Super Lorries

Errm, has anyone actually thought this through?

Superlorries weighing 60 tonnes and measuring 80 feet in length could soon be hitting the roads as part of Government plans to cut down on costs and carbon emissions.

Every time we\’ve had an increase in the allowable weight of lorries on UK roads imposed upon us by the EU (and all previous ones have been, whether this one is I don\’t know)  we\’ve had arguments about the costs of upgrading the bridge and road network to cate to them. It slightly worries me that there is no mention of such costs here.

Oooh, Lovely, a Donations Scandal!

Now isn\’t this interesting?

The Electoral Commission has asked Labour to explain how David Abrahams was able to give almost £400,000 to the party without his name appearing on its register of donors as the law requires.

Mr Abrahams, a property developer, has admitted covertly donating money to Labour by giving it to two of his employees who then passed it the party.

Disclosure laws say anyone donating money to a party on behalf of someone else must declare that person\’s identity at the time.

Well, of course, it\’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, isn\’t it? So this £400,000 will in fact be forfeit to The Crown (in the form of the Treasury) just as that donation to UKIP was because the donor was not on the electoral register. Won\’t it….I mean of course it will. Who could doubt that there is a level playing field?

Mr Abrahams, the son of a former Lord Mayor of Newcastle, is a well-known figure in Labour circles, and attended Tony Blair\’s farewell speech in Sedgefield when he stepped down as Prime Minister in June.

He says he made the donations to Labour via Mr Ruddock and Ms Kidd because he did not want to attract publicity.

He said: "I\’m a member of the Labour Party and have been for about 40 years; since I was 15.

"I have always been fortunate enough to be able to make substantial donations to several charitable organisations as well as to the Labour Party for a number of years.

"But I am a very private person and I did not want to seek publicity.

"I gifted money to my friends and colleagues so they could make perfectly legal donations on my behalf.

"Donors to the Labour Party get a lot of publicity and I did not want that.\’"

Gifted Mr. Abrahams? Gifted did I hear you say? And I do hope that the appropriate gift taxes were declared and paid upon these transfers? As we all know, you\’re allowed to make gifts of up to £2,500 a year to a specific person, above that amount there\’s a suspicion that you might be avoiding inheritance tax as and when the time comes. So such gifts need to be registered (don\’t they?) so that the appropriate taper relief can be applied as and when you keel over.*

We wouldn\’t want to find out that you were in breach of tax law as well as that upon political donations now, would we?

*This probably isn\’t correct in detail but it is broadly. Any tax experts out there like to comment?

He May be a Lobbyist But…

He\’s right here

Her one-time transport adviser, Rod Eddington, says that “to seek artificially to constrain the natural growth of air travel, once carbon pricing is fully in place, would pose a significant cost to the UK economy”.

This is the very point of carbon pricing. Once people are paying the external costs of their actions then you need do nothing more. We end up with the socially optimal level of emissions. That\’s actually the point, it\’s a feature, not a bug.

Harsh, Perhaps, But Fair

“It was surreal – and never more so than when the police liaison officer told me that there was no question of a manslaughter charge because the law is not about consequences but about intent.”

Well quite.

What in hell does anyone think it\’s supposed to be about?

What the EU is Really About

This is really rather fabulous. How the EU really works:

One of the problems with the European parliament is that it is not quite a parliament at all. Its members have no powers to introduce legislation; that is the function of the European Commission – the executive of 27 unelected grandees, one nominated by each European government (ours, a nice parting gift from Blair to Brown, is Peter Mandelson). MEPs only have limited powers to amend or block legislation in consultation with the Council of Ministers, drawn from the national governments of each member state. Beyond controlling budgets the the parliament – the only directly elected European body – concerns itself largely with talking and hoping that the commissioners, and their 16,000 civil servants, are listening.

There are, it quickly becomes clear, in my lonely press box, several structural reasons why the latter is problematic. MEPs\’ speeches are rationed according to the relative size of each of the parliament\’s 10 party groupings. Speakers are generally granted a precise minute, or a minute and a half to hold the floor. This timing is projected, in Countdown-conundrum fashion, on a pair of big screens at the front of the chamber, and policed by a chairperson with an absence of humour and a gavel. There are various strategies for expanding your minute: some MEPs try to talk very fast and cram all their thoughts in one deep Slovakian breath; others, rebels, ignore the clock and talk for a maverick 67 seconds. Most, though – unloved politicians who have scraped through national ballots with 20 per cent turnouts – carefully fill the time with platitudes in the understanding that no one is paying attention (except, on this occasion, unfortunately, me). Their role is to be mock politicians in a mock debate, providing the European executive with a semblance of direct representation. The result, through headphones, is a repetitive, intangible stream of euro-consciousness; it is only when a speaker addresses the chamber in English, 20 minutes in, that I understand nothing is being lost in translation, and my heart properly sinks.

The debate is concerned with the consequences of globalisation, which, delegate after delegate agrees, is a big issue to which Europe must face up. Many believed that this facing up was urgent. Some thought it was vital. Others argued it was critical. At one point Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck ventured the opinion that Europe perhaps needed to \’help Africa develop economically\’, (polite applause), but regrettably did not have time to venture how this might be done; Ryszard Czarnecki similarly wondered if peace could not be promoted in South East Asia, (much nodding), while Sophie In \’t Veld called for \’better legislation for women\’ (who could argue?). The big screens displayed a rolling list of the next three speakers, like a book of the dead, and in this way perhaps the longest two hours and 20 minutes of my life passed in measured increments. There were several rhetorical devices that the format mitigated against: personal anecdotes, specific examples, jokes, argument, passion, anger, thought. In their absence I couldn\’t help feeling the debate lacked a spark. Eventually, the relevant commissioner, Margot Wallstrom, rose to release those present from their shared torment. \’We have this morning created a clear focus for the Lisbon Agenda,\’ she suggested. No one laughed.

As Wallstrom talked, the majority of MEPs were coming into the chamber for compulsory voting and their tide of chat inundated her summing up. Wallstrom was caught between the rock of having to shout (very un-European) and the hard place of having nothing at all to say. When she finally sat down the speaker thanked her for her \’courage\’ in the face of overwhelming indifference.

Go read the rest.

Not Sure About This

Here\’s the claim:

From the student ghettos of cities such as Birmingham to the new flats strewn along the quays of our Victorian docklands, a record share of UK housing stock is now owned by small private landlords indulging in the middle-class pastime of "buying to let".

Here\’s some numbers:

Table 6: Historical Owner Occupation Rates  
  1953 1981 1991 2001
All households 32% 43% 66% 70%
Over 65\’s n.a. 51% 58% 73%
      Source: ONS

It would appear that the rental market is still a great deal smaller than it was, historically. Now, it\’s possible that that 1953 number ( ie, 100% minus 32% owner occupied: 68%) was entirely State or council housing, but I\’m pretty sure it wasn\’t. While there was council housing from the turn of the century or so, and more after WWI, the great boom in it came after WWII I think. I\’m almost certain that the vast majority of that rental housing was in fact private landlords.

What killed that market was the imposition of rental control (not just pricing and "fair rents" but the whole tenancy arrangement ws grossly weighted in favour of the tenant). That was really only lifted in the early 80s, under Maggie: before that as a private landlord you really didn\’t have all that many rights over your property.

I agree that the numbers of private landlords are higher than they have been for many decades but this is not historically unprecedented, we\’re actually moving back to a world we\’ve seen before. One with a thriving (well, I agree there\’s a blip or two at present) private rental market, alongside social housing and owner occupation.  An older model, one that was killed off by an ideological hatred of the private landlord in the post war years.

Health Tourism

This is going to open something of a can of worms:

Britons travelling abroad for health care, ranging from dental work to open heart surgery, will have their treatment funded by the NHS.

They will simply have to pay their travel and accommodation costs, plus any top-up fees if charges in the foreign hospital are higher than NHS costs.

Because, of course, any such rights in the EU apply to everyone.

The plans say that patients should not be given drugs or treatments that their own state system does not fund, and that where there are waiting lists, domestic patients should have priority over foreign patients. Beyond that, EU residents would be free to travel for non-emergency care in any of its 27 countries.

But I would assume that it would be only people who would be eligible in the home country for care who would be eligible in another for care. And it isn\’t true that all EU health care systems are in fact universal ones, not at all. Look at the withdrawal of French health care from early retirees for example (I think the reason is that they\’re not of an age to get pensioners\’ care an also have no income which is subject to the health care tax).

So the first necessity will be for each and every hospital in the EU to become expert in the eligibility standards of 27 different health care systems. Plus, of course, in the treatments and drugs available. So an English woman treated in France for breast cancer would be denied Herceptin, as she would at home, while a Scot or French one, in the same hospital, under the same oncologist, might get it.

That\’s going to be fun, isn\’t it?

 

The Peter Principle

A note for Matthew Parris:

At the highest levels of our City and business world, it is not uncommon for chief executives to be appointed then dropped within a matter of months. The same goes for sport, as Steve McClaren can testify. Leadership is all about chemistry, and sometimes the chemistry just doesn\’t work. “It didn\’t gel,” can be an honest explanation beyond which it may be pointless to go.

Why should politics be different? After a dreadful week, following a dreadful month, crowning a disappointing season, Britain should be mulling over a very simple possibility: that the Prime Minister isn\’t up to the job. In the cliché of management consultancy, Gordon Brown is finding his new post more challenging than had been expected, and it may soon be time to draw a line, let him go, and move on.

There\’s a name for this. Called The Peter Principle, after Laurence J Peters who first enunciated it. Formally, it runs like this:

Everyone is promoted to their own level of incompetence.

Nothing surprising about it, nothing odd about it. People are promoted up hierarchies because they do a good job at a lower level. But doing a good job at a lower level is no assurance that the higher level tasks will also be well undertaken. And you only find out about a person\’s level of incompetence, about their inability to undertake the higher level tasks, when they have been promoted above their level of competence.

Of course, I insist that every politician is above their level of competence: what they attempt to do in micro-managing us all is not actually achievable by any group of human beings, but that\’s another matter.

But within Parris\’ argument, is Brown above his Peter Point?

The Carbon Trust

So, this is another body that seems to be not fit for purpose:

Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO, said in the report that the Carbon Trust’s achievement of cutting emissions by up to two million tonnes this year was commendable but was a small one in view of the scale of the challenge ahead.

Mmmmm. 2 million tonnes a year, eh?

The Carbon Trust was created in 2001 as a private company intended to accelerate the adoption of energy efficient technology and the development of a low-carbon economy. It received more than £103 million of public funds in 2006/07.

At a cost of £103 million a year. Hmmm.

So that\’s over £50 a tonne, or some $100 a tonne CO2. Estimates of the social or environmental cost of marginal CO2 emissions range from $2.50 to $85 per tonne. So we\’re spending more to curb emissions than the emissions cost us, making us poorer.

Aren\’t we lucky to have people at the heart of Government dealing with climate change for us?

Neal Lawson And Your Money

Startling:

First, Labour must start to make the case that you can\’t have public services on the cheap. You can\’t outsource core function, your can\’t fragment through commercialisation and you can\’t do everything with light-touch regulation. Instead, the government must invest over the long term with well-paid and well-motivated civil servants and public service workers who are sufficient in numbers, motivated, properly managed and held to account. In part, that is the government\’s fault for not making the case for public spending, but it\’s also our fault for thinking we can pay less tax and get better services.

Getting on for £600 billion (Ta DK) isn\’t enough? Nearly 45% of everything produced in the country isn\’t enough?

Get a grip man!