Left Outside

What the hell are the Tory Party up to?

The Tories have refused to put a Front Bencher forward to appear on tonight Question time as they were unhappy with the panel offered.

In his speech, The Trouble with Trust, the BBC director-general Mark Thompson called for greater transparency in the BBC’s dealings with political parties:

“There are steps we should take to make our own dealings with politicians and other public figures more open to scrutiny. When A refuses to debate with B or sets other conditions before an interview or debate, there’s often a case for letting the public know – for example, via the Editors’ Blog…”

So here goes. This week, for the first time in my three years as executive editor of Question Time, we were told by Downing Street that a cabinet minister would only appear on the programme if another member of the panel was replaced. According to No 10, a senior member of the cabinet was available to do Question Time but only if Alastair Campbell was replaced by a member of the shadow cabinet.

Can anybody explain this behaviour? Are the Tories attempting to Manipulate the BBC? Are they scared of Alastair Campbell? Are they trying to force the BBC into compromising their impartiality? What the hell are they doing?

It looks like they’re throwing their toys out the pram from here.

Filed under: Politics, The Media

RIP Evidence Based Government: 12th May – 27th May 2010

Some of the examples of the last administration’s policy based evidence making are well known, others are less well known but equally damning. Last year The Heresiarch highlighted an article by Nick Davies of Flat Earth News who highlighted the manipulation of figures coming out of the Home Office, bending evidence to agreed upon policies.

First, estimates were made using flawed methodology and unjustified assumptions – often by researchers with a settled view (that all prostitutes are by definition abused victims, for example, or that all foreign sex-workers are by definition “trafficked”). Next, caveats were disregarded and figures rounded up. Then different sets of dodgy statistics were lumped together without regard to accepted scientific practice. “Up to” became “at least” and then “by the most conservative estimate: the actual figure is probably much higher”.

This lower profile abandonment of evidence when formulating policy is every bit as important as the furore which surrounded the sacking of David Nutt. In case you cannot recall, David Nutt was sacked in October last year by Alan Johnson for criticising the Government because of its plans to reinstate cannabis as a class B drug, a position not justified by the evidence.

While there are no reasons that any party should be more ideologically predisposed to evidence based policy making than any of the others, I admit I did not hold much faith in any improvement. The population of the Tory benches with Nadine “smear Tim Ireland” Dorries and the appointment of Philipa “cure the gays” Stroud to the back room of the Department of Work and Pensions left me nonplussed, to say the least. The lamentable loss of Evan Harris from parliament further dented any hope I had of a rational approach to evidence and policy from this government.

So I think it safe to say that I never had Chris Giles‘ faith that the formation of a Conservative-Liberal coalition government would announce the resurrection of something long dead. Today the temporary Lazarus of evidence based policy making has been put firmly back into his cave with the publication of the State of the Nation report.

The State of the Nation is a policy document which is fairly hot on correlation, but as Chris Giles points out, weak on causality. In pointing out that…

“Children in lone-parent and stepfamilies are twice as likely to be in the bottom 20 per cent of child outcomes as children in married families”

… the report is entirely correct. Yet evidence from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that there is little or no evidence that marriage has any discernible effect on a child’s emotional of social development. Better educated and richer parents are more likely to be married and are also more likely to be better parents. This is a fact which is readily conceded in the report. The evidence would thus suggest that we do not meddle in family structures as both family structures and child development are dependent on another variable. So other than encouraging people to be better educated and wealthier this Government may not have much chance at tackling either of its aims.

You would imagine then, that the policy recommendation following on from the above evidence would bare some resemblance to it, right?

Wrong. Rather than accept that meddling in the private lives of others is usually counter-productive and at worst a massive waste of resources the, report falls back upon the old fallacy that correlation is causation in recommending various interventionist measures despite being inches from evidence suggesting this is a waste of time and resources.

Is it clichéd yet? Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Filed under: Politics, Science

Saying goodbye to a voice of reason against illiberal nonsense

Blogs are strange things (and bloggers stranger still) one moment they are ticking along quite happily and the next they are gone.

Giles Wilkes of freethinkingeconomist is the first blogger I’ve been regularly following to have committed autolysis before my very eyes.

Autolysis, and not hari kiri or any other such synonym, because it appears it is his own success which has brought down his blog.

He has been offered a position with the new Government and has accepted.

Sadly this entails the closing down of his blog, although this is much to detriment of my education and the blogosphere at large, I am sure it is much to the improvement of Giles’ life and our new Government and I’m very happy for him.

A voice of reason against illiberal nonsense? Just what I think we’ll need.

Filed under: Blogging

They’re coming to America! Some Thoughts on American Demographics and Growth

My last post looked at the changes which occurred around the end of the 1970s. Specifically it looked at the collapse of the post war settlement and neoliberal response many states took to bolster growth. Scott Sumner argues that growth slowed because technological progress slowed and neoliberal reforms helped growth to be better than it otherwise would have been. He presented data to show that rich countries which reformed most caught up with the US most. I had some problems with this interpretation of events, but concede Sumner makes his argument well (even as others do not).

First of all, as Paul Krugman points out, the differences between US and European GDP per capita since 1980 are not all about economic growth, some of it reflects different leisure choices.

In the 1970s the long-run trend of taking productivity gains out partly in the form of shorter working hours came to an end in the US, while continuing elsewhere.

Further to this I pointed to the exorbitant privilege which the US enjoys by virtue of the dollar’s status as the reserve currency of the world. This would have boosted growth using a policy tool to which nobody else has access. I also added that three of the states he highlighted as successes, Hong Kong, Singapore and the UK, were success stories that relied in large part for their success on the large role they played as regional or global financial hubs. They gained on the United States following 1980 but the growth model they followed may not necessarily be easily copied.

The United States differs from most other countries and the enthusiasm with which it embarked on neoliberal reforms and the growth which followed in part reflect this fact. I am not convinced that its neoliberal reforms are the main reason that the US has maintained the GDP per capita it enjoys over other countries which reformed less.

There was another point which I thought of addressing in my last post but left out, as the previous post was already somewhat lengthy and covered a lot of ground. The US is a country of immigrants and it continues to see immigration at which European states would (and have) baulked. One thing which immigration has ensured is the US has a younger population than most other developed countries and has done since the 1980s.

The young, as well as being more inclined to crime (which is bad), are also innovators and entrepreneurs (which is good). For a rather esoteric example, Nobel Laureates may show a tendency to be elderly but this is caused by a predilection to give awards to people before they pop their clogs. The work which wins awards is usually done when relatively young.

Immigrants too have a long reputation of starting businesses and improving their own lot. They are generally young and as the Economist said of them only a few weeks ago “it takes a lot of get up and go – to get up and go.” Entrepreneurs don’t just improve their own lives, as Tim Worstall never tires of pointing out, much of the benefit from their work accrues to society as a whole rather than the entrepreneurs as an individual, perhaps as much as 97% (link courtesy of Tim).

Take a look at the population pyramids below to get an idea of the different demographic shape of the US and France, two countries with very different performances.

This demographic difference will have helped to bolster economic performance for both the entire economy compared to other nations, and importantly for our comparisons, on a GDP per capita basis.

Although it has always enjoyed this advantage, I would argue that it is only once the catch up growth of the post war period was over that it started to affect relative performances. Think about it, if post war growth in GDP outside the US largely reflected technological catch up then other countries could still exploit the late mover advantage of adopting already developed technologies. Once European nations had caught up they had to rely on their own innovation, which was retarded by their older population and relative lack of migrants.

The benefits of migration are open to all, but open borders for people rather than goods or money has never been a neoliberal policy, as those who saw Thatcher’s treatment of migration will attest. So again, I would say that a policy adopted by the US which has little reference to the neoliberal revolution has been responsible for the US economy’s relative strength.

Rather than reflecting a decisive policy shift in the US relative to the rest of the world it seems that the higher GDP per capita enjoyed across the pond is the result of a confluence of a number of political, demographic and geopolitical factors over which governments have little control. The dominance of financial sector led growth in the countries which gained on the US (the UK, HK and Singapore) show the difficulty that there was in honing in on a successful growth model. So I would contend that a combination of the below factors are a better

  • Migration as described above.
  • Exorbitant Privilege as described in my previous post.
  • Leisure choices as described by Paul Krugman.
  • A change in monetary policy played a larger role than the reduction of marginal tax rates or the other reforms described. I am a monetary novice but this is my instinct.
  • Related to the above, the formation of a common currency in the heart of Europe was a mistake which retarded growth.

Anything to add to the above list?

______

The data on population was taken from here.

Filed under: Economics, Migration, Politics

Hurrah for the neoliberals

There has been an interesting discussion taking place between Paul Krugman and Scott Sumner on the changes which effected most of the world in the late 1970 onwards. Exemplified by Reagan and Thatcher the neoliberal revolution saw big changes in the way economies were organised across most of the world. Scott Sumner summarises the changes thus:

1.  Sharp cuts in the top [Marginal Tax Rates]

2.  Deregulation of prices, trade and market access

3.  Privatization of state-owned enterprises, services, and infrastructure

The first of these, tax cuts, are shown in the below Graph from Paul Krugman. The top rate fell from over 90% at the start of the Korean War to lower than 30% under Reagan.

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I don’t in reality have much of a problem with most of these reforms, at least as Sumner describes them as opposed to their real world implementation.

Marginal tax rates of 90% don’t raise as much money as lower tax rates. Tax rates that high are only good for discouraging behaviour – perhaps I’d want a 90% tax on Heroin sales if it became legal, but I don’t want to discourage earning. The growth of trade and the liberalisation of product and service markets have made us all wealthier. There’s no reasons I can think off for tariff barriers between the UK and France or why the US should protect its car makers from Japanese imports, we are all one people aren’t we? [1] Privatisation has had some negative impacts in this country, but there’s nothing intrinsically good in a state owning a steel manufacturer. [2] Singapore owns its eponymous airline but its run as a private capitalist enterprise and British Leyland wasn’t exactly run particularly well.

But that’s not what is important. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Blogging, Economics, Foreign Affairs, History, Politics, Science, Society

Educating you: Tobacco smoke enemas

Yes. Tobacco smoke enemas.

Here is the machine which would give you one and with that I bid you welcome to 18th century medicine.

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2190/2233874090_05bb7d7de4.jpg

This was used to revive drowning victims by blowing warm tobacco smoke into their rectums. Of course it didn’t work and the fact the provision of tobacco to the anus was regarded as important as air to the lungs doubtlessly caused some avoidable deaths.

This did not prevent them being strewn along the Thames by enthusiastic members of the Humane Society.

But today we have things which are based on evidence and evidence has given us things like kidney dialysis, chemotherapy, blood transfusions and vaccinations. It is glorious, and phew, no smoke will make its way into your bum ever again (unless there’s proof its necessary).

If in doubt that life is better, check out these videos from Ben Goldacre on the Placebo and the Nocebo effect.

So if things were getting you down remember, the world is a much better place than it has ever been. Chin up guys.

Filed under: History, Science

More (virtual) ink wasted on Fox Hunting

Although I am loathe to discuss fox hunting, inconsequential spot of animal cruelty on our national character that it is, I suppose it must be discussed given our new overlords. Page 18 of the coalition agreement by which we are now ruled contains the below bullet point.

  • We will bring forward a motion on a free vote enabling the House of Commons to express its view on the repeal of the Hunting Act.

700 hours of Parliamentary time was spent on debating the Hunting Act. Of course while no illegal wars were launched while Parliament was thus engaged it is still a disgrace that so much time was spent debating what should be a simple matter of preventing animal cruelty.

There is one argument I suppose that irks me more than others. That hunting with houndsis done solely to keep down the population of the fox down. I am particularly unimpressed by this argument for a number of reasons. What springs to the fore of my mind is mid-nineteenth century Australia. Why you ask? Well…

The European Red Fox was first released near Melbourne in 1855 for recreational hunting

That’s right. It was introduced to the virgin plains of Australia for the sole purpose of hunting it. Hunting foxes was such a fun pass time that entire regions of the verdant new world were put at risk in pursuit of the pursuit of the fox.

So we confirm that people have ripped foxes apart with dogs because they found it fun and because it helped keep down the population.

I freely admit that foxes need controlling in a country with livestock and pets but I’ve yet to see an argument that convinces me that doing so with dogs is the most efficient, not just most fun, way of doing so.

Filed under: Politics, Society

Quizzing you: What is this?

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2190/2233874090_05bb7d7de4.jpg

Answers in the comments.

Filed under: Blogging

What happened this year?

History is full of non-events that become events only in hindsight. It is quite a disconcerting thought that whatever you are enthused by today may come to mean little when compared to something you think unimportant. I doubt there’s any cognitive biases here which blind us to the unimportant, it is simply the result of the limits of our knowledge because the future is inherently unknowable.

1979 is quite a good starting point. What does that year signify to you? If you answer anything but the Household Responsibility System you’ve taken your eye off the ball.

http://i.telegraph.co.uk/telegraph/multimedia/archive/01292/iran_1292737c.jpg

Of course, the Iranian Revolution and Iran’s marching crowds were certainly eye catching. The fall of the Shah and the erosion of western influence in the Middle East had large geopolitical ramifications at the time. Nobody can now doubt that the current Iranian regime is at least something of a nuisance and at worst an existential threat to its neighbours.

But all this is unimportant  compared to the experiments taking place in the Sichuan and Anhui provinces of China. In these two provinces farmers were given de facto lease ownership over their land, and the power to sell their surplus crops at a profit. The productivity increases that followed this innovation, and the market reforms it inspired and made possible put China on the path to the Nominal GDP it enjoys now which is nearly 20 times as high now as it was then.

The recent past is full of events which probably matter today but which will fade in significance compared to things which were passed over more lightly at the time. Perhaps controversially, I’m not convinced how big an event the reunification of Germany will be in the future. 1990 was an important year, and the meeting of East and West Germany had a huge symbolic importance but Europe today looks set on a course of Federalism that will send the two Germanies further apart not closer.

Whereas we are here together, you nodding in agreement or tutting in dissent, because of Tim Berner-Lee and the world-wide-web. In 1990 the building blocks were all in place to allow this. The interplay of information, and people which the internet has allowed has changed how we spend our leisure time and how we work from day to day. In the coming decades the internet will grow in importance still more and the significance of Germany’s reunification will further fade.

This year all eyes are on Greece. The profligacy of the previous (conservative) administration has helped to lead to a debt crisis which has threatened to destroy the Euro. The worries over Greece’s solvency and the creditworthyness of most of Southern Europe has led to the IMF putting together the largest bailout it has ever overseen. But another news story may well prove more important.

http://www.csmonitor.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/media/images/0520-craig-ventner-synthetic-genome/7938403-1-eng-US/0520-craig-ventner-synthetic-genome_full_600.jpgCraig Venter is a name that may well become synonymous with something, but I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that we don’t know yet. In a lab he has created Synthetic Life.

The new organism is based on an existing bacterium that causes mastitis in goats, but at its core is an entirely synthetic genome that was constructed from chemicals in the laboratory.

The single-celled organism has four “watermarks” written into its DNA to identify it as synthetic and help trace its descendants back to their creator, should they go astray.

At Marginal Revolution some commenters are unimpressed, but like the French Revolution the point is that it is too early to tell what effect this will have, Venter’s work has potential in abundance. It opens the door to bacteria created to synthesise useful compounds. It also allows for a world populated by plants and animals without ancestors, plants and animals designed to order.

What you think is important right now may not be and I find that both a deeply disturbing and deeply inspiring thing. Have any of my readers got any ideas on what might have been overlooked but which will be revolutionary in the years ahead?

Filed under: Economics, Science, Society

Brutish Airways: A good judgement

The injunction which had prevented British Airways members from going on strike has been lifted.

In her judgement Lady Justice Smith said “It was a fair and open ballot and not to uphold the appeal would mean that the rights of workers to withdraw their labour would be undermined.”

Quite.

When a bar is set for workplace democracy higher than that set for the election to the mother of parliaments then something is amiss. Some fundamental rights, like that to withdraw your labour, are worthy of protection.

There is another interesting take on the situation, from the ever excellent Lord Judge, on the publication of the disputed results. He has ruled that contrary to the original judgement the internet was the best place for the publication of these results. Undermining the main thrust of the first ruling and of course having ramifications for the publication of important information in the future.

But for now, please allow me to wish the best of luck to the Aircrews who are going on strike next week.

Filed under: Economics, Politics, Society

Democracy and the BA Strike

British Airways has won a High Court injunction to stop the latest strikes by its cabin staff.

The decision was based on a technicality and whether the Unite union followed rules in contacting its members with strike result details.

The first of four five-day walkouts had been due to begin at midnight, but will not go ahead following Mr Justice McCombe’s decision.

Democracy is very important. So we have to make sure we do it right. The reports were not reported absolutely correctly when Unite announced the result so it is imperative they re-ballot their members.

The Electoral Commission has promised “a thorough investigation” after hundreds of voters were unable to cast their votes in several cities.

The Electoral Commission is to investigate reports of hundreds of voters being turned away from polling stations which were unable to cope with a late surge. Police were called in a number of places as voters complained they were unable to vote in Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester and several parts of London.

I guess we’ll be reholding the election then… there were irregularities.

No? Ah, I suppose the rules on Union Democracy are not about democracy at all are they? Its about one class using the state against another.

Not a perfect comparison I suppose, but it does rather show up the idea that the high court is “just enforcing the law”. It is doing that, but the laws a bitch when the standards set for a union are higher than those for the mother of parliaments.

Anyway, my brief hiatus continues, but you might find me popping up here having a world with our Tim later tonight.

Filed under: Economics, Politics

Oh, one last thing…

…should I join the Labour Party?

I’ve been officially none aligned as a blogger because nobody deserved my alignment.

Last month I campaigned for my Local Liberal Democrat David Rendel, and despite the Lib-Con coalition I don’t regret it. He’s a good man and committed to the local area. But, I can of course no longer support the Liberal Democrats.

The next Parliament is going to be tough and that means we need to get organised. I don’t plan on just blogging about how bad things get, I plan on getting organised. I suspect the Labour Party is the best vehicle for that.

One or two caveats here.

  1. There isn’t really much of a local party down my way. I don’t want to join a party for activists and not get active until I move to the big smoke come September.
  2. The national party don’t inspire me too much, and like I said, there’s not much of a local party for me.
  3. Mandleson.
  4. Can I forgive Labour for Iraq? Yarl’s Wood? PFI? FSA? Yielding to the tabloids?

At the moment a huge number of people are joining the Labour Party in anger and with a sense of betrayal.

I’m sick of doing politics against something rather than for something, so I’m not joining until I get my head together. But it seems like the Labour Party might be where I belong, or I might stay my current course and stay out of party politics altogether.

You lot are sympathetic to Labour:  Labour List, Phil, Dave and Paul, Carl, Chris, Paul, Hopi, Tom, Petra Boynton. So bloggers and visitors, what is your advice?

Filed under: Politics

I, for one, welcome our new overlords

I may well take a few days off blogging. I’m not going to have much idea what is happening.

In the mean time can I just say, its been emotional.

Filed under: Blogging, Politics

Review: Four Lions

Unpleasant politicking is happening at the moment so I thought I would take my mind off it with a review of Chris Morris’s new movie Four Lions.

In my opinion it is a masterpiece. Chris Morris has always been able to parody well because he understands his source material so well. But with Morris it always goes further than a simple parody. His strength is not just in mastering the content of what he seeks to send up but also the form. For example, and somewhat inevitably, Brasseye was not the seminal piece of work it was merely because it was funny but because it perfectly captured and drew out the key themes and styles of documentary and news broadcasting. Brasseye did not con people into calling crab’s paedophiles or force them to raise parliamentary questions on made up drugs, people fell over themselves to do so because Morris had mastered the form he was exploiting.

Chris Morris continues his mastery of style and content in Four Lions. In it he has not just accurately researched the surprisingly normal and occasionally mundane lives of suicide bombers, but he has done so in a form which is instantly recognisable as a buddy movie. Just as Brasseye or the Day Today looked every bit as glossy and well produced as you would expect this buddy movie has you rooting for the suicide bombers. Whereas Brasseye opens with an elaborate graphical intro characteristic of the genre so Four Lions opens with exactly what you would expect of a movie about suicide bombers; suicide tapes. But the theme isn’t threatening it is jovial and it seems like four young lads just mucking around. This theme is continued when they make their explosive, the first thing they do isn’t plot jihad, it is to set it off in one another’s hands.

The most shocking meeting of form and content in Four Lions comes with the family life of Omar. He is a young father with a supportive wife and an adoring son. Normally in such a movie you would expect his macabre ambition to be kept secret, but this is not that sort of movie, both wife and son are entirely supportive. Three quarters of the way through the movie, on the eve of the fruition of their plans, is a scene casting them as the perfect, contented and above all aspirational family. In any other movie this would be a heart warming scene, and in truth, even though they were united in murderous intent, it was still heart warming. That Chris Morris is a manipulative bastard.

Of course, you have to remember that this is also an incredibly funny movie. The other thing which becomes clear fairly early on is that Morris has a vicious sense of the absurd. A crow is blown up with explosive and a man blows a sheep and himself up by accident. A rocket launcher is (inevitably, but still thoroughly enjoyably) fired backwards by accident towards the Mujahideen and away from a US army drone. Slap stick is evident throughout this movie and it is done incredibly well too.

There is of course political commentary in this. The police kill an innocent man, can’t think were Morris got that idea from. Likewise, the absurdity and inhumanity of extraordinary rendition is cruelly depicted towards the end of the movie as those innocent men are interrogated as though proven guilty. It is a phenomenal movie which had be laughing out loud to the extent that it drew firm glares from those around me. It’s not just the slap stick and jokes that make you laugh, the contradictory emotions Morris forces you too feel force you to giggle too.

It is funny, watch it. You’ll need a laugh.

But then, if you don’t want to listen to me then here’s Chris Morris and the cast…

…here’s Jim Jepps

…and here’s Charlotte Gore.

Filed under: Society

There may be trouble ahead

Filed under: Politics

Sky News: Fair and Balanced

Adam Boulton displays an utterly disgraceful lack of professionalism in a confrontation with Alastair Campbell.

Sky News is often described as Rupert Murdoch’s mouth piece but largely, thanks to our broadcast media impartiality laws, that is an exaggeration.

During this election the behaviour of Kay Burley and now Adam Boulton have exposed what partisan TV looks like to a UK audience not used to it.

Filed under: The Media

Can a Rainbow Coalition work?

Conservative 307 [1]
100 3 97 10706647 36.1 3.8
Labour 258 3 94 -91 8604358 29 -6.2
Liberal Democrat 57 8 13 -5 6827938 23 1
Democratic Unionist Party 8 0 1 -1 168216 0.6 -0.3
Scottish National Party 6 0 0 0 491386 1.7 0.1
Sinn Fein 5 0 0 0 171942 0.6 -0.1
Plaid Cymru 3 1 0 1 165394 0.6 -0.1
Social Democratic & Labour Party 3 0 0 0 110970 0.4 -0.1
Green 1 1 0 1 285616 1 -0.1
Alliance Party 1 1 0 1 42762 0.1 0
Sylvia Hermon 1 1 1 0 21181 1.1 0
Total Turnout 29653638 65.1 4

Gordon Brown has offered his resignation, as you will have all heard by now.

As you will all also know, as you are all so politically astute, there was no chance of a Lib-Lab pact while Brown was still Labour Leader.

Another thing you will all know, as Mat Bowles makes completely clear, is that any Lib-Con pact or accommodation is unlikely to get through the Liberal Democrat Triple-Lock.

So here are the potentials.

Lib-Con coalition government. This would command 367 MPs, easily enough to govern with but unlikely given that many of the Lib Dem membership, Parliamentary Party and probably Federal committee are opposed to.

Conservative minority. 307 seats here but an entirely viable option. For example, Canada has had a Conservative minority administration for some time.

A Rainbow [2] Alliance. Here things get interesting and this is what I want to talk about.

Nominally, with all 650 seats a majority would require 326 MPs. However, Sinn Féin do not take up their seats [3] so a majority in this house requires 323 seats.

Labour and the Lib Dems together command 315 seats between them. This leaves them either 11 or 8 seats short. The Alliance Party take the Lib Dem Whip in the Lords so I think it is safe to add their MP to the total. 10 or 7 to go. The SDLP are probably a safe bet too so we can add their three. 7 or 4 MPs to go.

As Splinty describes Sylvia Hermon “has functioned as a de facto Labour MP” since 2005. Likewise, it is safe to assume that the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas would not want to challenge a Government that keeps out the Tories, especially one so uninterested/hostile to environmental matters. However, it is unclear if they would want to enter a formal coalition, but could probably be relied on for Confidence and Supply votes.

Where does that leave us? Well 5 MPs short of the 326 needed for a de jure majority and 2 MPs short of a de facto majority.

Option one is that the nationalists abstain, with 14 MPs abstaining from all votes a de facto majority becomes 319 which a Rainbow Coalition can muster.

258 Labour + 57 Lib Dems + 3 SDLP + 1 Alliance = 319

Now this relies on Caroline Lucas, Sylvia Hermon and the Nationalists not voting down what I expect to be a formal coalition, possibly binded by a Coalition Contract as they use in Germany.

I began writing my conclusion before I’d worked through the electoral maths and I was ready to conclude it would be a “bloody mess” but I’m not so sure now and have revised my opinion accordingly.

This would be enough to get a Queen’s Speech through Parliament [4] in my opinion. No one has a War Chest anywhere near the size of the Conservative’s to afford another election, so most would be loathe to vote down a Lib-Lab coalition.

If that nationalists are needed then the SNP can be bought, they’ve made that quite clear, I also suspect that Plaid Cymru will be equally as pliant were the price right, but as I’ve shown above abstention might be enough, and would certainly be cheaper and more acceptable to the English electorate.

Of course the Queen’s Speech is just the first hurdle. A Rainbow Coalition must achieve Proportional Representation, almost certainly Single Transferable Vote, but this will be a tall order. MPs in the Labour party as ideologically different as Tom Harris and Jeremy Corbyn stand firm against it so there is no guarantee it could overcome this hurdle.

A short lived Lib-Lab coalition would be bad for all involved, as it seems likely that a flight to the Tories would take place. This makes securing some sort of PR utterly imperative to a coalition lasting more than a few months.

Although this may be a good election to lose I’m with Hopi and Paul, this dreadful situation makes it all the more important that the Tories are kept out.

As Tony Benn just said on BBC News “all solutions are interim” – how long this interim lasts is anyone’s guess but it is a real viable, option.

Update: Caroline’s in for Confidence and Supply.

____

[1] Thirsk & Malton is included in this seat tally as they are going to elect a Tory.

[2] I refuse to use “progressive” as I don’t believe in it and I don’t think it creates a particularly useful narrative in any case.

[3] Although I’m informed they do take the pay cheques but I would be happy to be proved wrong.

[4] A majority of those voting is enough I assume. I’m not completely fluent in the constitution but I assume 326 votes are not actually required for this vote.

Filed under: Politics

Norman Tebbit on Climate Change

How about something that has nothing to do with the election?

Scourge of the Left and “Britain’s most outspoken conservative” Norman Tebbit started a blog earlier this year to much cheer and chagrin.

Earlier this year Lord Tebbit provoked ire from the left when he pondered aloud on why Cameron chose the “trivialities of dress sense or political asylum for African homosexuals” over dealing with the deficit or the EU. On the other hand, Tim Montgomerie was more pleased with his increased visibility.

Last week he turned his attention to Climate Change. He surmised “in short, I am unconvinced by man-made global warming but not dogmatically sure that it is all nonsense, a racket or a conspiracy.”

However, Lord Tebbit is clear that he is not beyond convincing otherwise. In his own disparaging way he implores climate change sceptics to not be “dogmatic about climate change – unlike the warmists.”

In a succinct passage in the middle of his post he explains why he finds it difficult to dismiss the idea that humans are causing climate change.

I do not think it impossible that to burn in the space of a couple of centuries or so stocks of hydrocarbons which took tens if not hundreds of millions of years to lay down, and to release the carbon back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, may have some measurable effects upon our environment.

Luckily for us Lord Tebbit also explains why he is unsure whether this effect is “huge, large, small or insignificant” and this gives us an opportunity to explain why the effect is likely to be, with luck, merely large but quite possibly huge for life on earth.

There are a number of reservations which he explains temper any enthusiasm he has for the theory of man made climate change.

  • As is commonly accepted he explains that the climate has changed before. For example, he explains that “we know that within comparatively recent times wheat was grown in Greenland.” Likewise he discusses the cultivation of vines as far north as Scotland [1] under Roman occupation.
  • Lord Tebbit is also concerned that the scale of mankind’s emissions are small compared with “the variability of the sun to meteor impacts, or great volcanic eruptions.”
  • In particular, the effects of the sun are likely to be larger than the effects of man.
  • On top of these empirical concerns Tebbit is also worried on the fallibility of all too human scientists.

However, when it comes to past climate change, the observed data should actually convince us of the dangers of our carbon emissions rather than inoculate us against concern about them.

Data from past climates show us that the the earth is sensitive to energy imbalances such as those produced by the introduction of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The extra energy put into the system by the carbon we emit is reflected in higher temperatures.

And of course, while it is true that wheat was once cultivated in Greenland the Greenland ice sheet itself is at least 400,000 years old. Rather than be a source of solace, its past resilience and recent precipitous loss in mass should concern us all the more.

The changes in past climates have been the result of various natural forcings, things which effect the climate. For example the orbit of the earth is not completely circular and we can pass closer to the sun. Similarly our axis can tilt leading to more sunlight hitting certain parts of the earth altering the balance in the climate system. Atmospheric carbon dioxide represents another forcing.

Energy reaches us from the sun so an increase in solar activity can have significant effect on our climate. In fact this may be what allowed an agrarian polity to survive on Greenland albeit briefly. However, contrary to Lord Tebbit’s instincts the sun is not causing our current warming.

Below is a graph that illustrates that the sun simply is not causing the current warming trend which has seen “winters…  become notably warmer” in Lord Tebbit’s lifetime.

Global Temperature vs Solar Activity (Total Solar Irradiance)As you can see the significant warming we have recorded since 1960 has not been caused by increase solar irradiance. In some ways I take an awkward pride in the awesome power of man compared to the sun, which is, remember, a star, and something which is creating out of sheer heat and pressure most of the elements which are the building blocks of life and our planet.

Of course Lord Tebbit is not just concerned about solar activity. He is correct that Volcanoes and other natural processes put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere but I think he will be surprised by the degree to which human emissions outstrip those emitted by volcanoes. The below graph illustrates the small effect volcanic eruptions have on our climate.

One matter on which Lord Tebbit and I differ on a more philosophical level is on the certainty with which we should treat these scientific findings now that we have established that the current evidence strongly suggests that mankind is causing climate change.

Lord Tebbit argues that he has “every respect for scientists, but they are human, they make mistakes, they are prone to follow fashions in ideas and they are reluctant to admit error.”

I cannot answer on behalf of scientists as I do not number among them, however 255 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences may have serendipitously addressed this point in a recent letter. I hope you will permit me a somewhat lengthy extract:

There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet…

… The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other scientific assessments of climate change, which involve thousands of scientists producing massive and comprehensive reports, have, quite expectedly and normally, made some mistakes. When errors are pointed out, they are corrected. But there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change:

  1. The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.
  2. Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
  3. Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth’s climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.
  4. Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic.
  5. The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more.

Much more can be, and has been, said by the world’s scientific societies, national academies, and individuals, but these conclusions should be enough to indicate why scientists are concerned about what future generations will face from business-as-usual practices. We urge our policy-makers and the public to move forward immediately to address the causes of climate change, including the un restrained burning of fossil fuels.

There is a lot of evidence out there which is easily accessible that resolve many of the reservations he expresses with regard to the likelihood of mankind causing climate change. I do hope that Lord Tebbit reads this post and reconsiders his opinion on the subject.

Reaching across the aisle on matters as important as this is important and Lord Tebbit can do fifty fold what I can do to convince those to the right of centre still doubtful that we are changing the climate.

[1] Actually, there are two vineyards currently in operation in Scotland today and the south east of England is quietly cultivating a reputation for sparkling wines. On another wine related note, makers and drinkers of German wine – a country on the edge of where you can grow grapes – will have noticed that a country which once had 2 or 3 good vintages a decade is now consistently producing great wines thanks to the slightly warming we have seen. I love German wine so AGW offers quite the moral quandary to me.

Filed under: Science

Do I want the BNP in Parliament?

It seems that the answer is yes.

There are many good reasons for supporting Proportional Representation but one bad but democratic result may be the election of the BNP to Parliament.

But, democracy is often looked upon as a panacea for all our problems. If only Britain were given a true Democratic choice all sorts of good things would happen.

For UKIP a referendum would see the anti-EU majority force the country out of the EU. For Hobhouse democracy will give him the #progressivemajority [1] which will keep out the Tories, protect public services and deliver electoral reform. For the Lib Dems a fairer form of democracy would deliver them a number of seats which reflects the current 23% of the population which cast their ballots for them.

Of course the opposite may be true. Most people don’t care about the EU and any referendum on it would be attended poorly and results possibly inconclusive. The EU elections handed first and second to the Tories and UKIP which rather quashes the idea that the right are not popular. Likewise, proportional representation might not help the Lib Dems, it might kill them and split them into warring Orange Bookers and Social Liberal Forum factions.

Paul Sagar says that there is a worrying tendency for everyone to assume that greater democracy will deliver whatever they want. The people are always in tune with that person’s ego.

Of course the people often (mostly?) disagree with my views and often use democracy to do deeply unpleasant things.

For example Arizona has recently passed a law which requires police officers to stop any one who they think may be an illegal immigrant and check their papers. It also empowers citizens to sue the local police if they think they are not enforcing the law strongly enough. It is mandating racist policing and it is democratic.

Likewise in the 2009 EU elections Britain announced to Europe that we had two Fascists to send their way, and we’d really love them to be paid generous salaries and expenses to represent us. In 2009 nearly a million people voted BNP. A vote for hate and it was democratic

Lord Tebbit says we must resist electoral reform because “Nick Clegg’s electoral reform could give the BNP over 60 seats in the House of Commons.” Tom Harris calls Proportional Representation the “BNP’s ally.” They are clear that more democracy will not deliver more of what they want so they are happy to sacrifice it.

But I think they are being short-termist in their outlook, in the light of this weekend’s results.

Jim Jepps says the average MP needed 42,554 votes for their seat. The worst case scenario involving carrying over votes from the 2009 elections would deliver23 seats into the hands of the BNP. The system that the Liberal Democrats and I favour is Single Transferable Vote which delivers less proportionality than some systems but retains the constituency link so the BNP’s peak performance would perhaps deliver half that number.

But look what happened this election.

In the midst of the worst financial crisis of a generation, a derisory job market and a decade of large scale immigration how did the BNP do? Well, once people had a glimpse of the way the Fascists actually governed they kicked them out on their arse.

In 2006 they posted a performance that had them crowing that the BNP was “on its way.” In 2010 Counterfire reports “BNP wiped out in key areas.” On top of the removal of all their councillors in Barking and Dagenham, Nick Griffin came an embarrassing forth place in what was meant to be a “winnable” seat.

It is not a commitment to democracy that delivered these results but the inevitable massive incompetence, corruption, unpleasantness and violence that characterises racists and Fascists. So it appears that while democracy is turbulent and often delivers results we do not like it often reaches an acceptable equilibrium.

I hope I am not falling into Paul’s trap. Democracy and the electoral reform that I want may well hand some parliamentary seats to the BNP. I do not want the BNP in parliament but I am happy to tolerate them so the can convince the nation what they have convinced the people of Barking, that they are moronic, incompetent, self-indulgent, violent buffoons.

______

[1] Progressive? Really what does it mean? Call it anti-Tory if that’s what you mean, because I find it hard to believe there is a label which really accurately describes both Tom Harris and Giles Wilkes.

Filed under: Politics

Has Cameron acheived the biggest gain in seats in 80 years?

The short answer is no.

The long answer involves telling people like Alex Massie and Paul Sagar that they are simplifying the situation.

As Richard Blogger comments:

In 80 years, really? Oh so the 147 seats that Blair won (and the 171 that Major lost) did not happen in the last 80 years? And what about the 239 gain that Labour made in 1945 and the 190 that the Tories lost?

This is the typical Hilton meme. He carefully crafts a statement: “At yesterday’s general election the Conservative Party gained more seats than at any in election for the last 80 years.” and then allows reporters and bloggers to misquote it, so that a different “truth” is created.

Please, everyone, start the antidote meme that the largest swing in the last 80 years was 1945 and the second largest was 1997.

Conservatives are really good at getting thrown out, excellent at hanging on, quite good at just squeezing in, but dreadful at inspiring enthusiasm.

Filed under: Politics

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