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Showing posts from May, 2008

The invisible hand in political finances

As it is revealed that the Labour Party could be up to 24 million Pounds in debt, and that the senior officers of the party could be personally liable . It begins to look like the slow erosion of the Labour Party might end up being something a lot more dramatic. Could this be the free market's revenge against Socialism? However, when I hear Conservatives trying to claim ownership of the ideas of the free market, I do get a bit irritated. Why? Because one of the biggest rigged markets of all is the political market, and Conservatives seem determined to preserve this rigged market in all its steam-age, Victorian glory. The absence of transparency and accountability limits consumer -i.e. voter- decision making power. Meanwhile the barriers to entry are so high that over the past century only three parties have ever held office at Westminster. Of course, it is not strictly true to say that the two party system has continued unchanged- the Liberal party, in 1906 crushingly triumphant, w

Diversity training?

One interesting thing about the vast industry of social work is that the social workers seem to be extremely unaware of the cynical reaction with which their ideas are generally greeted. The latest -rather naive- initiative is the response to the news that prison officers are uneasy about dealing with Muslim prisoners. While, speak the diversity trainers, the prison officers "need more diversity training". The poor things literally do not understand the gales of laughter that this response evokes- and not only from the generally pretty hard boiled prison officers themselves. There is a role for trainers and those who would create better social interaction, but the fact is that it is these very people who often find it hardest to understand how their actions, based as they often are on the best of motives, nonetheless come across as irrelevant and self serving. After all, more diversity training means more income for diversity trainers. While most Prison Officers could well be

Red & Blue

As I am in Tallinn, I am not quite sure why I stayed up so late to watch the European Champions League Final- for a start, the time difference meant that I did not get to bed until 2.30. Furthermore, it is not as if I was that interested in the outcome- I am not too interested in English Football, indeed my interest overall is confined to a rather half hearted interest in the results from Pittodrie, and as another half-hearted season comes to an end for Aberdeen, I doubt that I will miss football too much over the summer break. Even still, it was a tense and intense match- and as the 1-1 result showed, very evenly matched. In the end, by the narrowest of margins, the Red corner prevailed. In Crewe & Nantwich later on, it seems unlikely that a Red victory will be repeated. Reports from the by-election seem to show that Gordon Brown is just too personally unpopular to save the seat. The Conservatives seem to be celebrating already, and after the victory of Boris Johnson in London, th

10 famous... Estonians

As I am off to Tallinn once more, here is the latest in my series of 10 heroes from each country. Much harder to choose than usual... 1. Paul Keres - one of the greatest chess players- "unlucky, like my country" 2. Jaan Tonisson - Moral political figure in the foundation of Estonia & a great Liberal. 3. Arvo Part - Innovative and hypnotic composer. 4. Kristjan Paljusalu - Double Olympic Wrestling Gold Medalist. 5. Jaan Kross - Elegiac and powerful novelist 6. Jaan Kaaplinski - Poet of brevity and unusual imagery 7. Neeme Jarvi - Internationally renowned conductor 8. Lennart Meri - film maker, writer and President 9. Alfons Rebane - Patriot and the model for John Le Carre's General Vladimir in Smileys People 10. Ernst Opik - Astronomer & co-discover of the Oort-Opik cloud (and Lembit's grandfather)

Big Brother

It seems almost inconceivable, but it might actually be true, The Home Office is proposing the creation of a gigantic database that would log every phone call, every e-mail and every website that is visited from Britain. The nominal excuse- as usual- is "to combat terrorism". However it represents a truly vast invasion of the privacy of British Citizens. It reflects a culture amongst some key elements of the security agencies and law enforcement officers that people are all guilty until proven innocent. This is the mindset that has already made the UK the most spied on free society in the world- 4.2 million cameras, which represents a staggering one camera for every 14 people. Yet a series of investigations have shown essentially no impact on crime figures from the use of CC cameras at all. These same agencies are those that support the use of ID cards- a further invasion of privacy- and yet can not guarantee the security of the data that is collected at almost any level. I

The sinister grip of Michael Ashcroft

In politics, as in love and war, most things are generally considered to be "all fair". Over the years political campaigns, based on increasingly sophisticated information systems, have become ever more targeted on the swing voters in the swing constituencies. As in the US, this has made a small number of swing voters exceptionally valuable. The result is large amounts of money are being focused by all the parties on their target areas. During the 2005 general election it became very clear that the Conservatives had developed exceptionally sophisticated information systems that could generate probabilities of voting Conservative based on a relatively small number of socio-economic indicators. These systems require large- and expensive- proprietary data bases and highly targeted literature. This literature can practically by addressed personally. As a result we no longer see armies of Conservative canvassers- since the information systems are already at least as good as most

Its the Economy...stupid

Now the air truly is dark with chickens coming home to roost for Gordon Brown. It is now clear that the Governor of the Bank of England is going to be writing a lot of letters explaining how he has missed the inflation target. The newspapers are full of columns on the coming economic disaster . The dreaded "R word" - recession- is now being coupled with inflation and comparisons are being drawn with the stagflation decade of the 1970s. Thus, the fact that many comparisons are being made between Gordon Brown today and the Major government after 1995, is even worse for Gordon Brown than it appears- Major, after all was presiding over a substantial improvement in the economy, ironically enough largely caused by the collapse of the long term Conservative strategy of targeting a stable currency rate for Sterling against the D-Mark, rather than targeting inflation directly. Inflation targeting is now facing its first serious test- a challenge for the Governor of the Bank of England

Stands Scotland where it did?

Over the course of the last 25 years Scottish politics has altered substantially, and in doing so it has diverged markedly from the rest of the United Kingdom. The next five years will determine whether Scotland will continue to diverge to the point of separation or whether a new United Kingdom can be forged based on more federal lines. In 1979 the Conservative Party in Scotland gained 916,155 votes votes in Scotland and elected 22 MPs. Labour gained 1,211,455 votes and elected 44 MPs, while the Liberals got 262,224 votes votes, electing three MPs while the SNP gained 504,259 votes but were only able to elect 2 MPs. That year showed the real impact of the "first past the post" electoral system on Scottish politics, with a small fall in the SNP vote reducing their parliamentary Party substantially and relatively minor differences in the vote bring big differences in the outcomes for Labour and the Conservatives. Over the course of the past three decades, Scottish politics beca

Ray Michie

In 1987 I was campaigning in Gordon, and after the long campaign our group of Liberals adjourned to watch the results. Of all the results, the one that gave the most pleasure was the election of Ray Michie in Argyll. Ray represented in her family and herself the embodiment of the tradition of Scottish Liberalism. That John Bannerman's daughter could be elected when he could not, seemed to be the harbinger of a further revival in the fortunes of Liberalism in Scotland and across the UK, as so it proved. That Ray proved to be a doughty fighter for her constituency was no surprise to those who knew her equally passionate commitment to Gaelic culture and to the cultural idea of Scotland, not to mention to Scottish Rugby, where her father in his day was indeed a fine player in the national team. To her very fingertips Ray represented the feisty, independent tradition of Scottish Liberalism- plain spoken, determined, and a true beleiver in the Liberal idea of freedom. She stood up for th

The Final Tally.

The last three weeks have been amongst the most interesting and critical in British politics in a generation, but inevitably, I have been so busy that blogging has been very sparse indeed. In fact I think we have indeed seen one of the fabled tipping points in British Politics that seems to come once in a generation. many will say that the catastrophic defeats inflicted on the Labour Party in the local elections are simply the mark of the swing of the political pendulum. The Conservatives having avoided their own meltdown are now poised to recover. However, I think that this actually understates the chaos in the Labour Party. It is not just in the marginal areas that labour are going down- though the numbers are truly appalling from the Labour perspective. It is in the very heartland of Labour that they are losing their strength. In Wales, they lost control of Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Merthyr Tydfil, Flintshire, Newport and Torfaen, leaving them in control of just two councils in