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Monthly Archives: May 2008

Nanny Knows Best … Who To Give Your Private Details To

Surely I’m not the only one who finds this somewhat sinister?

Data on people with low incomes could be shared with energy companies to help people pay their fuel bills.

The government wants to share details so extra cash from suppliers, as well as existing grants, can be better targeted at the elderly and vulnerable.

This could see information about who is on certain benefits shared with the suppliers, although new legislation would be needed to do this.

Age Concern director general Gordon Lishman said that the sharing of data was “controversial, but justified”.

Nanny not only knows best, but knows to pass your confidential financial details onto a third party who has no business knowing what your income level is without your permission.

This is the government that wants us to believe that not only are our details in safe hands in the form of HMRC, but that all the eggs that will be held in the basket of the National Identity Database will be equally immune from danger. Yet, with the irrepressible and naïve belief in the benign benevolence of the state that only socialists can muster, they then propose handing over thousands of people’s highly personal financial details to the energy companies.

“Oh, but they can opt out” comes the usual refrain … yes, but presuming that this scheme seems to be aimed at those who cannot use a price comparison website (though see below), then what value is an opt-out provision?

In any case, two other points come out of this:

1) If the increase in “fuel poverty” is being fuelled (sorry) by the rise in energy prices, and the government is making significantly more from fuel taxes as a result, then surely the good socialist wealth-redistributing way of doing things would be to increase the winter fuel allowance?

2) In the case of some of the older generation, they don’t like to claim special circumstances or “plead poverty” – they are too proud … or simply unaware. That being the case, will they be at all impressed that their personal financial circumstances are being officially leaked to the “gas board”? And isn’t there an underlying and insulting assumption at play here that the elderly are too thick to work it out for themselves if you just pointed them in the right direction?

One of Those West Wing Summits

Brown to Meet Oil Industry Chiefs

Well that’s going to be a productive meeting. Not. Rather more likely it’ll be one of those five minute summits a la The West Wing.

According to the clunking fist himself, writing in the Grauniad (all his own work, I’m sure):

The cause of rising prices is clear: growing demand and too little supply

Uh-oh. Gordon’s been reading the Dummies Guide to Economics again. Actually, that isn’t the only cause of rising prices. There is also clear evidence of a speculative bubble, fuelled by stock market volatility. Anyway, in his typically roundabout way, as summarised by the BBC, Gordon says that:

… an increase in the supply of oil would lower the price of fuel and ease pressure on the government over the planned tax increases.

I can think of something else that would help reduce the price of fuel at the pumps. It starts with a “t” and rhymes with “fax”, and he’s been coining it in for months on the back of the higher oil price. In any case, since a couple of weeks ago it’s clear that, contrary to the squeals from the Left every time a Conservative suggests as tax cut, it can now just be put on the plastic, along with the 2.7bn from the 10p “solution”. After all, Brown gave us ten years of prosperity (not boom before bust, oh no) so he can’t be wrong.

Declares the rocking-horse fancier:

But each country has also to act now to help those hit by high fuel bills. In Britain this means increased winter fuel payments; a new one-stop service on home energy efficiency; free insulation for people on low incomes and the over 70s and a £150m programme financed by the utility companies to cut fuel bills for lower income families.

In Britain this means fiddling around the edges with overly complicated solutions to the issue, rather than, ooh, say, cutting VAT on fuel? After all, aren’t we all tax cutters now?

It’s Not Just the Knives

So, almost days after Jimmy Mizen’s tragic murder in Lee, comes another knife fatality. Rob Knox, stabbed in an apparent fracas at the Metro bar next to Sidcup station, was the latest addition to this year’s grim statistics. Like Mizen, but unlike many of the other knife deaths, this murder was not gang related. (This sort of event is getting closer to home: Knox’s murder took place only a couple of hundred yards from where I used to work.) Just under a year ago, of course, we had the murder of Ben Hitchcock (in what did appear to be a gang incident) in Beckenham.

Clearly, Mayor Johnson’s determination to target knife crime is right, and equally it is right that the police should be emboldened to go in hard when dealing with it, as they did a week ago in Deptford. However, whether it is fuelled by gang culture or just a more general readiness to resort to potentially lethal means of violence, measures to tackle simply the possession of knives, though right and necessary, are largely dealing with the symptoms.

What makes someone seem so ready to put a knife into another human being, knowing that there is a good chance it will kill them? If it wasn’t a knife, would Knox’s killer have simply used a broken bottle?

As with the debate on gun control, it should be remembered that knives don’t kill people, people kill people. Of course, tackling the underlying cultures will take a lot longer and a lot more than just policing. That being said, the police can play a role in demonstrating that it is unacceptable to resort to violence, whether lethal or not, on our streets or off. Part of this is to make it clear that the violence and conspiracy to commit it will be not only prosecuted (which means letting the police get on with the job) but rewarded with fitting sentences. This means that the Mayor or police alone cannot solve the problem – it goes all the way through the criminal justice system, and all the way to the top of Government.

RIP Rob Knox.

Crewe and Nantwich – A Few Random Thoughts

Firstly, of course, well done to Edward Timpson and the team. Looks like Samantha Cameron has some competition.

Credit to the good people of Crewe and Nantwich for their patience and good judgement, including the dozens I phoned up last night, of which only three complained about the phone calls and the dead trees being pushed through their letterboxes.

Needless to say, I am more than happy for Labour members to carry on arguing for the next two years about whether it’s the policies (and if so, whether they can make things better) or Gordon Brown (can they ditch him in time), or whether they’re not left wing enough, centrist enough, or whether they should just accept the inevitable and plan for 2014/18.

Equally happy I am for Lib Dems to continue deluding themselves that they didn’t do too badly … they really are seriously patting themselves on the back for avoiding the squeeze and achieving a swing from Labour (even though they lost 4% off their vote share).

Note to Labour members: no matter how much you screw your faces up (though it may just be in pain), Hiro Nakamura is a fictional character, you can’t really turn back time to last October and call a General Election after all.

So, can we get on with Henley now please.

The Ubiquitous Crewe and Nantwich Post

So I’m off shortly to work the phones for Crewe and Nantwich. Before then, though, my obligatory pre-post-mortem on the by-election result.

If we Conservatives do win (and it’s still “if” as I’m not one to tempt fate), there will be inevitable talk of the wise men in grey suits (or Labour’s equivalent – is it brown synthetic suits?) filing into Number Ten with offerings of scotch and revolvers.

They are wasting their time. If Brown is suffering from chronic bunker delusion, then so will be those in the senior ranks of the party. As I’ve said before, we Conservatives were here in the mid-Nineties. In fact, Dizzy has demonstrated the point quite graphically (literally). Despite the omens from Newbury to Wirral South, many in the party thought we could turn the tide, Canute-like, with a few popular initiatives, and anyway the polls were understating our support, just like last time.

I had a conversation along similar lines earlier this week with a local Labour councillor. Frankly, Labour could announce a cure for the common cold and it would only be worth a couple of points in the polls.

The “toff” campaign not only underlines how politically inept the party, once of Blair, Campbell and Mandelson, has become, but also how such plainly desperate measures are now being considered. Get rid of Brown if you will, but it is Labour’s entire political mojo that has disappeared – and neither Miliband, Johnson, Straw or any of the others will be able to fix it this side of a spell in opposition.

With any luck, it’ll be a long spell.

Government Joined Up … To Assist Illegal Immigration

OK, so we know that tax has for some time acted as a disincentive to marriage, hard work, success, and so on, but to actively assist illegal immigration?

Ken Frost, over at his ambiguously titled “HMRC is sh*te” blog, enlightens us:

When people apply for a CIS card, Tax Credits, or register for Self Employment they are required to produce several forms of ID at a Revenue office.

One of the forms of ID can be a letter from a Government department to the applicants home address.

Now here is where it becomes a little more tricky.

Imagine that you are a failed asylum seeker.

What would you do to prove your identity?

Yes, that’s right, you would use a letter from the Home Orifice.

It says that the failed asylum seeker is specifically forbidden from working or claiming benefits, as the failed asylum seeker has been denied rights to asylum.

Those in charge of HMRC have issued an edict to their staff telling them to accept these letters as a valid form of ID for verification purposes. (My emphasis – NR.)

And as AccountingWeb points out:

If you are an employer, you will also need to make ID checks on any new employee, to ensure that you are not taking on an illegal, the UK Border Agency suggests that you may use a number of documents for verification including:

An official document issued by a previous employer or Government agency, e.g. HM Revenue and Customs (formerly the Inland Revenue) …which contains the permanent National Insurance number and name of the person. A P45, P60, National Insurance number card, or a letter from a Government agency may be acceptable to demonstrate a person’s permanent National Insurance number…” (Again, my emphasis added – NR.)

Such a document will be issued once a person successfully registers for tax…

So to summarise, to satisfy an employer that you are not an illegal immigrant, you need proof from HMRC that you are registered for tax. To get that proof from HMRC you can use … the letter from the Home Office telling you that you cannot work (and by implication, be registered for employment/self-employment) in the UK.

Laugh/cry [delete as applicable].

Eurovision's Coming

Ah, Eurovision. Who needs by-elections when you get all the excitement of an early hours election count, but combined with cheesy music and thinly veiled medieval tribalism to boot?

Now I know it’s a joke over here. After all, if anyone has any real talent they have half the global music industry based in the U.K. to pick them up and make a few bob out of them, but to our neighbours beyond the White Cliffs, Eurovision is where it’s at.

Even so, it’s good old fashioned patriotism and racial brotherhood that is more than a passing factor in the Eurovision voting, especially since nowadays it’s all done by the viewers.

The trouble for Eurovision itself is that the major broadcasters, such as the BBC, make significant contributions to the running of the contest, in return for which the British acts get a free pass to the finals. Without the likes of Auntie, the thing would possibly collapse.

Now I am not a fan of Pop Factor, X Idol, Britain’s Got (No) Talent or any of the other reality talent shows, but I suspect, judging by their popularity, Eurovision would still garner some audience over here. I’ll be honest, though, if it wasn’t for Terry Wogan liberally pouring on the sarcasm, it just wouldn’t do it for me – and a good few others I suspect. Sadly, it’s a fact of life that Ol’ Tel won’t be around forever, and unless they can replace him with the likes of, say, Jack Dee or Bill Bailey, then that’s it for me. So if Terry goes, it will dent the audience, which makes it a bit harsh for the director of Eurovision television to complain about the tone of the Togmeister’s coverage. Of course, to be the boss of Eurovision I guess you have to take the thing unnaturally seriously, but does he not realise that without Terry, he might lose one of his major stakeholders? (Actually, he probably doesn’t care: he knows that the BBC, being just a teensy bit pro-European in its outlook, would probably still find the cash somewhere milk the licence payer for the necessary.)

So, where was I going with this? Ah yes, the voting. As a low-ranking psephological anorak, I have given some passing thought to how to sort out the Eurovision voting. Eurovision should be taking the voting problem more seriously because sooner or later, some of the old Europe nations, who do still think the Eurovision is where it’s at, will get fed up and take their balls with them.

Here’s my solution: regional finals, followed by the main final where each country still votes as at present, except they are barred from voting for their region’s entry – in the same way that they cannot vote for their own country’s entry now. That would put paid to the Balkans, Baltics or Scandinavians voting for each other. The sticking point would be drawing up the regions to be roughly equal in number of countries. We could take advantage here and do the football/rugby thing and send up four separate entries (or maybe six, including CI and IOM) – so we could possibly scrape together a British Isles region.

Anyway, problem solved. Next!

A Quiet Word From Left of Field and Blair Is On the Way Out

Met. Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair has been given his marching orders in advance for 2010, when his contract was due for renewal.

The news, as revealed in the Sunday Times, and covered elsewhere today (including Iain Dale), was delivered to Sir Ian by way of Len Duvall, member for Greenwich & Lewisham and MPA chair(man), informing him that he was unlikely to be permitted a second term and should start to make other arrangements for his post Met career or retirement. This is, of course, a very gentlemanly way of telling him to get lost, with the only surprise being that it wasn’t Boris, or Kit Malthouse, dropping the word in his ear, but one of the remnants of Livingstone’s establishment who has delivered the pistol and bottle of scotch.

The ST informs us that the new commissioner will be effectively appointed (via the Queen) by the home office (as always), though informed by consultations with the Mayor and MPA. There’s the problem: any commissioner knows to whom he owes his job – and it’s not the Mayor or MPA, mere consultees – but the Home Office mandarins (not even the Home Secretary, let’s face it). He must conform to the current establishment groupthink. Will the say so of a Conservative Mayor and the MPA chairman (which may well be the same person this time) still be enough to steer the process towards selecting someone who will really make a difference – something which almost compels the appointee to publicly upset the Home Office applecart once in a while?

If we are to genuinely have a Police Commissioner to measure up against, say, the NYPD’s head, it will have to be the Mayor that makes the final recommendation to Her Majesty. Let’s hope that Sir Ian Blair’s successor will be the final person to be appointed under the current, tired and increasingly discredited old methods.

London Election Stats

I am indebted to Croydonian for alerting me earlier this week to the release of the London election results broken down by ward*. Enjoy!

(Health warning for LibDems: You won’t enjoy this. As you’ll see further below, if these results were repeated in the 2010 council elections, you would end up with fewer councillors than the BNP.)

Firstly, the main contest …

Biggest Boris Vote
1. Stanley Ward (R.B. Kensington & Chelsea) 79.96%
2. Royal Hospital Ward (Kensington & Chelsea) 79.68%
3. Knightsbridge & Belgravia Ward (Westminster) 78.59%
Inner London average 36.24%
Outer London average 48.35%

Biggest Livingstone Vote
1. East Ham North (Newham) 73.42%
2. Green Street West (Newham) 70.92%
3. Southall Broadway (Ealing) 69.77%
Inner London average 43.80%
Outer London average 31.97%

Biggest Paddick Vote
1. The Wrythe (Sutton) 20.02% (Even here, Livingstone polled around 2.5% higher, and Boris over 26% more)
2. Wandle Valley (Sutton) 19.43%
3. St. Marks (K.C.) 19.28%
Inner London average 10.21%
Outer London average 9.49%

Now as any fule kno, it was Outer London that won it for Boris, with a 12 point lead in the outer boroughs, against Ken’s 12 point lead in the inners. Only with the ward results, and the resultant borough breakdowns, is this even clearer than when just comparing GLA constituencies, some of which straddle inner and outer London.

Although the gap was roughly equal and reversed between inner and outer London, it is clear that outer London, with approximately 800,000 more voters, was going to have the edge. Also, the inner London wards may have registered the very highest vote shares, but with the average ward size in outer London being approximately 500 voters larger, the Conservatives’ doughnut strategy was thoroughly vindicated.

“But but but..” cry the Lib Dems, “you’re only counting first preferences. That’s not fair.” Yes I am, and yes it is.

Moving on, with such a presidential style contest some focus has been given to the extra boost that that the mayoral candidates give to the “normal” party vote. Let’s compare the mayoral vote share (yes, first preferences again) to the party list “London Member” vote and look at the “premium” that the mayoral candidates gave to their parties.

Boris Premium
Highest in Mayesbrook (Barking & Dagenham) 24.64%
Lowest in Southall Broadway (Ealing) 2.88%
Overall 8.57%

Ken Premium
Highest in Spitalfields & Banglatown (Tower Hamlets): 31.50 %
Lowest in Eastbrook (Barking & Dagenham): 0.37%
Overall 9.42%

Paddick “Premium”
Highest in Thames (Barking & Dagenham): 3.27%
Lowest in Teddington (Richmond): -17.51%
Overall -1.61%

Not brilliant news for poor old Brian, then – he actually generated a negative premium – a “Brian discount” if you will. Well, as he has effectively said, the Lib Dems are rubbish at campaigning in London now. (Bad workmen and all that, Brian?)

So looking ahead to 2010, which could be the safest wards in London? Here are the final redoubts, based on the party list votes (as opposed to the mayoral votes – see above) for each party which scored a majority in any ward, which therefore includes the BNP and Greens:

Safest Conservative Ward
… by majority: Royal Hospital (Kensington & Chelsea) 65.41%
… by vote share: Knightsbridge & Belgravia (Westminster) 77.25%

Safest Labour Ward
… by majority: Southall Broadway (Ealing) 49.59%
… by vote share: Southall Broadway (Ealing) 64.94%

Safest LD Ward
… by majority: Muswell Hill (Haringey) 3.62%
… by vote share: Teddington (Richmond): 33.93% (but still beaten by the Conservatives)

In fact, based on these party list votes, the Lib Dems would take only two other wards in the whole of London: Alexandra (also Haringey) and Cathedrals (Southwark). The BNP would have more councillors, with eight wards.

Safest BNP Ward
… by majority: Mayesbrook (Barking & Dagenham) 15.67%
… by vote share: Mayesbrook (Barking & Dagenham) 38.47%

Safest Green ward
… by majority: Highgate (Camden): 0.18%
… by vote share: Brockley (Lewisham): 29.94%

And if you’ll indulge me, we’ll look at the absolute number of votes…

Largest number of votes (1st pref. mayoral)
Conservative: Hayes & Coney Hall (Bromley) 4,025
Labour: St Dunstan`s & Stepney Green (Tower Hamlets) 2,547
Lib Dem: Southfields (Wandsworth) 678

Now let’s wrap up the turnout records. I must admit I haven’t got the up to date electorate figures for every borough, most being brought forward from 2006, so take these with a pinch of salt …

Highest Turnouts
1. St. Katharine`s & Wapping (Tower Hamlets) 62.09%
2. Eastbrook (Barking and Dagenham) 59.86%
3. Stoke Newington Central (Hackney) 59.34%

Lowest Turnouts
1. Thames (Barking and Dagenham) 22.68%
2. Stratford And New Town (Newham) 22.77%
3. Cranford (Hounslow) 22.86%

Now for the booby prizes – we find out who will have to stand in the corner with the dunce’s hat on.

The most spoilt votes (1st prefs, of all votes cast) were 7.08% of ballots in Alperton (Brent)

And for the fewest spoilt papers, the gold star goes to …, the postal voters of the City, with the good burghers of the square mile only messing up two ballot papers. Otherwise, the electors in Royal Hospital ward (Kensington & Chelsea) can be smug, having only failed twelve times, or on 0.569% of ballots.

When we come to second preferences, a significant number of voters didn’t cast a vote, and this makes up the bulk (over 400,000) of spoilt 2nd preference votes. The ward whose voters were most sure that their choice would make it to the second round (or maybe they were just in a hurry) was Northumberland Park (Haringey) with 35.78% blank second preferences.

One particular category of spoilt ballot is “voting too many times”, and so we can reveal that the ward where Robert Mugabe would find himself most at home is … Plaistow South (Newham): 3.28% (95 such spoilt papers).

I think that’ll do for now. My anorak awaits its owner.

* Well, all except the postal votes, for which I only have the borough totals so far, and which I have had to ignore for the purposes of most of this election stat-fest.

Miliband’s Worst Nightmare .. A Conservative Win in Crewe & Nantwich

Of course David Miliband doesn’t want Labour to lose the by-election. He’s loyal to the Leader, as a serious leadership challenger hard-working Minister with his party’s and the country’s interests at heart.

Yet he probably has more reason than most for wanting to see Gwenyth’s daughter keep the seat – for seeing Gordon’s display of deck-chair rearranging yesterday actually helping to scrape a win in C&W. If Labour lose, then the pressure will be on him, either from the hotheads to go for broke, from fellow challengers wanting to flush him out early to do the initial dirty work, or simply a temptation to be seriously (and in an inevitably semi-visible kind of way) preparing for a bid when the time is right. The last thing he wants is to have even more of a spotlight on him right now – after all, in politics how many times do the front-runners at the start of the race actually win? Who wants to be the Heseltine or Portillo – the one who is out in the open for so long that he gives a clear shot for anyone who wishes to take it?

No, any serious challenger will want to see Gordon carry on and lose at the General Election. After all, what future leader wants to be at the helm of the ship just as it’s been left too late to avoid the iceberg? Better to revel in the luxury of opposition, with four years to regroup, lose the baggage and work on your prime-minister-in-waiting image.

And the best thing is, it’s easy to do – he can genuinely put all his efforts into backing Gordon to the hilt during the next two years, assuring the PM that he is behind him at all times, while omitting to mention that it’s because Gordon is acting as his human shield.