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Winning the Sweepstakes

Social Authoritarianism

Less Inequality

Piketty and the Polar Bear

TUC Blues



The New Year starts with opinion polls showing David Cameron the most trusted party leader on the NHS and the economy.

Labour have spent 2014 dealing only in headline numbers and ideological statements on both and have shown no in depth knowledge of how to manage either if returned to power.


15 February 2015

Freezing energy prices just as forward contracts are about to expire (which would lead to falls in prices for consumers in the summer)? Will Labour's dead hand on the tiller of the ship of state even feel the cold?


19 February 2015

The Cambridge University Technology and Enterprise Club hosted a well attended talk by Demis Hassabis whose company Deep Mind, specialising in artificial general intelligence, was recently sold to Google for £400m.

An interesting aspect was that Mr Hassabis largely acknowledged he was a generalist not a specialist entrepreneur, being a computer scientist, a neuroscientist, a veteran games developer and much more. Though with long corporate experience when he set up Deep Mind in 2011 it was not done primarily with making money in view but to solve the problem of intelligence (what intelligence is) and then letting everything else follow.

Only some specialist entrepreneurs have such ambitious goals.

He suggested the culture needed to change in Britain. British venture capital typically targets 10 times - or 10x - return over a few years. Some of his U.S. based backers typically think in terms of 1000x return but possibly maturing over a timescale of decades. The irony is that Deep Mind has delivered a 10x return without even targeting it. The company, however, continues to pursue its long term goals under new ownership.

Another long term thinker was Sir John Bradfield, former bursar of Trinity College. He quite probably delivered a 100x return for the College when he purchased land around the docks at Felixstowe 40 or more years ago to see it become the largest container port in Europe and remain so for many years.

45 years ago he turned the College farm on the edge of Cambridge into Britain's first science park and it is probably, to this day, the most successful one in Europe.

Another visitor to Cambridge earlier in the day was David Cameron who visited the Science Park on the way to Felixstowe to launch the long term economic plan.

In a joint venture between government and the College a new 1.25 acre technology centre will be built on the Park, named after Sir John Bradfield, whose path crossed decades of Trinity students.

Covering 152 acres it is home to 90 companies. The Prime Minister announced this exciting new forthcoming addition to the numerous buildings, some regarded as architecturally inspiring, on the site.

As the College's own press release says:

The College was an early promoter of technology transfer to industry with the development of the Cambridge Science Park, which is now occupied by more than 90 companies with some 5,000 employees. The College would like to do more to translate Cambridge research into companies and products; particularly in the very early stage companies. It is known that science incubators can help in these early stages, in particular by providing teams and start-up companies with flexible and affordable space, education, mentoring and finance. It is expected that these companies will thrive in the self-sustaining entrepreneurial culture of the new Centre and the Science Park.

Government agencies can be a bit short sighted at times and finance too keen to get an early return. If the long term fostering of ideas that is a hallmark of the College is allowed to take hold within the new centre when it is built, it is going to be a much used facility.


12 March 2015

The visit of the Prime Minister to Cambridge was followed up yesterday by a visit by Greg Clark, Minister for Science, Universities and Cities, who gave a well received talk in the Winstanley Hall to students about the government's city deals, notably for Liverpool and Manchester. In questions, he also briefly touched on science, clusters, the Catapults and university education including the extension of loans to graduate students.

The deals are leading to city mayors with enhanced powers over how to spend funds and a raised profile for local politicians.

The intention is to extend these deals to other geographical regions, not just cities, to reduce centralisation, encourage individual enterprise and increase the number of long term initiatives originating outside London.

[18 March 2015 A city deal already exists for Cambridge and the Chancellor of Exchequer, George Osborne, today announces a 100% business rate deal for Cambridge and the surrounding area. A new city deal is announced for the region of West Yorkshire and one is in prospect for the city of Glasgow.]


31 March 2015

Part of a string coming off Warren Hill, Newmarket

I remember living for the first time in Newmarket in the eighties. Coming off the train I'd sometimes hear the the bloodstock auctions going on in the nearby Tattersalls sales ring and so I'd pop in and watch the sales. It was an exciting time. Sheiks and princes were putting money big time into bloodstock and as often as not were competing against the Sangster empire for the very best.

If you were lucky you'd see a million or more paid for a yearling.

I waited for such heady times to return but they never quite did.

Except that this year people are back paying a million or more for a yearling. After a horrible two years or so the bloodstock industry is back in relatively good shape.

As the Prime Minister recently pointed out, racing is a £3 billion industry and employs about 100,000 people. Racing is the country's second largest sport after football.

Photo: Cambridge News. David Cameron on Warren Hill supporting the racing industry, 20 February 2015

Something that sometimes goes unremarked is that racing provides an interesting start in life to thousands of people and without the need for specific academic qualifications.

This, though, is because racing is a free market. You could not really create such jobs by government diktat.

The majority of people who work in the industry are local to racing communities but you can also up sticks and work in these communities if you have the right skills with horses.

With the election campaign underway one has to put Labour's fondness for projecting headline numbers into the future - as if they were able to deliver them - under scrutiny.

80,000 more apprentices. Yes, but which companies exist in the places of demand to offer this many?

8,000 more GPs. Yes, but from which countries? The pay is good but they don't like centralised state control and regimenting their patients on behalf of the state.

20,000 more nurses. Yes, but it appears they will not be working in hospitals under Labour's ill thought out new reorganisation because funds are going to be taken away from hospitals. Chaos or competence?


21 April 2015

Harold Wilson famously said that the pound in your pocket isn't going to be devalued so now you can get A Voyage, Tony Blair's autobiography, discounted in Poundland as the chronicle of a party that showed all the fraternity when last in office of the crew of the steamer in Conrad's Typhoon.

What is being missed in this election is notice that if Labour emerges as one of the parties of government the ship of state is going to be beached by a return to serious factionalism.

Even with a 'not quite a coalition' in place with the Lib-Lab pact, the viciousness of the Bennite campaign against Callaghan in the seventies was a wonder to behold.

Add to this the fate of its One Nation slogan, shot down by the SNP's popularity in Scotland, energy companies holding off reducing prices because Labour would freeze them at the existing higher level, Labour's arguments on the NHS demonstrated to be spurious even in left-leaning newspapers, the 'cost-of-living crisis' line hardly supported by zero inflation, record employment under David Cameron, praise for the present government's economic policy from the IMF and Labour's ideological mantras are looking distinctly wooden.


25 April 2015

Markets work best when the participants set the prices not advisers or government frameworks. Governments are there to ensure fair competition.

Buy your oranges and grapefruit in Harrods Food Hall and you may pay twice what you pay in supermarkets.

Buy them from a market stall and you might get them at one third of the price of the supermarket but only in the last half hour of trading.

In securities markets many trades are priced to catch a peak or a low not yet reached. Wait long enough and the market often clears at the levels sought.

One of the principal reasons why more houses from the existing stock are not on the market at any one time is that estate agents try to stop sellers pricing their own property. Sellers, if they would like to stay in the locality, may know the price their property must clear at to buy another one. Like the securities trader, if they do not get the price they may see no need to sell.

Lazy agents, wanting the 'product' of a six week turnaround , interfere in the process - sometimes pricing down then running an auction themselves, giving themselves immense power at the expense of market participants. It is much healthier to let some properties stay on the market a long time because then buyers have much more stock to compare. Needless to say, this market works less efficiently than the securities markets.

Labour's ever changing proposals to freeze energy prices were fraught with problems but not an election loser.

Their package of proposals announced today to control the residential rental market is an election loser - this one or the next - because the detail is too flawed and unnecessary.

Why would you want a compulsory three-year agreement in a university town, for instance? Ten months is ideal, twelve acceptable.

In London, three years might be superficially desirable but what happens if you lose your job after 18 months? A three year term binds both parties so how is the last 18 months going to be managed within the terms of the lease? In a city where so many are temporary residents from abroad, people are going to skip back abroad to escape paying. So is the general level of rents to go up to cover this risk?....and so it goes on.


2 May 2015

One week from the general election in Britain and the newspapers have begun to make their endorsements.

The Sun backs the Conservatives but its Scottish edition backs the Scottish National Party. The FT would like to see another Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition.

The left-leaning Guardian has moved away from support of the Liberal Democrats, whose record in government it does not criticise, to less than fulsome support for Labour.

Yet its lengthy editorial contains a hungry dog that does not bark - not a single word of mention of the NHS.

Since 2004, in other words for over a decade, the NHS has been Labour's most spectacular failure - for five years in government, five years in opposition and in the general election campaign.

The situation is analogous to Labour in Scotland. Labour believed it owned both Scotland and the NHS - because of a glorious history - and so could substitute spin for offering substance.

Say to all that Labour is on the side of the Scottish worker or that the NHS is wonderful and that will suffice.

From around 2004 Labour moved away from offering reform and money to the NHS to tendering spin and an acceleration of PFI deals. Andy Burnham's interview with Kirsty Wark on the subject during the 2015 election campaign was a car crash.

At the last election, Labour's manifesto was containing a promise to reduce funding to the NHS. Glowing 'satisfaction with the NHS' reports were sufficient whilst bad news was ruthlessly suppressed.

Sift through Labour's statements in the run-up to the 2015 election and it is apparent that it intends to reduce finance to hospitals.

The governing parties, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, have both stepped up to the plate to finance hospital improvement by promising £8 billion extra for the NHS as a whole over the next five years.

Labour's offer does not fill the funding gap and postulates new recruitment that is unachievable in the timescale of one parliament and a reorganisation that will send the bill sky high.

Labour spin in government obscured the emergence of the Mid-Staffs safety of patients scandal and multiple other cases of disregard of the safety of patients.

The Conservatives have shown particular bravery on the safety agenda and the result is a better NHS than they inherited.

Labour has failed to know or understand what the restrictive practices in the NHS are, let alone tackle them.

Two months ago the NHS had a Change Day - a day when staff each sought an area in which they could change to improve the service to patients.

In radio interviews, though, all that was heard, from the BMA down, were statements trying to impose further duties on the government and patients.

Getting the government to do what is asked and patients to do what they are told is not a way forward for the NHS.

There are fundamental reasons why the NHS is underperforming organisationally compared with other health systems and centralisation will not solve the problems.

A policy of government having superior data to others cannot solve them.

Labour wasted £12 billion on failed NHS IT systems, a waste well in excess of that caused by any policy errors by the Coalition. Most informed people breathe a sigh of relief that Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts have gone and that their absence has produced net savings and a less oppressive tone in the NHS.

Labour is not electable on its promises.

Its plans for the future of the NHS are not credible.