM on December 13th. I predict Johnson will retain his own seat. I hope these predictions are as accurate as my previous ones. Beyond that I couldn’t even begin to guess what the weeks ahead will bring.

There are some politicians I will be sad to see go. Amber Rudd, for a Tory, was actually a pretty good Home Secretary, and although I did question her integrity when she joined the Johnson Cabinet, she eventually did the right thing. Ken Clarke, probably the only Tory who I would have voted for as PM. A man of principle and honour, and a bloody good Chancellor. Speaker Bercow. Hours of entertainment who stood up for Parliament against a dictatorial minority extremist Executive. Joe Johnson, the decent brother. Those were all Tories but the good ones (they do – or did – exist). Then there is Vince Cable, whose biggest mistake was, I think, not to stand for Leader when he was in his prime. He would have been a better Deputy PM than Clegg and maybe we would still be on 50+ seats. But he has brought us back from oblivion. On the Labour side I don’t recognise many of the names of retirees. But on both sides I do see an significant number of women MPs bowing out due to the vitriol and hate that is routinely dispensed to MPs in general and women MPs in particular. I hope they are replaced and some decide to return at a later date when times have changed.

And so to the Election and who to vote for. I reside in Bury South, with Ivan Lewis as my local MP. In 1997 I was involved in the Labour campaign. Indirectly I helped Lewis to his first victory. By 2010 Labour was a shambles led by probably the worst PM in my lifetime, Gordon Brown, and I had returned to the Lib Dem fold. I was none too impressed with Lewis’ expenses tally either. In 2017 I voted tactically and Lewis was once again elected. However, Lewis eventually fell foul of sexual harrassment allegations, was suspended and, eventually, resigned from Labour, mentioning anti-semitism as a cause. I think I might have given him the benefit of the doubt with unproven allegations and a desire not to vote Labour or Tory. Lib Dem voting here is a bit pointless, barely scraping into 4 figures in 2017. Lewis has been acknowledged by Tory councillors and Lib Dem candidates of my aquaintance as a very good consituency MP too. But then for quite a few weeks now he has completely dumped his previous positions and started trooping through the lobbies with Johnson and Co. Was he considering crossing the floor, getting the Tory nomination for Bury South? It certainly looked that way. Lewis does change political horses more frequently than some people change their underwear, so it wouldn’t have surprised me. Opportunist some might say. If I had wanted an MP to vote with the Tories I would have voted for a Tory. Anyway he is standing as an Independent and I now have to work out tactics to defeat both Tory and Independent. I don’t want to put a vote in Corbyn’s bag but it might have to end up that way.

So he doesn’t want to go, and right now I won’t be sad to see him go, but Ivan Lewis has done great work for Bury South in the past according to his political opponents. I wish him all the best but not as my MP. Bye Ivan.