Thursday 30 November 2023

One rule for spin doctors, another for real doctors

 It seems that a pay settlement for senior doctors is close, though the outcome is going to be short of the full uprating to take account of inflation. Contrast that with what was set in motion three years ago,  to increase election spending limits in line with inflation. There is a case for doing this, though as The Constitution Unit blog pointed out

raising limits is one thing; how you raise them is another. One approach would be to raise them immediately in line with the value of money in time for the next election. This would set the new limit at nearly £38 million at 2022 prices – even higher at 2023 ones. The danger of doing this would be (at least) twofold.

First, it would be very likely to widen the spending gap between the two largest parties and their competitors. While the Liberal Democrats actually outspent Labour in 2019 (having received a donation of some £8 million just prior to the campaign), the typical pattern has been that the Liberal Democrats have spent between 24% and 37% of the Conservatives’ campaign expenditure. Given the Liberal Democrats’ lack of a natural pool of large donors, the gap between higher and lower-spending parties would be likely to widen quite significantly.

Second, while parties’ income typically reflects the general election cycle, party popularity at any one time is influential in their ability to raise income. In 2019, the Conservatives raised over £19 million in declared donations in the short period between dissolution and polling day. Labour, by way of contrast, raised only £5.4 million, 61% of which came from one source – Unite. So, a significantly larger spending limit would almost certainly benefit those parties that were most able to raise money – typically, the most popular ones. The concern here is not which party benefits, but that parties that are most popular at the time of the spending limits uplift would be most able to exploit this higher limit and would be disproportionately advantaged.

The government has, however, gone ahead with the full uprating, at the same time moving to increase the threshold at which donations to political parties have to be declared from £7,500 to £11,180. The Electoral Commission is not happy:

The Commission's research shows a long-term decline in public confidence in the political finance system.

Any changes to spending or reporting thresholds must be supported by rigorous analysis, including on the likely impact on public confidence and transparency.

The Commission has not seen evidence to support these changes. It is concerned that the proposals risk damaging the transparency of political donations, and gives significantly more scope for higher spending parties to campaign.

Moreover, there seems to have been no move to increase the size of penalties in line with inflation, let alone raising them to a level at which they would present a real deterrent, as the EC has long wished.

Wednesday 29 November 2023

A neutered Newsnight

 BBC announces:

BBC Two's Newsnight is to be cut back and have its format overhauled as part of a plan to save money in the corporation's news department.

The long-running show will lose its dedicated reporters, be shortened by 10 minutes and drop its investigative films to focus on studio-based debates.


Surely we do not need more discussion programmes. If Auntie wanted to save money, she could take off air some of those we already have, fronted by prominent, contentious and no doubt expensive journalists. What we need is more reportage (such as tonight's on a failing NHS trust in England) not less.

Tuesday 28 November 2023

Local taxation review

 A consultation on restructuring council tax bands began on 14th November. But, as an economics expert said on ITV Wales news tonight said, it is a regressive tax. It is unfortunate that the  Welsh government does not seem to have even considered the possibility of replacing the Conservatives' council tax with a fairer local income tax.

Monday 27 November 2023

Those TV Christmas ads

 So far, this year's seasonal commercials by the big retailers show no great advances on previous years' Indeed, M&S uses the same animated tree-top fairy inspired by Dawn French as graced our screens last year. Tesco has been slightly more innovative, but must have left many of my generation with a queasy feeling, echoing as it does the first Quatermass Experiment in which a returning astronaut crew morph into a terrifying human/cactus chimera. Points to ASDA for using Michael BublĂ© who has done so much to keep the big band tradition going. My favourite, though, is Morrisons' if only for using Starship's big hit as the backing track.

Sunday 26 November 2023

Al-Aqsa attacks fuelled Hamas's slaughter

 Patrick Cockburn yesterday confirmed my impression that the violation of one of Islam's holy sites was a major factor in rousing the Muslim population of Gaza to violence. The oldest surviving work of Islamic architecture in the world, the seventh-century al-Aqsa mosque has been subject to increasing desecration by the Israeli authorities and by un-policed religious zealots. The regular harassment of worshippers has escalated into acts of violence such as this one last April. The Hamas incursion of October 7th may have been well-planned, but it would not have been so ferocious without the resentment which has built up over the last few years.

Cockburn writes

A survey of Palestinian opinion in Gaza and the West Bank conducted in the first week of November by the Arab World Research and Development group shows that some 60 per cent of the Palestinians polled backed the Hamas attack on 7 October and 16 per cent give it moderate support.

Before that date some 44 per cent of Gazans polled expressed total and 23 per cent partial distrust of Hamas, but today 76 per cent say that it is playing a positive role. The survey sample is small – 277 respondents in Gaza and 391 on the West Bank – but the largest number (35 per cent) say that the main reason for the Hamas attack was the perceived Israeli threat to Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, the third holiest shrine in Islam, with freeing Palestine and breaking the siege of Gaza next most important.

Israelis and foreigners alike tend to underestimate the importance of Al-Aqsa as the ultimate symbol of Palestinian national and religious identity. A danger here is that Israeli ethno-religious fundamentalists and settlers on the West Bank are welcoming the present crisis as an ideal moment for them to move against the three million Palestinians there. Villages and towns are cut off by settler checkpoints and some 191 Palestinians were killed before and 201 killed after 7 October, according to the UN.

One recalls that the Second Intifada was sparked mainly by then Israeli leader Ariel Sharon dancing on the Temple Mount. Over this century, both the Israeli and Palestinian populations, Jews, Christians, Muslim and others alike, have been steadily brutalised.  Just over forty years ago, the massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps brought a tenth of the Israeli population out on the streets to protest. That would be unlikely to happen today. A recent opinion survey in Israel reports 85% support for the actions of the IDF in Gaza. Cockburn is surely correct when he signs off his article: "The day is a long way off when Israelis and Palestinians recognise that, unless both enjoy security, neither will be safe."

Friday 24 November 2023

Electoral paralysis in The Hague

 My first thought on seeing reports of Geert Wilders' "monster victory" in the Netherlands general election this week was how good Brexit was for the EU. The Union could well do without another xenophobic right-wing government alongside Hungary and Italy to welcome the latest addition to their number.

More rational thinking prevailed. Wilders' populist party may be the largest in parliament after the election, but it does not have an overall majority. It looks as if Wilders will find no partners for the coalition which would be necessary for him to become prime minister. Not even the formerly liberal VVD, whose campaign also attacked refugees, much to the disgust of D66, the LibDems' sister party in The Netherlands, has come to Wilders' aid. So it looks as if The Hague is in for a lengthy period of horse-trading before a government can be formed, though probably not as long as Belgium is used to.

Critics of PR will point to this paralysis, saying that first-past-the-post leads to strong government. If strong government means that a fascistic demagogue like Wilders gets overall power (has any psephologist run the Dutch figures to see if that would be the case under FPTP?), then I will continue to press for PR, thank you!

Thursday 23 November 2023

Cook County, L13

  The Liverpool Echo has published details of the trial just ended of the murderers of Ashley Dale. A talented and aspirational young council officer was undeservedly killed, her only mistake being that of a poor choice of boy-friend.

It seems that a great city is now riddled with violent crime, perpetrated by gangs armed with sub-machine guns fighting for their share of the illegal drugs trade. It even spilled over into my old home town, once boringly peaceful Wallasey.

Liverpool has clearly not recovered from the loss of sea trade resulting from UK's joining the European Common Market nor the blow delivered to the football pool industry by the National Lottery. The Heseltine regeneration looks good but it can only be a surface attraction until the crime gangs have been eliminated and the gratuitous killings cease.

Wednesday 22 November 2023


Appropriate to today's Autumn Statement is Anu Garg's word of the day: exolete.  It means stale, failed, obsolete, all adjectives one may apply to this government's economic thinking. For that matter, the Opposition's reply did not depart from orthodoxy much. 

Two familiar messages: growth is God and anyone claiming benefit rather than working is a scrounger. 

Chancellor Hunt promised many incentives to business, especially small business, some of which are welcome. But there is no point in encouraging businesses to take on workers if those workers cannot afford to travel. There was no suggestion in today's Statement that the cuts in bus subsidy are to be reversed. The increase in the minimum wage is hardly enough to provide an electric car, which will soon be de rigueur. And where is the incentive for the necessary fast recharging stations?

Sickness would be better tackled by restoring the NHS and public health systems to what they should be, as Rachel Reeves stated in her Opposition response, rather than forcing people to work in unsuitable conditions. For that reason, the unplanned rise in tax income due to inflation would be better ploughed back into the health service, staunching the flow out of the NHS in all the home countries. Chancellor Hunt made much of the increase in trained medics, but unless government stops the flight of experienced doctors and nurses to where facilities and pay are better, our health will continue to suffer.

Finally, he was right to criticise the two occasions when the health budget was cut in Wales. For some reason, he did not lay the blame on Plaid Cymru who were instrumental on both occasions.