Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Two's Company, Three's a Crowd

I didn't watch the "Chancellors' debate" last night:

a) I have a life
b) It's always easier to comment dispassionately on things you haven't seen, and
c) I thought the most important things is not what they said but how people thought they had done.

I've read a lot of comments/blogs/papers and the consensus seems to be:

1. Vince Cable won the debate, but not by a lot;
2. George Osborne did much better than people expected;
3. Alastair Darling was OK – slightly better than Osborne but not a lot;
4. All three therefore came across well, but mostly spoke in generalities;
5. The debate did not change people’s minds about how they would vote;
6. So overall a good result for the Tories given fears about Osborne;
7. Darling and Cable agreed more than they disagreed – another indication that a hung Parliament would probably lead to a Lib/Lab pact of some sort.
8. The debate favoured – in audience selection, positioning and questioning – the Lib Dems.

I have never understood why Cable is so highly regarded; actually that’s not quite right: I can see that he comes across well as an experienced elder statesman. But what he says is often wrong and usually inconsistent with what he said on earlier occasions and with his party’s policy. In this sense he is like Blair: the public take to someone and it takes a long time for them to realise what he’s really like. The good news is that his favourable treatment in the debate has lead writers to more closely examine what he said. I won’t bother with all the inconsistencies, but this (vituperative comment) highlights his agreement with Brown that public finances were fine when the Tories were noting that it wasn’t, this his ignoring of Lib Dem policy and this his wide misrepresentation, to use a polite word, of his discussions with the Treasury.

Do I protest too much, showing I worry that he is taken so seriously? Probably – but I also genuinely feel he would be a bad Chancellor because he has shown no sign of producing coherent policies or of understanding what is really going on. I see an actor.

I have always liked Darling since I met him and heard him speak in the late 80’s in Edinburgh: he struck me as sensible and considered; I feel very sorry for him having to deal with the mess that he inherited from Brown. But if there is a Labour victory – or more likely a Lib/Lab pact – it is highly unlikely he will remain as Chancellor given the well publicised disagreements with Brown’s inner circle.

I doubt if I will watch the leadership debates either. I don’t think they are a sensible introduction to the election process as they will be so staged they will not allow for a proper understanding of the people involved, and each soundbite will be carefully measured and assessed they will not allow a proper understanding of policy. They are there for the greater glorification of the TV producers.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Why you should visit me

I have failed over the last couple of months to say anything interesting (some say its for longer than that).

But I've just added three panels to the foot of my blog page which should be of interest as the election campaign progresses. They are provided by Betfair, and are:
- An average of the polls day by day;
- Betfair's current prediction (and given the wisdom of crowds it could be pretty accurate); and
- A map of seats showing the latest predictions and an ability to produce your own swingometer.

Just scroll down past my ramblings to the bottom of the page......

Hello Again

After a long absence two press reports (and a long train journey) have galvanised me into commenting - one national, that a majority of people think Labour is more to be trusted on the economy than the Conservatives and one local, that Wooler is not to be allowed a speed warning sign.
I have been busy while I was away - a couple of skiing trips, some canvassing and quite a lot of paid and pro bono work. But I'll try not to be absent for as long again.
Labour more trusted on the economy???
- A deeper and longer recession than other G20 economies;
- A turnround from stable public sector finances to a massive deficit;
- The creation of an inadequate financial regulatory system which did nothing to minimise the problems so our banks' needed a bigger bail out than than other G20 countries;
- Making an independent Bank of England sideline asset price inflation and the general economic situation in monetary policy management;
- Turning the UK from being one of the top countries for funding pensions to being one of the worst;
- A massive increase in public sector investment with a small increase in results and productivity;
- Never mind selling most of our gold reserves at the lowest price for years.
All this and more brought to you by this Labour Government. And yet it is more trusted.
This is worth a lot of thought; the inability of the Conservatives to highlight the gross incompetence of Gordon Brown's economic management is one of the reasons they are not doing as well in the polls. Briefly - and I'll try to return to this in later posts - I think this is for four reasons:
- People have not seen the consequences of the mismanagement yet. They've read about it, but not felt it. The fact that the UK spends £5 for every £4 is still seen as good because we haven't had to pay the difference back. The most frequent accents I heard in Lech and Meribel were English.
- People are nervous of the consequences of sorting out the mess, and prefer the devil they know.
- Many people have accepted the "it was a global crisis and we did more to help than anyone else" story; I won't repeat my earlier posts on this topic but I don;t think that's right: we seem to have come out of it worse than others.
And it is hard for the Conservatives to say how bad it all is without sounding negative. But I think they have to, not least because at some stage they will have to put it right.
I noted three not four things above. The fourth is that George Osborne is not convincing as a chancellor. He has been right on many things - certainly more than Vince Cable who has changed his mind on many issues over the last year or so - but the truth is he does not convince.
Locally, an article in the local papers about Wooler's inability to install a practical speed reducer has many indicators of what's wrong with both local and national Government.
- It was ruled out by Northumberland County Council's "economic prosperity and strategic services overview and scrutiny committee". A committee with such a name cannot be taken seriously.
- This was a local attempt, with money allocated locally, to improve things. Why should the County have the right to interfere?
- From the article: " Northumbria Safer Roads Initiative had also indicated that because SIDs are unauthorised and in some models there is the potential for it to display the incorrect speed of the vehicle, they would not carry out any speed enforcement, with a mobile or fixed speed camera, on any section of road which contained a SID. " First - Who pays for and has responsibility over the Northumbria Safer Roads Initiative? We will pay - but I bet no-one has any responsibility for what it does or says. And second, it refuses to do its job simply because legal technicalities may mean it can't fine people. It does highlight that it sees its role as fund raising not prevention.
One day power may be devolved. But certainly not under a Labour Government.