A global archive of independent reviews of everything happening from the beginning of the millennium

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Comment reviews:

An Alternative Hypothesis

Mutt's Dinner

Margaret Thatcher

Arbitration and the Press

Public Speech

The New Faustian Pact

Strands of Change

Winning the Sweepstakes

Social Authoritarianism

Less Inequality

Piketty and the Polar Bear

TUC Blues

General Election 2015

Restrictive Practices

Learn Rate

Lane Markings


The Flood

NHS 1948 - 2018

Inheritance Tax

2016 Comment

2017 Elections

19 April 2017

The electorate is growing weary of the Liberal Democrats' tactical voting game.

Wherever you go in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority constituency - a mayor will be elected for it on 4th May - whether it be Ely, Huntingdon or Cambridge, people do not want the Liberal Democrats back in power nationally or locally. Voting Liberal Democrat will keep nobody out in this constituency.

With Conservative candidate James Palmer proposing to run the authority with only 20 staff and Labour rolling out new promises on spending ratepayers' money weekly, James Palmer is rapidly establishing himself as the sensible, front-running candidate for the mayorship.

6 May 2017

James Palmer won the mayorial election taking votes from UKIP, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

18 May 2017

If you have to take Labour's proposed extension of stamp duty to all financial transactions including derivatives out of the sums accompanying its manifesto then all the party's costings fall apart as the sum to be raised by this is so massive.

The problem, however, is that most of the trade in derivatives would move out of London if the tax were imposed and so there would be next to no tax to raise.

Government and central bank policy, which can continue from one party being in power to the next, has already torpedoed small builders' presence in the house building market and Labour's Tobin tax would do the same for the City of London's dominant position in derivatives in the time zone.

What is not being realised is that London's economy, especially, is based on transactions - securities trading, property deals, art auctions and so on - and the more friction you introduce for the trades, principally in terms of taxes but sometimes in terms of regulation or non-transparency of markets (e.g. estate agents conducting sealed bidding auctions) the more you risk pushing whole market segments over the hill and onto a downward slope.

I was in the City yesterday but
missed the Evening Standard being mischievious the day before the Conservatives' manifesto launch by suggesting the net inward migration target should be abandoned and wondering how the target could be achieved.

There is a way though: change the school education system so as to encourage all students to spend a year abroad at an early opportunity. (You can only encourage - the tiniest of travel grants might do it - then leave it to free choice. The spirit of the age is proving that for all their superior data gathering, governmental organisations do not know what is best for citizens). Since it is all about net inward migration (and students at universities already count towards totals), in the first year that school students automatically start to elect to take a year abroad after leaving school, the net migration figures could indeed fall to tens of thousands or go negative.

For post-Brexit, a deal could be arranged with the EU to allow some inward migration (e.g. workers to pick crops) to be balanced by British ex-school students working on the Continent.

We shall see - there will be time to get the figures down.

28 May 2017

So Amber Rudd has been chosen to speak in the leaders' debate in Cambridge next Wednesday.

She will make an excellent pro-consul for the job.

Fortunately, no Latin is required so we can safely leave that to Oxford and Boris.

Sometimes audiences can be skewed towards the 'progressive' but the BBC will scrupulously ensure fair play in the selection of questioners.

In fact, Cambridge is very receptive to good argument and has been hankering for someone to put the Conservative case robustly since Robert Rhodes James.

Milk and water arguments have been proven not to work. What Cambridge acknowledges is that it has benefited under the Tory government.

It never had a recession after the financial crisis, the rise in tuition fees has brought a surge of money to the universities, its tech sector is undersold and the muddled infrastructure planning advocated by the Liberal Democrats and tacked around by Labour is on the back foot with the election of James Palmer as the regional mayor.

The debate was held in the Senate House on 31 May.

5 June 2017

The Conservative manifesto was in practice costed in advance in the budget in the spring.

The Labour costings are looking increasingly as if they belong in dreamland. How can you raise £48 billion in taxes without putting the economy into recession? Few budgets raise taxes by more than £10 billion.

We agree with Theresa May. As she has previously indicated it is in the EU's interest to do a proper trade deal with the UK as much as it is in ours.

A bungled, weak negotiation conducted by Labour, reminiscent of New Labour declining to phase the commencement of migration from EU accession states over a longer timeframe, could tip both the EU and the UK into recession if it meant tariffs were introduced at a wrong juncture.

The UK economy might work its way out of the quandary within 2 or 3 years but not if it had been hit in advance by massive tax rises.

7 June 2017

Labour changes its home affairs spokesman one day before the election as Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May's final videos on Facebook and elsewhere chalk up cumulative views past the million mark in hours (very good for political videos in the UK).

Even before the election, Labour is descending into chaos as predicted as its new home affairs spokesman tries to learn on the job and says nothing. The contrast in competence is clear.

9 June 2017

A good result for the Conservatives in Scotland.

Northern Irish considerations look set to play a big part in Brexit negotiations.


An agreement has been concluded by the Conservative Party with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister can now command a majority in the House of Commons after the general election and will be going to Buckingham Palace at 12.30pm.

The signs from Brussels are that there is a willingness to conclude a Brexit deal with the UK government.

20 February 2019

With the defection of the South Cambridgshire MP today the consequences of selling milk and water social democracy as conservatism in Cambridgeshire come home to roost.

What possessed the selection committee to push forward a candidate who has been so unwilling to express Conservative principles over the past three years?

Conservatives in Cambridgeshire have been let down.

14 March 2019

There must surely be something wrong with Labour's proposal that all rental properties be given permanent security of tenure not least of which is that there must be a difference between normal homeowners and professional landlords. Placing a home in the market and never getting it back is draconian. That is why the controlled tenancy regime failed.

[There also needs to be an exemption for academic letting. Someone staying on a few months to complete a PhD should not confer permanent new rights].

The guaranteeing of housing association borrowing along the proposed Oxford-Cambridge arc by the Chancellor in his spring statement is a variant of the suggestion made here.



5 January 2017

Today's headline in London's Metro newspaper, National Health Scandal, is followed by a story that exemplifies what is wrong with England's National Health Service. It pays private companies to prevent patients getting the hospital appointments their doctors have referred them for. They are rationing patients' access to healthcare because the system holds a near monopoly.

There are two features of the NHS that it would be sad to lose: it is free at the point of use and treatment is relatively undiscriminatory.

The word relatively is necessary because of the rationing and (non-party political) administrative meddling in the delivery of healthcare.

The NHS is an imperial age creation and it behaves in an imperial age manner to its patients. It is the only OECD health system that spends a vast percentage of its resources rationing, managing, manipulating, badgering and telling its client base what to do rather than concentrating on meeting demand.

The existence of those two admirable features in no way authorises this.

In the globalised world you can no longer tell your client, customer, patient or passenger what to do. In a post-Brexit, more competitive environment this reality will be even more clearly apparent.

In the early 1980s many Middle East patients came to Harley Street for treatment. Then the word got around that it overcharged and was too keen on telling the patient what to do. The trade swiftly departed and has never returned. Its share of that market relative to the U.S. is very small.

There are too many people who join the NHS, especially in capacities auxillary to the medics, who relish acting as choke points, telling patients what to do in an old, imperial age manner.

It is organisational and attitudinal problems that make one fear for the future of the NHS.

You should be in no doubt that if you want to tell people what to do in 2017 you would do well to have them working in a contract of employment for you or be in a very restricted set of occupations like the police or border force.

The NHS cannot realistically provide such occupations.

This is because the problem ranges to funding. When the NHS is flush with cash it devises dubious public health initiatives, with the applause of the medical industries and with bonuses for GPs, relating to cholesterol, blood pressure, obesity and more which interfere in patients' lives and, as seriously, consume an incredible amount of doctors' time. (If these initiatives are necessary at all, farm them out 100% to other bodies like chemists).

When it is short of cash, instead of cutting down on managing patients, form filling and initiatives it devises more and more duties to offload onto patients rather than concentrating on meeting demand as it presents. So it appears always short of resources and the patients are seemingly always to blame for making demands on it, yet other OECD countries appear to meet demand without much difficulty.

After a while, given that Health gets a better settlement than other departments of state, it becomes unclear when genuine resource shortage is manifesting.

Returning to the issue raised by Metro it would be better if the administrative paraphenalia of rationing were dismantled. GPs should sign an authority for hospital investigation or treatment and the patient should go off and find a NHS facility that will treat him or her, probably in four-fifths of cases or similar with a little guidance from the GP. The facility should meet demand as it presents and occasionally tell patients that it is at capacity and they should find another facility (with a clearing house, perhaps, picking up those who can find nowhere). If severe capacity problems then present the society has a clear signal to increase funding.

The Health and Social Care Act was an overly complex piece of legislation but at least it did provide NHS facilities the opportunity to act independently to meet demand and develop expertise closer to the cutting edge.

By a collective failure of nerve, though, government somehow let Sir David Nicolson rebuild NHS England as a centralised fund-controlling body that dominates the landscape which it was not intended to be. NICE remains a body unaccountable to patients.

This is where we are or at least this is an alternative view to the orthodoxy.

The party political bit is this. The position of UKIP on the NHS is opaque. That of Labour has been transparent. Since 2010 is has never committed to a definitive sum for the NHS, especially not for hospitals. It 'owns' the NHS, having founded it in the fifties, and offering resounding words suffices. It is possible that it intended to restoke PFI if it had won in 2015. That of the Conservatives is clear. They promised more funds before the election and have delivered front loaded increases in funds in this parliament under both chancellors. Jeremy Hunt may yet turn out to be the best health secretary in two decades because of his concentration on patient safety and his insistence on a seven day NHS.


10 January 2017

Some say Brexit is the price that some are willing to pay for change. Whether this is so is not clear.

Certainly, Brexit without change will create tensions.

For a decade government policy on innovation has been wrong-headed.

Perhaps realising that it is not possible to discriminate against any EU company policy sought to channel the product of British innovation and science through to oligarchical companies (as a rule of thumb, one of the top five companies in any sector) with a business base in the U.K. (which included multinationals) using exclusive (in other words excluding other companies) commercial agreements.

This has been a dismal failure. Being administrative in outlook they have had next to no clue what to do with the science and innovation offered to them on a plate but have been grateful to government for assisting them in excluding competitors.

Spectacularly good science (which has been done in Britain over the last decade) has not found its way into the hands of those who are
driven to exploit it, who in the main are not its discoverers or oligarchical companies but challenger companies and entrepreneurial individuals.

Brexit offers an opportunity.

With no further anxieties about discriminating against EU companies, the product from government research establishments should be, in principle, made available to all U.K. registered companies and U.K. citizens, more often than not on a non-exclusive basis so that multiple challengers can test themselves in the marketplace using research they would not be able to pay for themselves.

Universities should also be encouraged to have a less grimly odd attitude to intellectual property.

Knowledge will continue to cross borders but that is how a networked society works.

Where industries have been powerful enough to fend off government encroachment - the City of London and media - innovation and its exploitation has been world class.

Since the referendum, Google, Facebook and Snapchat have all announced major investments in Britain. A subtext is, of course, that if they face challenges from the European Commission about monopoly or data flows in the future, the investments are outside the EU.

The absolute level of corporate taxation has clearly not been an issue - they could have located the investments in Ireland or Luxembourg, EU locations with lower corporate tax rates on offer.

Another sub-text is that they, too, may see themselves as able to keep government away from encroachment on their brand of innovation.

Regulation has a role but not picking winners. Administrators are not up to it. Change must come.


10 February 2017

The CEO of Apple has also since visited the Prime Minister and promised new major investment in London.

If a new business model is forced upon the U.K. after Brexit because of tariffs or a hamstrung City of London then going down a route that encourages digital enterprises and wealthy individuals to set up, arrive, remain or settle - a mix of California and Switzerland - is preferable to a low corporation tax jurisdiction like Ireland and would cost the Treasury less. Manufacturing is already benefiting from a short to medium term advantage that is greater than any future corporation tax cuts could deliver - a depreciation in sterling that discounts for some possible tariff reintroduction.


19 April 2017

So we are to have a general election on the 8th June. It is not entirely unexpected. The political logic was pointing that way. The Conservatives will be able to write a manifesto centred around what the Prime Minister wants to achieve.

Labour currently is a divided and divisive party. Its main paymaster union is without a leader. Both halves of the party have no credibility in policy formation. Half will retread the left wheels, the other half the right wheels and using a shared tin of whitewash will try to sell the Labour jalopy as a pristine car from the seventies with whitewall tyres.

The only consolation for Labour may be that its reliance on the first past the post electoral system keeping the Greens, UKIP and the Liberal Democrats as non-credible opposition parties could be justified.


3 May 2017

It seems improbable that the U.K's 'bill for Brexit' is likely to be anything approaching £60 billion.

If, for example, there has been a commitment to pay into the funds destined for the Common Agricultural Policy until 2020 there will also effectively be commitments to pay out to British farmers until 2020 - and Mrs Thatcher's great battles over a refund were all about the difference. So it should be with any 'forward refund'.

In practice, keeping the status quo on these payments until 2020 would make sense for the EU - there is a net flow to it and complicated administrative arrangements are avoided.

Some implications flow from this:

- there are likely to be transitional arrangements for this until 2020 or beyond;

- since the U.K. will be paying in more than it receives there is a positive balance in its favour in any supposed 'forward refund';

- it is demonstrated that any 'bill for Brexit' can at most be discussed in outline before Article 50, transitional arrangements and new trade deal talks begin substantively because they are all linked.

Were the U.K. to stay in the CAP in exchange for passporting rights for the City and continued tariff free trade, my multilateral negotiating experience suggests a lot of people would be satisfied.

No country is going to be encouraged to leave the EU or the opposite by Britain's experience of Brexit.

For negotiations on the rights of citizens both in the U.K. and on the Continent post-Brexit and on Irish border questions there is little reason for these not to commence well in advance of talks on money and trade.


11 June 2017

David Cameron (a good PM) made a mistake in calling the referendum in 2016.

Whatever had been promised in the 2015 manifesto, he should have held the referendum in late 2018 or 2019.

This is about political judgement in survival.

Nobody minds a promise being delivered a little late provided it is delivered.

Following a referendum, whatever the outcome, he could then have stepped down, especially as he had announced an intention to go into private life. The Tory Party would have had time to elect a new leader, who would have had to decide how to handle the referendum result, and had time to do so, before going to the polls in 2020 to confirm his plans for how it should be tackled.

When French or German or other EU elections are held should have been largely irrelevant to the UK trajectory and should remain so. The EU, too, will deal with the UK government it gets.

Theresa May has been brave to bring forward part of this scenario - mainly a reconfirmation of a negotiating mandate to supplement the referendum result. Holding anything over 50 seats clear of the next largest party, she has that.

Part of the neoliberal consensus has to go but 2017 may mark peak polling socialism just as 2016 marked peak polling UKIP. Both phenomena may have been protests against neoliberalism.

Likewise, the single line promise to repeal the fixed term parliaments act (an act, on balance, I should like to see go) should not be given effect to until 2021 except in the case of Theresa May wishing to call an election before then.


29 September 2017

I am not as greatly bothered about the Single Market as many in the political parties are. To export into the EU, British product manufacturers will have to comply with European standards, in all events, and Britain will continue to participate in the writing of European standards as it has done since well before 1992.

There is no appetite for separate British standards. British product standards are aligned with the European. So, as a mundane example, the diameters of pipes permitted for use for British drainage are the same as those permitted on the other side of the Channel. Last time I checked (a long time ago), those in America were not aligned with those in Britain. Since you cannot have imperial and metric pipes effortlessly connect together any new trade deal between America and Britain on these would have to be on the basis of mutual recognition - in practice so that neither imperial nor metric pipes are legally excluded from either market by non-tariff barriers. Since Britain is not going back to a non-metric system, in the real world the status quo is not going to change much following a withdrawal from the Single Market. This holds true in all sorts of areas.

It is true that Britain will have very marginal influence on the production of future Directives and Regulations that may mandate future standards but the acquis is very large and trade customs for products are slow to change.

Where divergence may come first may be in new areas of the wider digital economy.

What I am more bothered about is the re-introduction of tariffs, customs controls for goods or any limitation on the free trading of services - all would be of little benefit to the EU or Britain.

Withdrawal from areas like the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy might not please everyone but non-permanent accommodations could be reached.

On free movement it could be argued that the future restrictions should only be on movement to work. Most other areas of free movement produce net outward migration from Britain or very evident benefits to Britain. University students, for instance, generate income for universities and would be, in this scenario, subject to the restrictions on working. Legal control of borders would have been repatriated.

Though I have never encountered a problem with the European Court of Justice, it would detract from sovereignity for it to have any supremacy in the U.K. after Brexit.


17 November 2017

The reason why Britain is not suited to ultra-high speed rail lines is the same reason why semi-autonomous roadtrains are at present a misconceived project for our motorways: the terrain is sinuous, frequently hilly and already cluttered with settlements.

So long, straight lines, with few stops, on which these would function best are extremely difficult to build, especially to budget.

Most of the time you want multiple stops and exits because the people and goods need to go somewhere.

Britain has had its own history of hastily conceived civil engineering projects that had no prospect of being executed because the technology was always absent, e.g. the west coast tilting train, or because the cost would be prohibitive, e.g. a full fleet of large nuclear power stations (a single large one keeps the nuclear expertise going).

HS2 is a bit of a borderline project.

It does link the north and the south and does increase capacity. It is also a halo project that keeps expertise alive, like Hinkley Point.

On the other hand, the speed it has to attain means that there can be few stops. A vast amount of energy is expended speeding up or slowing down a train seeking to reach 250mph so you cannot interrupt progress often with stops which means all the intermediate towns nearby on the route do not get served by it.

Due to air resistance, a long, laded train travelling at 250mph uses greatly more peak energy - the output of a small power station - than a similar length train travelling at 150mph. So the way not to goldplate the project and push up costs is not to fall for the siren voices touting maximum speeds.

HS3 conceptualisation needs to be advanced. Ideally it should have gone before HS2 because of the economic imperatives. HS3 really need not have trains that travel above 150mph, needs to be able to stop in more places and can operate shorter trains.

After that, the north-south Crossrail 2 is a priority, with a cross link between Heathrow and Gatwick, running through Wimbledon, should Gatwick ever build a second runway. The trains really need not run at more than 120mph.

A view on an Oxford-Cambridge rail line has been developed but is not going into the public domain.

With HS3, Crossrail 2 and Heathrow-Gatwick there is clear potential to build new settlements or industrial facilities along their routes where the tracks run in open country. Greater borrowing powers for local authorities along their routes to co-finance more housing association provision of rental homes might be a good idea.