Thursday, 30 October 2014

Worrying analysis from John Redwood

Mr Redwood recently posted on the subject of Quantitative Easing:

People say the aim was merely to bring down longer term rates of interest, to make it cheaper to borrow long term. They see QE as an elaborate way of altering the price of long term money compared to short term loans. Perhaps the Bank’s first explanation that it was to try to inject cash into the economy to be spent is nearer the mark.

What is more interesting is the change of stance on unwinding the position. In the early days it seemed likely that first the Bank would stop new purchases, then allow repayments of debt to cancel the outstanding gilts as they matured, and then sell back the remainder before raising interest rates. Now the agreed policy is to raise the official short term rate before taking any steps to reduce the amount of bonds held. This has the pPeopleerverse consequence of losing money on the bond holdings at market prices, if the Bank raises the official rate and that has the normal impact on the value of gilts.

If true, this adds to the rip-off of the taxpayer by the government's selling of public assets at less than the market value.

Perils of allowing automatic publishing of comments

The reason why I have set Blogger to allow vetting of comments before publication is illustrated here. I am fairly liberal, but I draw the line at messages containing links to URIs which I do not know are safe and those which contain material which could lay me open to police or court action. Without knowing the content of the message which is key to Caron Lindsay's article, I would guess that its racism was such that it would have failed my second test.

Of course, it is easy for me to police the infrequent comments that this low-profile blog attracts. For Liberal Democrat Voice to adopt the same policy, it would require a full-time editor (in effect, three editors to cover each 24-hour period). This is not something which it can afford and it is a bit much to expect volunteers to devote this support day in, day out.

I hope LDV can find a solution. The party should not be losing members over such misunderstandings.

Equal access to rail franchise process

A nice coincidence after my posting about devolved transport administration, Andy Sawford MP yesterday won leave to bring in a Bill to allow public-owned entities to bid for British rail franchises. It is unfortunate that Mr Sawford chose to use most of his ten minutes in promoting Labour's 2015 manifesto policy, thus attracting an equally doctrinaire response from Martin Vickers on the Conservative benches. Ten-minute Rule motions mostly go through on the nod, in the knowledge that there is practically no parliamentary time available to allow the resulting Bill to proceed, but this one aroused so much passion on the Conservative side that one was surprised that the House voted by a large majority to consider the Bill in January, the Noes mustering only 38.

Mr Sawford drew attention to the anomaly that continental publicly-owned operators can bid for rail services in Britain, but our own public service does not have the same freedom at home or abroad. He cited the success of the Great Eastern franchise when it lapsed into public hands, but Mr Vickers pointed out that some costs - track access charges and cost of bidding - normally paid by franchisees were not taken into account.

If the short debate has drawn attention to the inflexibility of the franchising process, it will have done some good, even if Mr Sawford's Bill will sink without trace.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Who benefits from selling public housing?

Afghanistan: Our military withdrawal not the end

The Liberal Democrat Voice headline is more despondent than Paddy Ashdown's message overall:

Our recent military involvement in Afghanistan can only be justified by what happens next (the "defence of our streets" argument was always specious). We must build on the positives laid out by Paddy. It is to be hoped that the civil involvement by the EU will continue. This has not hit the headlines but is surely as valuable as the military legacy. I trust that as long as Rory Stewart is in public life we will not lose our engagement with the people to whom we still owe so much - and, of course, there is Afghanistan's new-found enthusiasm for cricket which will keep sporting links with the UK and the Commonwealth.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Centenary of a global saviour

Dr Jonas Salk was born on this day in 1914.

A culture of fear in the civil service?

The prime minister's assertion that the call for a €2.1bn "adjustment" came out of the blue began to look a little ragged during the Q&A on his European Council statement yesterday. However, it does seem that information had not been passed up the civil service chain as quickly as it should have been, judging by this report. The question that comes to mind is: were the civil servants attending the meeting with their EU colleagues in mid-October afraid of reporting the bad news? Moreover, what were "junior" civil servants doing at what was clearly an important meeting? (How junior is junior? Are we talking clerical staff here?)