Left at Temple Meads

Informing through the web

How Much Do You Know About The Deficit?

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Arguably the defining context for the Coalition is The Deficit. I say arguably because I believe the sub context of Reducing the State will have a far the bigger impact in future years. Anyway I digress.

If The Deficit is the defining context how much do we know about it?

One of the ‘joys’ of politics is politicians taking complex issues and trying to distil them into simple emotionally based tag lines. Things like ‘Benefit Claimants are all scroungers’, ‘Every young person who wears a hoody is a thug’ you know the sort of thing I mean. For issues as complex as The Deficit you need to distil it to a concept that can be easily understood by the ignorant masses. Of course the one beloved of Coalition politicians is the good old family budget. You know.. If the family is in debt it has to tighten it’s belt etc.

So lets get away from the simple sound bite and compare The Deficit to The Family Budget.

There are two determinants to family debt problems:

  1. The size of the debt
  2. The income to support the debt

You get a debt problem if the ratio of the debt to income becomes unmanageable. The higher the ratio of debt to income the bigger the problem.

The average size of household debt in the UK is around £60,000, the average Gross Domestic Household Income (GDHI) is £30,000 (figures are rounded and sources are below).

The Deficit is £1,000,400 billion and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is £1,403,000 billion.

Therefore the debt ratio for the family is 200% of income. For the country it is 71.3%. So the average family debt problem is almost 3 times worse than The Deficit!

What is the average family’s response to this huge problem? Are they forcing their workshy children to dig ditches for a £1 an hour? Are they slashing their spending amid cries of ‘we have to reduce our debt right now before we are declared bankrupt like that nice Greek family down the road!’. Of course not. ( Incidentally if we reacted proportionally as families in the same way as the Coalition has to it’s debt, economic growth and with it the capitalist system would collapse.)

I am aware that at this point I could be accused of being a deficit denier. That is not my point.  My point is twofold. Firstly to compare national macro economic policy to family finance is deliberately misleading the public. My second is that the Coalition are desperate to talk up The Deficit so that the public are blinded to the sub context of Reducing the State more effectively than Margaret Thatcher could ever have dreamed of.

<http://www.walletpop.co.uk/2010/05/05/personal-debt-rises-again-now-at-1-460-billion/>  Family Debt

<http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=277 UK  Deficit and GDP

<http://www.statistics.gov.uk/CCI/nugget.asp?ID=1552&Pos=1&ColRank=2&Rank=1000 GDHI


Written by terryrobc

November 13, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Influence on the Coalition:The Lib Dem View

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One of the constant refrains of the 9%ers (that’s the Lib Dems) is that their presence in the coalition is holding back the Conservatives from being even more evil. They are also at the same time, apparently,  forcing the Tories to take on some of their top policies. But is their any evidence that this is the case?

I present exhibit A (don’t worry there are not going to be any others). An article from Lib Dem Voice.

In it the Lib Dems concede that they have had to compromise on the following:

  • The speed of dealing with the deficit. Which means a regressive budget followed by a regressive spending review / budget. Slashing welfare payments, decimating housing benefits, hiking VAT to 20% amongst other attacks on the poor and working families.
  • Accepting the ‘broad thrust of the Brown Report’ on University tuition fees.  Which means that they have broken their promise to many voters particularly in Bristol West, slashed spending on University teaching by 30%, taken a huge stride to stop those from poorer families attending top universities by putting a £9K barrier in front of them.
  • The ‘Green Lighting’ of Nuclear Power. Again betraying all those Green voters who opted for the Lib Dems because of their Green credentials

I think that most will admit that those are significant concessions that the rank and file 9%ers find quite difficult. So what have they got in return? Well in the category of policies that the 9%ers have imposed on the Tories which the Tories don’t like are:

  • ‘A reformed House of Lords elected by PR. Although this was also a Tory manifesto promise it was not a first term priority. Use of proportional representation is also a LibDem win.
  • No British Bill of Rights of the kind that might have stopped votes for prisoners.
  • No repatriation of powers from the EU.
  • Suspension of all major family policy initiatives including long-grassing of the introduction of a tax allowance for marriage.
  • A delay to Trident renewal until after the next General Election.
  • Greater use of community sentences, less use of prison.
  • Higher rates of Capital Gains Tax.
  • Yesterday’s referral of NewsCorp’s takeover of BSkyB to OfCom’

So picture it. You are married with two kids living in a 3 bed social housing house, you have been made unemployed from your low paid council job and struggling to find a new one.  You are now faced with a rent rise to 80% of commercial rent, which is about a 100% increase and you will have 30% less in housing benefit. But at least you can go to sleep at night knowing that at least the 9%ers have given prisoners the vote.

Or perhaps you are bright post 16 student, who has just lost you EMA, who has been told by your parents that they can’t afford for you to go for one of the greatly reduced university places because they can’t afford it. At least you can be consoled by the fact that, thanks to the 9%ers, the decision on the renewal of Trident won’t be made until after the next election.

It makes me want to weep!

Written by terryrobc

November 6, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Posted in ConDem

Lies, Damn Lies and Lib Dem Speeches. – or Shirley Brown Part 3

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Always beware, as my misquote of Disraeli indicates, of politicians using statistics. A case in point is a speech made by Lib Dem Cllr Comer at the last Council Meeting.
Let me set the context. The Tories put forward a motion about ‘unreasonable absence’ by councillors. This has been based in recent examples of councillors no longer being available to their constituents either by being ‘at Her Majesties pleasure’ or having moved out of the country for extended periods. This would, in the past, have caught a Lib Dem and a Labour member in it’s net. It could also be interpreted as an attempt to hook Ashley Councillor Shirley Brown (nee Marshall). Who, it is alleged, has resided extensively in the USA since her marriage.
Back to Cllr Comers speech. He produced a table that showed all those who had missed committee meetings during the year. He wasn’t naming names but the table did show that the top three absentees were not members of the Lib Dems. This table proved that the attacks on Shirley ‘gave a false picture’ and  ‘the reality of the statistics’ corrected these false assumptions and ensured that ‘different standards’ were not being applied to members i.e. Shirley.
I must confess the contents of the table did surprise me. I had fully expected Shirley to be top of the non attendee list. So I did some digging.
Firstly his definition; he includes only committee meetings, not full council. He includes those meetings where a councillor has sent a substitute, a usual practice when a councillor is ill. So if a councillor is ill for an extended period,  which has happened to a Tory and a couple of Labour members, they would be near the top of Cllr Comers list.
Now lets look at Shirley and see if ‘different standards’ have been applied to her and if the ‘reality of the statistics’ corrects any ‘false picture’ of her attendance.
Firstly I can confirm that Shirley’s attendance at committee meeting is 100%.  That is because she does not belong to a single committee– not one – zero.
So the Lib Dems have attempted to spin the facts about a Councillor who they have kinivied to allow to take no part in council matters, whose attendance at full council is the worst on the city and has been unavailable to her constituents for months on end, into an attack on the attendance of sick Labour and Tory members. It’s almost brilliant! But oh so typical of those nice cuddly Liberal Democrats.

Written by terryrobc

April 15, 2009 at 8:23 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Here’s Johnny .. The Return of John Kiely??

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the_shining_heres_johnnyI see that John Kiely – erstwhile slayer of all things not Lib Dem and chief annoyer of Lord Mayors and his own party leader – is attempting a return to Bristol politics. Those of you who are lucky enough to live in Easton will make the decision for us as he stands in the place of the retiring Abdul Malik.
One of the things that confuse me about John – and there are many – is why now?
Having been selected as Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Filton and Bradley Stoke (FABS) I would have thought all his efforts would have been focused on winning that seat either later this year or by mid next. According to the House of Parliament Library FABs is the 3rd closest three way marginal in England (based on 2005 figures, amended for boundary changes, the seat is split 35.5% Con, 33.9% Lab and 28.4% Lib Dem). So it is a very winnable seat for the Lib Dems (particularly bearing in mind that the Tory candidate couldn’t even get himself elected onto the local council a couple of years ago). So why is John standing in Easton again at this time?
I must say this is a dream for the opposition parties in both Easton and FABs. John now finds himself in a double bind. In Easton we will attack him for being at best a part time councillor who actually would rather be in Westminster and could well desert his ward in less than a year. In FABS we will paint him as a part time candidate whose heart is not really in the area and has already given up any chance of winning the seat for the Lib Dems. It is very difficult to see how he can defend against either of these claims without upsetting the other electorate.
Not the move, you would have thought, of a smart political operator. Of course John has previous on this. He is the executive member who allowed the politically contentious issue of the privitisation of health care to come to fruition just before an election. Then had the poor judgment to let it become the defining issue of that election and of course lost his seat.
John is nothing if not a street fighter, and he is actually a nicer guy than he appears, but he really has got his work cut out with both campaigns because of this strange decision.

Written by terryrobc

March 18, 2009 at 7:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Better Longer Sex with Labour

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On Saturday I ran a workshop with Labour Councillors, candidates and activists with the aim of finding pledges we could use in Bristol for the elections in June. To try and get some radical thinking I told the assembled groups to think up pledges we could use, but not to be restrained by any barriers. They then had to present their pledges as a headline in the Sun. The very first group called to give their headlines consisted of one of our local MPs, a constituency chair – who I know is a very proud grandmother – and two other members who shall we say are on the wrong end of middle age. Of course you now know what their headline pledge was because it is the title of this blog. I did ask for radical.
Now I ask myself a question; is longer always better?
Earlier this evening I attended the very first cabinet meeting of the new Liberal Democrat administration in Bristol. The meeting the Labour administration had set up had 6 items on it. This one had 3. The meeting (excluding public questions) lasted 14 minutes. This time was evenly split between 1 executive introducing the item and the leader of the council and 1 other exec member asking officers questions about the report. I can only assume that the leader had not had time to read the papers before the meeting or maybe she thought she was still in scrutiny. The entire contribution of four of the new executive members was to say ‘agreed’ three times. All of this webcast live for the adoring Bristol public. This from an administration that keeps stating that ‘openness is the key’.
When I was on the Labour cabinet each item had at least three exec members who would give their views on the decisions to be taken. So at the very least the people of Bristol had some idea why we had reached a decision before we made it. I can’t help thinking that letting people know how and why you have come to a decision is at least as important as making the decision itself. So I happen to think that in this case longer is better and a more open form of governance.
Back to our pledges for June.
A responsible party has to ensure that it’s pledges are plausible and have a good chance of delivery. We have discussed our sex pledge and are working towards a form of words that makes this more plausible and deliverable. The current draft working pledge we have is: ‘Better longer sex can lead to Labour’. You will have to wait a few weeks to see if it makes the final list.
P.S. I will be looking very closely at the number of hits to this blog to test a key hypothesis about the internet.

Written by terryrobc

March 13, 2009 at 1:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Sinn Féin has moved on … has the BBC?

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The recent tragic terrorist murders in Northern Ireland have rightly appalled and frightened all of us. It has however highlighted two things to me; how politics in Northern Ireland have changed and how the media can get it wrong.

I listened to an interview on the Today programme a couple of days back. On the whole the interview was very good with both Labour and Tory spokesmen coming accross very well. It was the nature of the exchanges between John Humphries and John O’Dowd, a Sinn Féin  councillor, that caused a sharp intake of breath and has led to this blog.
In his pre-amble John Humphries quoted the views of a ‘senior Northern Ireland politician’ that we were ‘staring into the abyss.’ The interview started like this:
JH   I use the word murder. Is that a word that you would use on behalf of Sinn Féin ?
JO’D It is. ……….
Now I don’t know what it is about Northern Irish politicians but they do seem to be a combatative lot. Cllr O’Dowd then went on to criticise the media for trying to set traps for Sinn Fein. He then gave a rather good piece on how Sinn Féin  had moved and how the peace process in the Province had changed and they were not going back. John Humphries came back with (my paraphrase) – well Sinn Fein took a long time to condemn the original attack and it was all a bit weak. Cllr O’Dowd called this rubbish and I think at this point Mr Humphries lost his cool, coming up with the rather barbed ‘.. I remember what the Provisional IRA was doing.’ Having regained his composure JH tried to bring it back on track with  ‘All I am doing is asking you, quite simply to say that this is murder and it is to be totally condemned’ completely forgetting the first answer given by Cllr O’Dowd.
Does all this matter?
Well yes. Firstly in the Northern Ireland context it matters because it appears that, even after all this time, the BBC and by inference the rest of the UK media, continue to have doubts over the full hearted commitment of Sinn Féin  to the peace process. By taking these lines they are, I am sure, giving ammunition to those in the movement who are ‘flakey’. If you want an understanding of the delay in the Sinn Fein response suggest you read Alistair Campbell’s blog on the matter.
On the wider front, my experience of the media (a couple of conversations with Torbin Lee and Linda Tanner) has shown me that the media are after 2 things; Conflict and Controversy – because they sell. As a local politician the media remains one of the key conduits through which we get our message out to the public. To be successful in that we have to play their game. So we generate conflict and controversy. Which inevitably leads to politics, even at the local level, dominated by conflict. We then wonder why the population of Bristol are fed up with politicians constantly bickering and doing nothing.
The answer – that’s a little tougher than the analysis, but answers we have to find otherwise I fear for our democracy.

Written by terryrobc

March 12, 2009 at 10:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Let All Bristol Decide

with 14 comments

One of the joys of being a political insider in Bristol (fancy name for councillor) is that you get to see how the system works. Or more to the point how it doesn’t work. Having spent 3 and a bit years in the system as a back bencher, chair of scrutiny and executive member I am convinced that the biggest problem with politics in the city is the electoral system (I predict that there will now be at least 20 comments saying ‘oh no its not its the politicians’ – proving that original thought is dead on Bristol’s blogasphere).

I will go even further and say that the electoral system as it stands has, and will, hold back Bristol from becoming the great city it should be.

The current system, where 2/3rds of the city vote for 1/3rd of the councillors every 3 years out of 4, means that no party really has a mandate – and no one in charge can get on with the job without having one eye on the next round of elections. This leads to constant shifts in policy which leaves all those charged to deliver the key services to the city with no stable base on which they can take it forward.
The solution is quite simple – move to all out elections every 4 years where All of Bristol can Decide about all of Bristols future. By moving to all out elections every four years political parties and others will be able to put forward how they would like the city to be run. All Bristol will be able to decide if they like these plans. The new administration would have four years to deliver their promises, if they don’t all of Bristol will be able to kick them out.
And we can do it. (This bit gets a bit technical – but bear with it.) Bristol,as a non Metropolitan District Council, has an obligation under the Local Government Act 2000 (as amended by the 2007 Act) to elect a leader with a term up to the end of their period as a councillor, this could be as much as four years. This change must take place from 2011. The act further allows for the councillors of the city to call a special meeting to vote on changes to the electoral system which allow for all up elections every four years. It also specifies that Bristol, as a non metropolitan council, can hold these elections in 2011.
That all means that we have an opportunity to move to all out elections in 2011 but we have to have made that decision by the end of 2010 at the latest.
I must confess that I have yet to meet a non politician who thinks that this is a bad idea (with the possible exception of Chris Hutt – who never thinks anything new is a good idea!). A large number of politicians I have spoken to think it is a good idea. The Evening Post have given good coverage. Even Tony Benn thinks it’s a good idea!
So what can we do about it? Well if you think it is a good idea then sign the petition on Ask Bristol. If you have a Facebook account join the Let All Bristol Decide group. If you would like to help the campaign, receive updates or more information email letallbristol@btinternet.com.
If enough of us shout loud enough we can change the system.

Written by terryrobc

March 10, 2009 at 9:09 am

Posted in Uncategorized