Category Archives: Bit of politics

Well worth the license fee

Mark Easton at the BBC has a superb piece that’s saved me the effort of doing my normal thing (dammit!) – he’s looked at the actual statistics and discovered that knife crime is up slightly in some ropey bits of London, and not at all elsewhere.

A very sensible point that Mr Easton makes, as also made coherently and provocatively by Dave Osler at Liberal Conspiracy, is that the massive and deranged overhyping of the non-event that is knife crime is only going to encourage kids to carry knives, because they’ll be a) worried that they’ll get knived and b) keen to stick it to the patronising idiots who think that knife-carrying is The Worst Thing Ever.

Unsurprisingly, David Cameron’s take on the whole issue is to demand that anyone found carrying a knife should be jailed with no exceptions. I’m sure that the picnic-goers and sausage-cutters of the world will be reassured by that one…

(and yes, Mr Cameron suggests the police should ‘use discretion’ in deciding who to prosecute. This is not the way the law works, and not the way the law should work – if something is a crime, then everyone who does it should be prosecuted; if it is not, then no-one who does it should be prosecuted. The police’s job is to enforce the law, not to decide when to enforce it and when to ignore it.)

Meanwhile, in a sane parallel universe somewhere, the only worry people have about crime is why we waste so much time and so many lives on sending people to jail, when [pointed hyperbole] crime is completely trivial and not-worth-bothering-with [/pointed hyperbole]. Unfortunately, on this earth people don’t understand statistics but do understand emotivised tabloid nonsense… roll on the teleporter.

Update: Ajay’s comment at S&M makes sense; and these statistics are telling.

On that ‘who subsidises whom’ thing

There’s a great deal of controversy and bitterness over whether the parasitical Scots steal money from the hard-working English to spend on whisky and deep-fried Mars bars, or whether in fact the evil colonial masters are stealing the Scots’ money to fritter away on Pimms and linen suits.

The problem is, despite the statistical data on where tax revenues are generated and where they end up, there’s no answer to the question of who’s right.

If you believe North Sea oil belongs to the Scots [*], then it’s clear that the Scots are subsidising the English, as annual North Sea oil tax revenues of £9bn for 2006/07 are way in excess of the Barnett payments of £7.5bn. If you believe North Sea oil is a shared resource between all citizens of the UK,
then it’s equally clear the English are subsidising the Scots.

Since the answer to that question is dependent on one’s beliefs about political philosophy, equity and the nature of nation states, and also on unresolved questions about the UK’s constitutional status, it’s hardly bloody surprising that the controversy exists…

[*] i.e. if you believe that oil reserves should be allocated between England and Scotland based on the Law of the Sea, which under most estimates would give the vast majority of oil to Scotland.

Good news, everybody

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…

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

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?

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…

100% hindsight, 100% of the time

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

If you disagree with this, you have no soul and no brain

Simon Jenkins:

No good is served by incarcerating an illiterate drugs “mule” in Holloway for 14 years for a first offence when she had no clue what she was doing and has left four children on the streets of Jamaica. She will be sent back in seven years, after Britain has spent £250,000 turning her into a drug addict and a wreck. Not since deportation for poaching has British penal policy been so heartless and so stupid.

You may think drugs are awesome fun or unspeakably evil, but either way it’s difficult to deny Mr Jenkins’ point. The really weird – and mildly encouraging – thing, if you ever read the comments on Commentisfree, is that none of them object to the article…

Final mayoralty

Diamond Geezer’s coverage of the mayoral race has been entirely on fire. The latest, possibly last, and definitely funniest summary of the campaign I’ve so far seen, is the London Mayoral Hustings 2012:

Paxman: Ahhhhh yes, transport. What are your priorities for the next four years?
Boris: Crossrail, yes, er, that’s something I’d really like to get a chance to finish. I know I still haven’t got the funding yet but, you know, the forms were jolly complicated and I didn’t quite fill them in properly. In the meantime, my cut-price petrol loan scheme has proved terribly successful, helping ordinary Londoners to fill their Landrovers more cheaply. So, cripes, it’s not all bad news.

and indeed:

Paxman: Some people were extremely surprised in 2009 when you started writing a twice-weekly column for the Evening Standard. How do you live with your conscience?
Ken: Look Jeremy, it’s very simple. When Andrew Gilligan left the paper to become the BBC’s ethics correspondent, the Standard suddenly had a vacancy for someone to write vicious spiteful copy attacking the Mayor. I was only too glad to step in

Reality check

David Aaronovitch is one of the few Decent-ists that I like and respect. So it’s good to see him stating the obvious truths that more or less everyone (whether left or right) has forgotten as we descend in to a Cassandrine orgy of unwarranted gloom:

Taking modern Britain, for all that any country is beset by problems (lost discs, bingers, drug takers or Scottish Nationalists), the underlying facts were – are – that mortgages had become cheapo, unemployment was low, crime was, in general, falling, the economy was performing better than in most other similar countries and there were huge infrastructural improvements, as evidenced in new school buildings and hospitals.

Still true. Will remain true. And the rest is trivial…