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Archive for May, 2008

Automatic comment generator

May 30, 2008 3 comments

This is an absolutely superb generator of ignorant nonsense. It’s nominally a tribute to the BBC’s Have Your Say, but is quite an effective simulation of most right-wing blog comments.

Sample:

Twas ever thus. here come the pc brigade and the nanny state! Gordon Brown is going to put us all in Death Camps. It is vital that we string them all up. Why did nobody listen to Enoch Powell all those years ago?!!

Gordon Clown Out Now England

It goes e-e-e-e-ow e-e-e-e-e-e-blaow

May 28, 2008 Leave a comment

Yes, I know that I’m 29 years old, middle class and white. But fuck it, this is awesome:

(yup, it is indeed from this. How did you guess? And yes, I am indeed quite grumpy that I’ve got to go out every night this week. Can’t people leave me alone for, ooh, a month or so…?)

Don’t axe Crossrail – double it!

May 20, 2008 3 comments

Local press exclusives on specialist topics are seldom the most reliable or accurate commentaries you’ll ever find on anything ever. Nonetheless, I’m concerned by the East London Advertiser’s current alleged scoop on Crossrail.

The ELA claims that:

Crossrail chiefs fear the deteriorating economic climate, spiralling Olympic costs and the election of Tory Boris Johnson as Mayor of London will persuade Mr Brown to delay construction.

The source said: “It’s only my opinion and not the corporate line, but my strong feeling is that in the current circumstances, the Government will more than likely delay the project by a few years.”

If the ELA is right, then the government are making a very daft short-termist decision swayed purely by bean-counters and spurious “OMG, debts are evil” worries.

Simply put, Crossrail is a 10-year project with benefits over 30 years. Dropping it because of short-term budget constraints would not only be utterly ridiculous, it would be the worst possible choice the government could make. Economic bad times are a positive reason to build Crossrail, not a reason to shelve it.

The ideal time to build a massive infrastructure project paid for largely with public money is during a construction recession, when the workers, managers and contractors responsible are unable to find sufficient private sector work. This would not only make Crossrail cheaper for the taxpayer, but will also prop up the wider economy, stemming unemployment and reducing the impact of falling private sector demand on GDP growth.

What about actually finding the money? Well, governments are able to get credit on good terms right now, since they’re among the lucky few for whom the markets believe they’ll be able to pay it back. And UK national debt is in reasonably good shape as a proportion of GDP – 37% now against 43% in 1997, so there’s no obstacle to ramping up government borrowing to buoy demand and cushion the tough times.

Yes to sceptics, the 37% figure is too low, since it does not include finance leases under PFI that would be accounted for as debt under IFRS. These amount to an extra £30bn on top of existing debt of £530bn, taking real public sector debt as measured under IFRS to 39% of GDP. Some people account for PFI by counting all future PFI liabilities including payment for services which haven’t yet been delivered but if you do this then you do not understand how accounting works [*].

Sorry for that digression. The point is that the government has plenty of room to borrow money to stimulate the economy over the next couple of years, and building Crossrail would be one very good way of doing this. Financing it entirely through public sector borrowing would raise the national debt by 1% of GDP, which is entirely affordable. Axeing it would be somewhere between a short-termist capitulation to Treasury interests, and a deliberate attempt to screw things up for the incoming Tories…

[*] If I sign a billion pound contract with the government to provide them with and maintain their widgets for the next 40 years, and I book sales of £1bn for year one, then I go to jail. This is precisely what people who count PFI liabilities at £100bn are doing, except for the “going to jail” bit.

The next train is for enlightenment

May 16, 2008 5 comments

I’m not sure Boris would approve:

Kings Cross St Pancras station, 14/5/08

(photographed by me at Kings Cross St Pancras station, 14/5/08 at 2215)

Update 19/5 – Veroniq has come up with a much better headline:

“And the London Underground is not a political movement”

Categories: Transport, Uncategorized

Good news, everybody

May 15, 2008 Leave a comment

You’ll be delighted to hear that The Sharpener is back online and that I have a new post there on why it’s right to treat politics as a trivial and irrelevant sideshow.

Also, now that the Sharpener is back up, I’m going to try and get back into the habit of putting my political stuff up there, and random finance / transport / IT geekery / lifestyle stuff on here. Whether that will improve either place is a question for thee and not for me…

On antisocial behaviour

May 9, 2008 5 comments

A comment on this Guardian thread, about the prospect of extending the insane Tube drinking ban to – even more insanely – cover all public transport expresses confusion over why this is a problem:

“I haven’t lived in the UK for some time but where I live in Europe I frequently see people drinking in public and have never seen any trouble of any kind.”

Unfortunately, he goes on to wonder why things are worse in the UK. This isn’t the point – the UK is exactly the same as the rest of Europe. Our problem is that we have an unusually high concentration of paranoid nutjobs who think anyone found Having Fun should be arrested, stirred up by the Daily Hate Mail’s propaganda lying that crime and Anti Social Behaviour (whatever that may be) are serious problems.

The truth is that crime is falling, that drinking is fun, that binge drinking is not a serious problem, that you are incredibly unlikely to be the victim of drink-related violence, that even if you are it is unlikely to do you much harm, and that the number of people seriously harmed through drink-related violence every year in a country of 60 million people is sufficiently low that only the statistically illiterate or the paranoid and gullible need worry about it.

[there is one exception, an example of a crime from which a large proportion of the population have suffered in which alcohol is a trigger factor in large proportion of cases: domestic violence. However, this doesn't fit the nonsensical 'terrorised by ASBO yobs' narrative beloved of the tabloids; nor is it visible; nor is it increasing; nor is it more prevalent in the UK than eslewhere...]

Categories: Eating & drinking

Extreme-ly important

May 9, 2008 4 comments

Two possibilities:
1) you believe that people should go to jail and be registered as sex offenders for owning pictures of consensual bondage; or:
2) you should sign this petition.

Categories: Bit of politics

If we ban harmless things, then harmful things will magically disappear

May 7, 2008 10 comments

It ought to be pretty obvious that banning drinking in a place is completely different from banning drunken louts from a place.

If you ban drinking in a place, it prevents people who aren’t louts but fancy a beer from having one, while doing absolutely nothing to prevent louts who are drunk from causing a nuisance (even if the drinking legislation were actually enforced against groups of rowdy chavs, which it won’t be).

If you actually want to stop drunken loutery, then you need to ensure that drunken louts are arrested, under the existing laws that provide a perfectly good arsenal of charges and punishments against rowdies, harrassers, disorderly conductors and affrayists. You don’t impose a new measure to punish the law-abiding.

Hence, the only two reasons to support Mr Johnson’s impending ban on drinking on the Tube are:

1) a belief that alcohol is inherently wrong and its consumption should be impeded wherever possible; or
2) idiocy

Neither of these are attractive traits, so it’s worrying that the plan is seen as a vote-winner…

Side note: the ban appears to advertised as “making everyone’s journey more pleasant”. Since it will very clearly make journeys less pleasant for those who enjoy drinking while on a journey, this is clearly false advertising, and I’d urge everyone who sees such a poster to report it to the ASA.

How big is Boris’s tent?

May 5, 2008 4 comments

A non-Londoner asked me on Saturday what I thought Boris Johnson would be like as London mayor.

I said that I really didn’t know, which was the main reason I hadn’t voted for him (I also can’t stand his Wooster-ish public persona, but I’m quite happy to vote for someone I don’t personally like if they’ve got the right policies and record) – but that there would be a few indicators very soon that would almost certainly give us the answer, and that the most important will be whether he sacks transport commissioner Peter Hendy and London Underground MD Tim O’Toole.

Aside from Ken Livingstone, Hendy and O’Toole were the most important people driving the massive improvement in London’s public transport that has happened over the last eight years.

Ken managed to wrangle the money out of Whitehall; Peter Hendy made the new schemes happen (he was running London Buses throughout the period while they turned from Utterly Bloody Useless to Really Really Good); while Tim O’Toole stopped the Underground from falling over despite everything. They have built a team at TfL that works, and that would continue to massively benefit Londoners if it were to remain in place.

If Johnson were to sack Hendy and O’Toole because of their assocations with Ken, bendy buses, congestion charges and other sensible but unpopulist things, then that would have an immediate, significant, real and negative impact on London.

If he were to keep them in their posts, not only would the effects on transport be good – it would highlight a more general willingness to accept the good things that the old regime brought, and to put London’s needs above petty point-scoring.

So, which is it going to be?

Conservative Assembly Member for Ealing Richard Barnes quoted here appear to think that sacking them would be a Good Idea (how dare anyone “make life unpleasant for motorists”, would seem to be his main point), and is tipped to be Johnson’s deputy.

However, the latest couple of reports seem to suggest that Johnson is likely to keep them in place. For London’s sake, I hope the reports are right…

Categories: Bit of politics, Transport

100% hindsight, 100% of the time

May 2, 2008 10 comments

Justin is looking for constructive suggestions on what Labour could possibly do to get over their steamrollering. Mine include:

1) keep the 21% basic tax rate; abolish tax credits; and use the money saved by abolishing the 10p band to raise the personal allowance;

2) abolish NI and raise the basic and higher tax rates to compensate [this helps part-time workers, who don't earn enough to pay income tax but are currently forced to pay NI anyway];

3) assume an acceptable public sector deficit level of 5% this year and 8% for 2009. Keep spending flat as a % of GDP and use any “surplus” cash to further raise the income tax threshold

4) Bring in a few daft-but-populist-and-fairly-cheap things: halt post office closures (even though nobody uses them, they clearly have talisman value to Middle England); bring back matrons (this probably involves renaming ’senior charge nurses’ to ‘matrons’ or similar); raise the state pension by a few bob; accept that the justice system is too beholden to the tabloids to get prison numbers down so build more (small, local) prisons; etc.

5) change the electoral system to make sure the Tories don’t get as much power as Labour had if they win: introduce some kind of PR (probably a Scottish Parliament kind of thing), create more elected mayors, devolve more central responsibilities to local authorities, give the GLA the same responsibilities as the Welsh Assembly (double-bonus: short-term, you look statesmanlike for handing power over to Boris; long-term, you get even more PR benefits when he messes up…)

However, I don’t think they’ll be anywhere near enough. There’s a small possibility that David Cameron is the Tories’ Neil Kinnock, and Labour will just scrape in at the next general election amid concerns over his competence despite popular loathing for the incumbent party, but it’s more likely based on last night’s results that the Tories will win next time.

…which brings me to my main point: Gordon Brown’s worst political move, both in terms of the Labour Party and his own legacy, was calling off the snap election last autumn. Even at the time, it was clear that he had a chance of winning – but it’s become clear since that losing would have also been a better option that what really happened.

Imagine if a minority Tory government, with limited and unofficial Lib Dem backing, had just taken power to be battered by the credit crunch, Northern Rock, rising fuel bills and House Price Carnage. Labour could have confidently and straight-facedly played the “if only the people who knew what they were doing, and who gave you 10 years of prosperity and good times were in charge” card. It would have worked, even if the Tories had only floundered as much on NR as Labour actually did (i.e. for a couple of months before doing the right thing).

With an inexperienced, toff-ish team trying to battle against a worsening global economy, with Labour attacking them on everything they did, with some of the press still vaguely on the Labour side (remember, nine months ago every commentator in the press didn’t hate Gordon Brown), with flaky Liberal support and with the Old Tory / New Tory divide re-emerging, the chances of lasting out for a five year term would be pretty damn limited. The prospects for an old hand coming back to take charge of Labour at the emergency post-collapse general election (Jack Straw PM, anyone?) would be looking pretty bright…

Instead, we’ve got two years of collapsing farce followed by five – probably ten – years of Tory misrule to look forward to. Luckily, I’m just about eligible as a skilled migrant under New Zealand’s point-based immigration scheme