There is an interesting story in the Guardian about Lord Hoyle taking bungs to fix a meeting for a defence lobbyist with the Minister of State for Defence Equipment and Support Lord Drayson.  

Now if these allegations are true and that is a big if we shouldn’t throw the book at him. Why stop at one why not the whole library. If we kicked all the idiots out of parliament the benches would be substantially less populated than presently so stupidity can often be used as a defence when the proverbial hits the fan. Personally I find it hard to accept a verdict of stupidity in this case. Taking bungs for fixing meetings with Ministers and chatting about football is way beyond stupid. Perhaps even more stupid is the fact that the practice is not explicitly banned. The sooner we have an elected House of Lords rather than a retirement home for the has beens or never will be’s the better

Battling malign influence around Westminster shouldn’t be limited to the House of Lords and we cannot afford to take our eye of the ball. I got really interested in politics during the Major years and as a Labour supporter it was fun to watch the Tories implode over sleaze we absolutely cannot let the same thing happen to us.

In the battle for influence proximity matters, face time matters. We need for the authorities in the house to clamp down on MP’s giving out passes to their “mates”. Interest groups of various kinds have the time and the resources to have people in Westminster full time the joe bloggs voter gets a vote roughly every 4 years and then we wonder why people feel disenfranchised. MP’s shouldn’t be going for expensive lunches paid for by lobbyists, they should be doing what they are paid to do which is serve their constituents.

I would also ban MP’s outside interests. Sure there is an arguement that we don’t want a house full of career politicians who do nothing apart from politics. Fine that is an arguement that I fully support. What I object to is MP’s earning money from outside interests. Let them have all the consultancies they want to get as much experience outside Westminster as they can stand but let them do it for free or give the wages to charity. Then we will really see how much MP’ s are interested in broadening their experience or how much in lining their pockets.

PS more on constituency campaigns later

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Nick Palmer recalls on Politicalbetting meeting this most perceptive of voters 

“Hello, I’m your MP Nick Palmer, called to see if you had any special concerns?” [thinks: I’ll get to the voting question later]
[politely] “The trouble with politicians is that they never listen.”
“Well, I’m on your doorstep to listen. What would you like me to hear?”
[puzzled look] “The trouble with politicians is that they never listen.”
[enunciating verrrry slowly] “I. am. on. your. doorstep. to. listen. What would you like to tell me?”
[blank look] “What?”

Sigh.

There is an interesting paper available online here called Constituency Campaigning in the 2005 General Election and it looks at what is happening with constituency campaigns in the UK. I’ve taken the data from the paper, inserted in the tables below and put my own spin on it. I’ll be posting up some more later but in the mean time please take a look. Also if you know how to insert tables into your wordpress posts with greater elegance than I have below please tell all.

Table 1. Aspects of traditional campaigning – all parties

1992

1997

2001

2005

% issued traditional election address

97

97

97

Mean number of public meetings

2.5

1.2

0.6

0.7

Mean number of posters distributed

1850

1800

1250

1250

Mean total leaflets distributed

62000

62000

59000

72000

% undertook doorstep canvassing

83

78

70

79

Mean % of electorate canvassed on doorstep

28

22

17

21

% ‘knocked up’ on polling day

54

61

59

69

Mean number of campaign workers

52

48

35

42

Mean number of polling day workers

135

106 70

79

Looks like the public meeting is in very serious decline. This is a missed opportunity for pressure groups to use their influence on the political process when it is most effective as I don’t think that this is a case of candidates being unwilling to do them. I can’t think of an occasion where a candidate has been ungrateful of an audience at election time.

I also think the decline of doorstep canvassing is serious because the voters actually meeting the candidates rather then seeing a rubbish photo on a risograph is simply more effective. But we should not think there was some canvassing golden age as even in 1992 only 28% of the electorate were canvassed.

Considering the fall in the number of activists the remaining ones seem to be doing a pretty good job. Great Britain isn’t ready to fully succumb to the slumber of political apathy just yet

Table 2. Campaign and Polling Day Workers (mean)

Campaign workers

Polling Day workers

1992

1997

2001

2005

1992

1997

2001

2005

Con

92

57

61

84

262

134

121

161

Lab

50

55

32

27

124

127

70

51

Lib Dem

30

33

20

26

65

62

32

45

2001 illustrates that a foregone election will see activism tumble. It also shows the limits of activism as the Conservatives has nearly twice as many campaign workers as Labour yet still got slaughtered when the results came in.

Personally I was somewhat surprised to see that the conservatives have the largest numbers of activists even in their nadir election of 1997 and in the close election of 1992 there activist advantage could well of help them win rather than any Labour tax bombshell as Chris Pattern may have put it.

Iraq has to be a substantial part of the explanation in the decline of Labour activism between 2001 and 2005 but we should not diminish the importance of the fall between 1997 and 2001 when Iraq couldn’t have been the explanation. I think we have to get better as a party at involving members and supporters and in particular we need to get better in getting them more active.

I think that questions should be asked as to why Labour has about twice as many members of the Lib Dems if memory serves me correctly yet can only must marginally more campaign workers in the average seat.

Luke Akehurst scores a bullseye with his article on energy targets. Ok he is somewhat more keen on nuclear than I am (they don’t call him Luke the Nuke for nothing) but his overall analysis of the energy situation we are in is spot on.

I saw in a shop recently a kids telescope. It was part of a range of kids science kits that was branded by the University of Oxford. Now I have to say I did a double take when I saw it but apparently it should be used to explore the world of astrology. Though how anyone would need a telescope to see Russell Grant is beyond me.

You would have thought that such a supposedly elite academic institution as Oxford University should be able to tell the difference between a load of hocus pocus and the scientific examination of space but apparently not.

There is a perception that once a Lib Dem has got into a seat they are hard to shift. Unfortunately this perception is not entirely undeserved but I want to take a closer look at what common features of Lib Dem incumbency happen across seats when they make a gain from an opponant.

The theory behind it is that the MP who the lib dem defeated would have had a personal vote which is now lost and the new lib dem incumbent has time to build up a personal vote. Therefore in the second election of the sample (2001) in which the Lib Dem MP stands for they generally increase their share of the vote.

These seats have not been selected at random. They are all ones that the Lib Dems took from the Conservatives in 1997. Labour wasn’t exactly loosing seats at the time if you recall so it is solely Con-Lib Dem seats. The Lib Dem incumbent has remained continous throughout. In a few seats we have seen the Lib Dem MP change and I have excluded these seats  you can’t judge the effects of incumbency with a changing incumbent. I have also excluded Winchester because of the by election in 1997.

The national picture for the Lib Dems from 1997-2005 has been one of progress with an increased national share of the vote in both 2001 and 2005. Below are the seats with the size of the Lib Dem vote in 1997 and the percentage share.

Constituency

1997 GE

% of vote

Lewes

21250

43.2

Carshalton and Wallington

18490

38.2

Sutton and Cheam

19919

42.3

Twickenham

26237

45.1

Kingston and Surburiton

20411

36.7

St Ives

23966

44.5

Portsmouth South

20421

39.5

Oxford West and Abingdon

26268

42.9

Somerton and Frome

22684

39.5

Colchester

17886

34.4

Torbay

21094

39.6

Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine

17742

41.1

Hazel Grove

26883

54.5

Northavon

26500

42.4

Harrogate and Knaresborough

24558

51.5

Hereford

25198

47.9

Isle of Wight

31274

42.7

Taunton

26064

42.7

Guildford

20358

42.6

Weston Super Mare

21407

40.1

Newbury

29887

52.9

Below are the same seats in 2001 as you can see from the swing column the average gain is just over 4% with 71% of the Lib Dem seats seeing their share of the vote increase.

Constituency

2001 GE

% of Vote

Swing %

Lewes

25588

56.3

13.1

Carshalton and Wallington

18289

45

6.8

Sutton and Cheam

19382

48.8

6.5

Twickenham

24344

48.8

3.7

Kingston and Surburiton

29542

60.2

23.5

St Ives

25413

51.6

7.1

Portsmouth South

17490

44.6

5.1

Oxford West and Abingdon

24670

47.8

4.9

Somerton and Frome

22983

43.6

4.1

Colchester

18627

42.6

8.2

Torbay

24015

50.5

10.9

Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine

16507

43.5

2.4

Hazel Grove

20020

52

-2.5

Northavon

29217

52.4

10

Harrogate and Knaresborough

23445

55.6

4.1

Hereford

18244

40.9

-7

Isle of Wight

22397

35.3

-7.4

Taunton

22798

41.3

-1.4

Guildford

22248

43.1

0.05

Weston Super Mare

18424

39.5

-0.6

Newbury

24507

48.2

-4.7

Average

4.14

Now here comes the important bit and remember this is at a time when the national picture for the Lib Dems is positive with an increased national share of the vote. What we see is that 61% of Lib Dem incumbents see their share of the vote fall. As time passes the law of diminishing returns effects the benefits of incumbency and after they have won two elections they think they can afford to get a bit complacent. Now the effect is not universal and is not massive but it is worth bearing in mind for close election contests against a Lib Dem opponent.

What we don’t know is whether the same  pattern will be followd in the seats that the Lib Dems took off Labour in 2005 but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that a Labour PPC is less of a challenge to a Lib Dem who has the benefits of incumbency rather than the reverse. Therefore it is important for the party to concentrate resources  in the seats they gained from us last time where in many cases we have a decent chance of retaking them.

Constituency

2005

 Share of vote %

Swing %

Lewes

24376

52.4

-3.9

Carshalton and Wallington

17357

40.3

-4.7

Sutton and Cheam

19768

47.1

-1.7

Twickenham

26696

51.6

2.8

Kingston and Surburiton

25397

51

-9.2

St Ives

25577

50.7

0.9

Portsmouth South

17047

42.2

-2.4

Oxford West and Abingdon

24336

46.3

-1.5

Somerton and Frome

23759

44.1

0.5

Colchester

21145

47.1

4.5

Torbay

19317

40.8

-9.7

Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine

19285

46.3

2.8

Hazel Grove

19355

49.5

-2.5

Northavon

30872

52.3

-0.1

Harrogate and Knaresborough

24113

56.3

0.7

Hereford

20285

43.3

2.4

Weston Super Mare

17725

36.1

-3.4

Newbury

23311

42.6

-5.6

Average

-1.672222222

Not good at all Mr Hutton. Getting caught trying to bin Labour’s commitment to increasing renewable energy is bad policy, bad politics and really if you look at why they don’t want to fulfil the commitment we have already made just really, really feeble.

Perhaps he has forgotten the Prime Minister saying that it was a “moral duty” to tackle climate change. Yes there may be costs involved but there are also very substantial costs to inaction as detailed in the Stern Report.

Apparently there are also “severe practical difficulties”  in achieving the target. Considering that we have all the technology we need available now. Considering we are in international comparison a well off country and we can achieve 6% of the UK’s energy supply from renewable sources from one project, the Severn barrage, “severe practical difficulties” actually means we can’t be bothered to try and that is simply way beyond the lowest form of pathetic.

In 1940 when Great Britain stood alone against Nazi tyranny in Europe that their might have been “severe practical difficulties” in tackling Hitler but that didn’t mean we shouldn’t have bothered nor that the task was beyond us. I thought we were at our best when at our boldest.

This is also really really stupid politics. The kind of pig headed unreality that Mrs Thatcher had when she persisted in thinking “Umm yes the Poll Tax, the voters’ll love that”. Perhaps we want to say to the Guardian readers that left us for the Lib Dems at the last election “Don’t worry we can do without Manchester Withington, Bristol West, Cambridge, Cardiff Central, Hornsey and Wood Green, Leeds North West and why not take Norwich South, Islington South and Finsbury  and Newcastle Central with you this time as well. After all we can afford to lose plenty of seats this time”

That is not to say only guardian readers are interested in the environment because that is simply not true. So we have a really positive policy on the environment which is a lot easier to sell to the electorate than road pricing and what do we do. Try and bin it. Genius. The environment that is an issue of increasing importance to the electorate, not to mention of some importance to life on this planet so I think we have a duty to put more effort into tackling climate change than civil service work to rule.  The sooner we should take out energy from BERR responsibilities and put it in DEFRA the better. Clearly the former just can’t be bothered and that is simply not forgivable.

The shift in stance is due to be discussed at full cabinet next week so take any opportunity to beat random cabinet ministers about the head with a wet fish until they see sense.

Whipping it up

17 October, 2007

Tonight I went to the theatre for the first time in quite a while to see Whipping it up. It’s a comedy satire of the Whips office in a thankfully fictional future conservative government with a majority of three.

The script, well it aint Shakespeare but it would be harsh just to call it functional. The first scene didn’t set the play alight but it soon warmed up and there was a good quota of laughs which the cast successfully extracted. I feel it was a play written by a luvvie rather than a politico but what it may have lost in realism it may have gained in theatrical finess.

Richard Wilson was seriously good as the old chief whip and I think a cut above the rest of the cast who all put in solid performances.  Abigail Thaw played the bitch as a Labour Whip so well that i’m sure the fine upstanding members of the whips office could learn a thing or two. Now it may have been the script or the direction but I didn’t find the character of the Tory junior whip particularly believable. Chastising him as a barrow boy one minute then going on about how he had his seat on a plate because his dad was MrLoadsamoney the next didn’t ring true.

Anyway if this sounds a bit negative that isn’t the whole story as I went away at the end a happy bunny. Decent laughs, a good cast and a plot with plenty of twists and turns kept my attention through out. So if you get a chance to see it grab it with both hands.

Mind Games

16 October, 2007

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can. i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! if you can raed tihs forwrad it

 Well I can read it. It helps if you scan the words quickly rather than dwlling to long on them.

I found this snippet of an article in The Economist’s World in 2007 by Anatole Kaletsky which goes some way to explain the economic rationale behind globalisation, outsourcing and increased personal indebtedness. It doesn’t go into the political and social effects of the loss of industrial jobs but I think there is a huge role for government to invest in human capital. If we are going to compete economically during the rest of this century then I think we really have to improve the skills base and vocational education not just through higher education but for the 50% of people who on even the governments best estimates wont go to university.Globalisation undoubtedly has many winners but the benefits are not evenly spread throughout the population. Simply letting The City make billion after billion while letting the rest of the country fall behind is neither sensible economics or politics. If we let inequality run riot then we only have ourselves to blame for the resulting increased unhappiness, violence, crime, lack of trust and other problems such as increased support for extremist groups that we have inflicted on ourselves.Anyway here is the extract:

Platform companies are globally ubiquitous businesses which sell every where but produce nowhere: firms such as Nokia, Dell, IKEA, Apple or LVMH. They have discovered that many traditional businesses can be broken into three distinct components – design, production and marketing – and that the middle phase, production, tends to be the most volatile and the least profitable of the three. The platform companies have responded my outsourcing most of their production to emerging markets, while keeping for themselves the profitable design and marketing ends of the value chain. As a result, they have become less capital-intensive, more profitable and less unstable than traditional firms.

This company led analysis is familiar to any MBA student, but the macro impact of outsourcing on the stability is the advanced economies has only recently started to be understood. When America or European companies outsource to Mexico or China, it is usually the most volatile part of their business that is being outsourced – capital spending, inventories and industrial jobs. In effect a lot of cyclical volatility is transferred from Europe and America to the emerging markets along with the jobs outsourced. That this is not just a hypothetical speculation can be seen in the declining voilatility if many OECD economies since the early 1990s and especially in the remarkable stability in the financial markets in the face of the huge shocks and financial imbalances in the past decade.

An overlooked result of this greater stability is that workers in America and Euroep are mich less exposed to cyclical unemployment and can therefore afford to borrow more, Moreover, this credit is far more readily available and less costly to service because of the next benign change in the global economy: the low inflation which is another by-product of intensified global competition. Low and stable inflation has kept interest rates very low, which in turn has reinforced a third great structural change – financial deregulation.

Deregulated financial markets, combined with low interest rates have transformed the availability of credit and other financial products. Small businesses and individuals can now manage their liabilities, as well as their assets, in ways that were available only to multinationals a decade ago. Many illiquid assets, especially houses, have become highly liquid. This attractive new feature of property (“my home is now an ATM machine”) has naturally pushed house prices much higher than in past decades and has unlocked a vast store to invest in other financial assets.