Archive for October, 2013

A quiet half term week in politics

 

Week 28 October to 1 November

Wales

Stroke death rates in Wales still lag behind other European nations said Dr Ruth Hussey the chief medical officer in her first annual report on the condition. About 11,000 people have a stroke each year in Wales, making it the fourth biggest health killer after cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease. But Dr Hussey’s report shows progress in key areas, including both a fall in the death rate from strokes and emergency hospital admissions for the condition.

The Welsh Government have outlined plans to commemorate the centenary of World War I. £850,000 would be available for educational projects. An additional £1,000 will be given to every secondary school to develop creative and innovative projects to commemorate the war and to encourage debate and discussion. £25,000 will be used to set up a Wales Memorial in Flanders.

photoA year after the recommendations first saw the light of day, Cameron and Clegg have decided to implement parts of Silk 1 or to give its proper title “Empowerment and Responsibility: Financial Powers to Strengthen Wales.” Now that the Welsh government can borrow to build much needed infrastructure to “strengthen Wales.” Concrete in Gwent as M4 relief road comes a little nearer. What about the north is the cry?  Another bridge over the Menai, perhaps David, to compensate for the lot in Cardiff Bay having yet more powers. And some thoughts  on David Jones, the poor man will have responsibility for getting the bill through the Commons, oh happy days. Can’t see Carwyn Jones rushing to get a referendum on income tax powers.

 Rest

The culture of delay and denial over NHS complaints in England must come to an end, according to Labour MP Ann Clwyd who led a government inquiry. She said too many patients found the current approach unresponsive and confusing. It said it was putting the health service on a year’s notice to improve accountability and transparency. Welsh Opposition parties were quick off the mark asking for a similar inquiry into the Welsh NHS.

The government’s latest business case for the HS2 high-speed rail link gives a lower benefit than previously predicted. The ration for cost-benefit has fallen the expected benefit-cost ratio (BRC) has fallen by about 9% from £2.50 to £2.30 in benefits for every pound spent. This has happened because of a £10 billion increase in the costs. It’s now going to cost the taxpayer £42.6 billion. Politically it looks increasingly like the cross party consensus behind the scheme is shaky. Without consensus, it is as alive as the Monty Python parrot. See also

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) says households’ true disposable income has flatlined since the end of the recession, in the autumn of 2009, even though national output has expanded by 4.2% over the same period. Young Ed may be on to a winner by going on and on about the cost of living.

 Polls

Tuesday

YouGov/Sun         CON 31%, LAB 40%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 12%.

 Sunday

YouGov/Times         CON 33%, LAB 39%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 12%

Scottish independence and Scottish Poll

Panelbase/Herald (commissioned by Wings over Scotland) YES 35%, NO 43%, Undecided 20%.

Lord Ashcroft poll on voting intentions in Scotland CON 18%(+1), LAB 40%(-2), LDEM 6%(-13), SNP 31%(+11), UKIP 2%(+1). Changes are from the 2010 election and reflect a big swing from the Lib Dems to the SNP.

 

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Off the rails

DSC00208Will there be a HS2 or not? Many are asking the question will the money be well spent?  Clearly the costs and the benefits of such a system are difficult to assess. But certainly the taxpayer who is going to pay for it is unlikely to be better off.  And certainly Wales will see little benefit.

Once built this strategic project will be used to generate not a return for the taxpayer that has paid for it but will be shunted to the private sector.

The recent history of all governments is that when it comes to strategic services the private sector is favoured. New Labour will not raise its head on public ownership, even though it might make perfect sense.

Take for instance the East coast railway. Because the private sector made a hash of the franchise and walked away from it. back into public ownership it came. Now it’s a popular reliable service and paid back £208 million to the taxpayer.

Users of the service want it to stay in the public sector but this ideologically driven government have put this the most successful rail service back out to tender.

There is every chance that the bid will be won by the French. Yes, a railway service owned by the state but not this state. So this profitably line might well help the taxpayer again but it will be the French taxpayer not the British taxpayer.

Labour is missing an opportunity by not shouting for it to stay where it is and how popular it would be with all those commuters in all those marginal seats if they were to declare that when the current rail franchises end back into state ownership they would come and the beauty of it, at nil cost.

The commuting public want it, and if the East coast line is anything to go by the taxpayer will be better off.  Regular train users are fed up at the rip-off of high fare’s to put money into the greedy paws of the private sector. Even though it would be popular there’s not a peep from Miliband. His silence on the issue is deafening.

It’s the private sector that got the country into the crisis when the deregulated banking sector and the City in general played fast and lose and in the end the ordinary working man and women had to pay the price. Yet, Labour’s response is bring back regulation, not state control.

Miliband has certainly made himself popular by declaring a price freeze on the energy companies. But how much more effective would it be if these companies were taken back into publicly ownership. It became clear from their evidence to the House of Commons that these energy companies have formed a cartel and are acting in their own interest at the expense of the consumer.

There clearly is no competition, in which case let them become state monopolies. Far better than a temporary price freeze.

As this Almanac pointed out when talking about the decision on nuclear energy, it seems that the current government’s policy is state ownership, but other states and not the UK. A mixed economy requires some state ownership, Attlee and the post war Labour government recognised this. They talked about the commanding heights of the economy. How much longer should  people be ripped-off before public utilities are brought back into public ownership. The challenge for Miliband is not to hide from the title red-Ed but to live up to it.

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Fact or fiction

photoOne of the innovations of modern day politics is the rise of the focus group. Political parties tend to frame their policies on the outcome of these. They want to go with the grain of what people think, to follow public opinion rather than frame public opinion.

Now of course if the public were diligent and did a proper search of the facts before they arrived at their conclusions this would be a wise approach to policy making. What could be better in a representative democracy for politicians to represent the views of their constituents and frame policies on that basis. Oh if only it was that simple.

Individuals spend a considerable amount of research before spending on big money items. No one would purchase a house without considerable research; indeed lawyers are hired to do that very research  that’s to stop  bad choices been made. It’s the same for other expensive items, cash is not parted on a whim. And it goes for  other areas of life too. In choosing a school, a care home for elderly parents choice is not exercised without gathering the facts.. Why? Because there would be serious consequences to the individuals concerned if mistakes were made and the  wrong choice taken. So there are real tangible benefits in trying to gather the best information.

But it’s not so with political choices. Take this week, voters are rightly  annoyed  at been ripped off by the energy giants in their utility bills.  What’s to be done? Well, our Prime Minister has come up with the cunning little plan of  gettingt rid of the green tariff, a tariff that incidentally consisted of many charges that his own government introduced. But that’s another story, as they say. So scrap or reduce green tariff, “Why not” say most bill payers. Because getting climate change policy wrong has little consequence for the individual consumer but for society as a whole and for future generations it might be a very costly mistake indeed.

Most of the public haven’t the incentive or time to research political issues in depth, and why should they, life’s to short. Most rely on bite size junks of information delivered in the main by  the press.

But how reliable are these?  People are getting the wrong end of the stick on many issues as was recently shown by Ipsos MORI in a survey for the Royal Statistical Society and King’s College, London.

Lets look at a case and point. This government has spent a great deal of time convincing the public that cutting down on benefits is a good thing and lets be frank the Opposition under Ed Miliband are playing catch up on this issue. So at the next general election, the parties will have policies aimed at the “benefit scroungers.” Presumably based on what focus groups are telling them.

The great British public will approve, because they estimate that 34 times more benefit money is claimed fraudently than official estimates. Joe public thinks that £24 out of  every £100 spent on benefits is claimed fraudulently, compared with official estimates of £0.70 per £100.

They also think that capping benefits at £26,000 per household will save most money from a list provided (33% pick this option), over twice the level that select raising the pension age to 66 for both men and women or stopping child benefit when someone in the household earns £50k+.

In fact, capping household benefits is estimated to save £290m, compared with £5bn for raising the pension age and £1.7bn for stopping child benefit for wealthier households.

But why let the facts get in the way of a good story or even a policy. To get the public to accept cuts it’s always good to demonise the recipients as wasters. An agenda  set by the right wing press,  having a scapegoat makes good copy.

It’s the same for that other  Daily Mail favourite – immigration. The public think that 31% of the population are immigrants, when the official figures are 13%. Even estimates that attempt to account for illegal immigration suggest a figure closer to 15%. So the public think that there are twice as many immigrants in the country than actually are. There are similar misperceptions on ethnicity: the average estimate is that Black and Asian people make up 30% of the population, when it is actually 11% (or 14% if we include mixed and other non-white ethnic groups.)

What the survey suggests is that voters views in some key areas of policy are wildly inaccurate. Why so? Because these are the issues that the tabloid’s print time and time again. But that’s the nature of the beast.

It might suit some politicians to follow the tabloids agenda but surely other politicians should not play catch up. Let them fight back and start  giving the public the real facts, not reinforcing prejudice. Ultimately the whole of the society is diminished if public policy is based on prejudice rather than on fact. This is what should concern the public not what kind of complaint mechanism the press has.

 

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