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May 23, 2008

Oil!

Recently Oil prices reached a high of $135/barrel, this appears to have caused consternation amongst many. Gordon Brown has noted this as a problem when reflecting on his loss in Crewe and Nantwich, whilst it cropped up in this week’s Question Time. , that also contained the ever-annoying Hazel Blears.

There are many proposed solutions here – hybrid cars, more fuel efficient cars, better public transport. These all reduce the amount of fuel consumed by the economy. The ever-annoying Hazel Blears argued that we should seek to increase supply – newer fuel reserves. Whilst it is obvious that rising fuel prices, will make utilizing more expensive fields profitable, and thus actioned, as a government strategy this isn’t viable.

Firstly because fossil fuels are an inherently finite resource – they will run out, so this strategy is only ever going to work in the short term. On a more practical note, many scientists seem skeptical about the viability of further north sea exploration. Apparently we gave most of the oil to the Norwegians when drawing the borders.

Unfortunately many ignorant talking heads appear to have taken it upon themselves to propose a tax decrease. This, again, is a short term solution – tax decreases, so the cost of fuel decreases, demand increases, so the price increases. This would encourage exploration – due to the long term price rise, but either way it encourages increased consumption – so the fuel reserves run out sooner. After the immediate gain, we loose out in the long run.

There is another alternative for improvement. It involves a fantastic piece of technology. Its very cheap. By consuming less fuel it also reduces environmental problems. Additionally its healthy for you (though not as much as people think). My suggestion is …

BUY A BIKE

Overwhelming people’s transport options can be fulfilled by cycling – very few people in the UK travel long distance as part of their daily journeys, many of those who do can get their fuel costs subsidized by their business (e.g. sales Reps, road haulage), most of our journeys consist of urban driving. These needs can nearly always be fulfilled by bicycling.

I don’t know how to ride a bike (I never learnt whilst a child) and I’m almost sorry that this isn’t more of a stigma. Does this make me a hypocrit? Of course not … I walk to work.


May 10, 2008

Clinton Out!

After Obama destroyed Clinton’s last chances of taking the popular vote or pledged delegates in Indiana and North Carolina – the knives were out in the American press. It had gone beyond any sort of reasonable analysis and had entered the realm of pop-culture references. For example Politico described her campaign strategy as the Death Star, whilst Huff Post went the more personal “EVERYONE BUT HILLARY KNOWS IT”, and CBS implies her campaign should be euthenized.

Clearly She can see the light at the end of the tunnel – but doesn’t know its the train thats coming to run her over. Anyhow, rumour mill suggests that Obama is going to claim victory on May 20th – so it’ll be interested to see if she intend to push it beyond then, or call it quits.


May 01, 2008

Johnson to win London Election

Based on the odds on Betfair, there is an 80% probability that Boris Johnson will win. I expect this will be outcome, rather than it being a ‘Dewey beats Truman’. Though that would be hilarious.


Pinch, Punch, first day of the month

For those of you who haven’t yet noticed May 1st is election day .

I’ve plotted the polling results below, and differentiated between those from yougov and from other polling organisations, since the yougov ones appears to favour Boris Johnson massively. Squares are Livingston, circles are Johnson, with the darker coloured polls from yougov. As you can see yougov have put out more polls than all the other organisations put together.

In summary yougov are predicting a Johnson walkover, whilst everyone else is predicting a much more hard fought battle. What isn’t shown by these polls is that a lot of people are favouring Johnson over Livingston in the second round of balloting. I’ve ignored Brian Paddock because, whilst an excellent candidate, he has no hope of winning, and will be lucky to get to 12% of the vote. I’ve ignored Sian Berry because, whilst a terrible candidate, she has no hope of winning and will be lucky to get 2% of the vote.

The history of these elections are very interesting – Ken Livingston has won both of the two preceeding London mayoral elections very easily – no significant challenge and considerable support. Early into his current term he managed to bring the Olympics to London – a general ‘feel-good’ boost, and his reassuring performance during the 7/7 attacks won him universal praise. Since this high point however, his star has faded. Recent allegations of sleeze, related to the Lee Jasper affair, and an increasing public dislike of ‘bendy-buses’ have made this race one that is challengable, however, Livingston is certainly a lot more popular than the Labour party as a whole at the moment, and at the close of 2007, if I were a betting man I would definitely have put my money on him.

Boris Johnson, on the other hand, is a man whose star has risen over the last few years, despite several scandals. In a climate cynical of the Labour Government, and where his public school mannerisms and eton demeanour are no longer considered ’’out of touch’, he becomes a formidable candidate. His ‘brand recognition’ is second to none, and frequent appearances in conjunction with poltical comedy (HIGNIFY) have not done him any harm in my opininon. Everyone expects poltiicians on shows of that nature to be taken to task by the likes of Hislop and Merton, and consequently Johnson’s buffoonery and playful vocabulary are shown off in their best light.

When Johnson chose to run, my initial expectations were that he wouldn’t have much of a chance of winning, but that a strong second place would bolster both his, and David Cameron’s, credentials. As the Lee Jasper scandal has grown stronger in the papers, however, his candidacy became increasingly threatening to Livingston’s relection prospects. This corresponds to the movement in the polling data, where Ken Livingston’s votes fall off. It seems reasonable to conclude that this is more due to Lee jasper, because a significant group of Livingston voters, don’t migrate to Johnson, but off to Paddick. If these are genuine anti-Livingston votes then on the second inevitable second round of polling they will mainly swing back to Johnson.

There then seemed to significant movement away from Johnson around the period of the debates, which tallies since his performance in them was heavily criticised by left wing supporters, and not much admired by his backers either. this corresponds to the sudden drop of blue dots on the graph. Again its a swing away from a candidate, so Livinston doesn’t pickup the votes on these measures, but might well do when second round voting comes into account. Its hard to say how much this has hurt him, overall, but I would certainly say that it has caused a strong swing.


April 21, 2008

Council Elections 2008

Coventry

It seems a bit unfair of me to have already mentioned the London Mayoral elections, given their massive media coverage, without having talked about our local vote on 1st May. Its council election time!

Practical Points
The election is on May 1st. It is now too late to apply for a postal vote, Your polling card will specify what what ward you live in, and where you need to vote. If you can’t be bothered to move, you can find out here . I live in Whoberley, which has a wikipedia page that really needs improving, and if you live on campus you are likely to be in the Wainbody ward. Each ward has three councillors, for a total of 54 councillors in Coventry City Council. One will be elected this election. You can find out who is running here If you live in whoberley and are confused by the map on the polling card then I’ve created a Google Map .

Background
Historically Coventry has been a Labour stronghold. They held control of the council every year from 1973 to 2002 with the exception of 1978. The conservatives took over in 2006, with a period of no overall control in between. Both Wainbody and Whoberley have currently three conservative councillors. In wainbody in 2007 the conservatives took 56% of the vote, approximately 2.5 times the number of votes that the second place candidate came in. A student (Emma Biermann) stood for election as the Green Party candidate, coming in 4th place with nearly 9% of the vote.

Whats worth noting is that there are approximately 4,000 students living on campus at University of Warwick, the university registers everyone to vote, and the total turnout in wainbody at the last council elections is also about 4,000 people. In other words a highly motivated student populace could not only swing a close vote – they could vote in whomever they wanted. (Assuming of course that not too high a percentage of campus dwellers are ineligible to vote.)

In Whoberley the conservative majority in 2007 was only 127 votes. Furthermore, the incumbent Conservative Councillor (Joan Griffin) has been booted from their ticket due to health scares, but is running as an independant. I suspect this will split the vote, and offer somewhat of a spoiler for the conservative party.

Whoberley
I’d really like to cover the liberal democrats at these elections, but they don’t really seem to be making much of an effort to get my vote. The Labour Party has put out a full, front, page ad in the Coventry Times, whilst the Conservatives have sent out quite good looking flyers. I have received no such information from Brian Rees Lewis (who also ran as the Lib Dem candidate last time). I can’t even find his name listed on their website. Their website is also incredibly uninformative. They have 9 days to shove something under my door if they want me to care.

Joan Griffin seems to be emphasizing school discipline and minimising the number of drinking licenses handed out. Both of these policies put me off. The conservatives and their candidate Roger Bailey have made a series of commitments for the next few years:

“Continue the ‘Contact and Connect’ service for our elderly residents” & “Keeping council tax rises below pensions” – I think is probably a good thing overall, and that policies should be sympathetic to the needs of those on fixed incomes, but its not really a key issue for me.

“Keeping Pool Meadow open” & “Keeping weekly refuse collections” – I don’t believe any party has the balls to close it, so this seems like rabble rousing to me. Also neither of these are new policies, so making pledges on them is a pretty weak campaigning effort.

Expanding recycling – thats a great pledge, but the council also wanted to allow building on Hearsall Common before a residents petition (organised by Lib Dems in the apparently vastly more active neighbouring region) stopped it . There’s more to environmental issues that just recycling and its a very vague pledge – they don’t specify what they will actually do to improve recycling.

The Labour candidate for Whoberley, Bally Singh, seems to be making a strong effort – lots of emphasis on consultation and a blog. He also also emphasises working with other people – quite important since I expect that Coventry will remain a Conservative controlled council even if he is elected, so he will need to force change from a minority position – a hard task to accomplish. He provides 3 policy pledges:

“Protect our local environment” – he specifies problems here well (Hearsall Common, Watchmakers Building, litter) though not solutions. He also a more broad ranged view of environment than the Conservative Pledges.

“Challenge Anti Social behaviour” – I have no sympathy for ‘anti-anti social behaviour policy’. He somewhat redeems himself by discussing how they can work with the local MP to try and get more activities for people to do.

“Improve our council services” – He doesn’t actually say what he will do, but he does talk about consulting with the community, so this pledge is somewhat worthless, but not entirely.

Your Vote
Please do vote in your local council elections. I’ve presented what I think is a useful summary of information, so you have no excuse.


April 11, 2008

Tibet

Recently a lot of campaigners have argued the case that China shouldn’t be allowed to hold the olympics due to its ongoing occupation of tibet. It has been proposed that a boycott would reduce the positive publicity that the Chinese would be getting from their hosting activities. Gordon Brown announced the other day that he wouldn’t be present at the opening ceremonies. Media fetishism suddenly turned this into some kind of important stand again Chinese policies on tibet. This was denounced by Downing Street in an effort not to upset diplomatic relations.

But even if he hadn’t turned up – how is that progress? I can’t imagine Wen Jiabao trembling in his boots. Do we think that not having to shake some fat Scottish bloke’s hand is the biggest stand we can make on foreign policy? Is that what being a world power means these days? We fight wars against 3rd world countries actively and via proxy and yet here we are facing the another major country and all we can manage is a minor diplomatic snub? Will the historians of the 22nd Century ever enscribe the sentence “Chinese human rights abuses were cleaned up thanks to a second rate act of gesture politics by an unpopular 1/2 term prime minister?” I sincerely doubt it.

The key issue here is that whilst people have been caught up in the idea of denying China the publicity and support that the Olympics brings – we politcally, legally and by implication morally acquiesce to their acts. We’ve somehow managed to completely the obvious fact that Britain recognises Chinese rule over Tibet. We signed a treaty with the Qing empire in 1904 and ratified it in 1906. We officially considered it part of the Republic of China when dealing with Chiang Kai-shek in the second world war. When the west decided to be less hostile to the PRC the Tibet issue was ignored.

Bottom line: if you really want a stand from Britain on tibet – don’t boycott the olympics. Call for an Act of Parliament changing Britain’s recognise Chinese borders to exclude tibet. Now that really would be a stand on the matter.


April 03, 2008

London Mayoral Election

In respense to several requests I’ve deided to hand an entry over to the London Mayoral election. See here for details of polling figures I refer to.

ICM are normally about 1-3% left of yougov, so I would have expected Johnson to be about 7-8% ahead, not 2% compared to the existing yougov polling. So there’s likely a methodology difference. ICM polling focussed on ensuring their survey had a weight average of ethnic minorities at the same level as their percentage of the London population. This is according to their announcement, and with reference to Livingston’s apparent criticism of the yougov polling.

Judging from the yougov blog they seemed to focus more on socio-economic groupings when trying to make their surveys representative, but this stuff tends to be quite hazy – polling isn’t as scientific as it ought to be. Furthermore historically ethnic minorities have poor turnout rates, so choosing the percentage of population is highly likely to overestimate their impact. So verdict is still out on which poll is more representative. Bear in mind the ipsos/mori polling from about a month and a half ago had Livingston ahead, but that was labour party funded and looking pretty out of date now.

Boris fell by 2% between the last two yougov polls, but this is within the margin of error of the poll, so can’t really be considered a trend without supporting evidence (comparing with ICM would be particularly flawed, since they are using a different methodology for deciding who to survey). Quantitative evidence seems to suggest that Boris is ahead, but by an indeterminate amount. A few points to consider:

1. Boris has a large financial advantage, according to both sides – he claims to be aiming at raising £1 million. This will come into play more as the campaign continues. Since I doubt either side is spending much at the moment (since the campaign is really only just started) it probably isn’t in the numbers already.
2. Large blatantly don’t know how to attack Johnson. First they tried calling him a racist then a right wing clown. The racism charge was never going to stick, and Johnson seems to have made a significant effort to behave in a more serious manner in the run up to this campaign. As incumbent Livingston has the massive advantage that he can do things, where as Johnson merely has to say them, therefore by allowing this to become a personality race Livingston gives away his big advantage and plays into Johnsons. When he first came to office he pushed the congestion charge as a radical policy, that both polarised debate and pushed popular voting his way. In order to make a comback in this race he needs another ‘big idea’. No new bendy buses and increasing congestion charges just won’t do.
3. I imagine given their traditional strength in London that the Labour party would have much more ‘on the ground’ support. This is hard to quantify, however and highly personality dependant. Frequently heavy in your face campaigning turns people off, whilst a personal chat from a respected neighbour might be the best campaigning method.
4. Location of votes – Livingston will dominate central London, whilst Johnson takes the suburbs – this seems to be so strong that even amongst informal conversation with people I know, people living in West London seem to support Johnson, and more central/city centre support Livingston.
5. According to the labour website tag cloud they seem to be really interested in Boris Johnson, he has more tags (41) than Alan Johnson (29), Alistair Darling (7), David Miliband (13), Harriet Harman (24), Hazel Blears (32) and Hilary Benn (37). I bring this up as interesting, rather more than informative and let the readers draw their own conclusions.

My guess is that Boris’ lead is reasonably strong, but overturnable, so in summary – he’ll win if he doesn’t stick his foot in his mouth or if Livingston doesn’t pull anything out of the hat.


April 01, 2008

Some thoughts on the Labour Party

I haven’t blogged for a month, and US politics isn’t really worth covering atm (in short, Obama will take the democratic nomination, but it’ll be painful for a few weeks yet, and polling numbers vs McCain aren’t worth analysing for a while yet). So I return to my home ground of British politics.

A short while back a friend of mine felt that the early years of the Blair government (his first term basically) were the best for the British people during his lifetime. This is a sentiment shared by media analysts, people who believed in Blair, his brand of 3rd way politics. (A brand is not a paradigm, perhaps I am too cynical) In my considered opinion this is not the case.

In my opinion for a government to be considered of note or above average they must achieve a victory on a major issue over their political foes. A victory can only be claimed when their opponents are forced to concede the point politically.

An example of this is the formation of the National Health Service by the Attlee government. It was opposed at the time by the conservatives, but it has never been dismembered. One can argue over side issues – like differences in service in different parts of the country or internal market reforms for example, but the principle that it is the obligation of the government to provide for the health of the nation is not under political threat.

Another example is the change in economic policy during the thatchers years: principly privatisation of government services and emphasis of the importance of monetary, rather than fiscal policy. Keeping to these policies has become a fundamental part of the set of policies that the labour party have been elected on over the last few years, even though they have begun to overspend somewhat.

Which leaves the open question: What have the New Labour Government done to justify the praise. As far as I can see there are several key issues, none of which are ‘victories’.

Foreign policy – pre-emptive military aggression, backed by Bush and Clinton. This hasn’t proved to be popular with voters, or been a key issue battle with the Conservative Party.

Constitional Reform – with the growing nationalism in both Scotland and Wales this could be seen as a successful labour policy. Unfortunately its not exactly unilaterally accepted, a lot of English voters are wondering why their taxes are subsidising Scottish and Welsh extravagense, the NHS is no longer national, and I suspect that Britain won’t maintain its integrity throughout my lifetime. Upper house reform has also failed to achieve anything of significance – instead of two democratic houses we have gone down an appointments route.

Fox Hunting – passed through massive majority of labour voters in the house, this issue has been heavily protested by the people it actually affects, nearly no one else thinks its in any way important and the key arguments for and against haven’t been challenged. It also isn’t fully enforced.

Minimum Wage – another possible example of a major victory by Blair, the fact that it was set at the same level as most entry level jobs were paying rendered it null and void. Portillo may have caused a stir by accepting it, but ultimately it was more reflective of the internal divisions the conservatives faced at the time, than a like/dislike of the policy.

Independance of the BoE – this is a Thatcherite policy, and since its passing Hague has commented that he felt he was in opposition, and was obliged to disagree with the government on policy, not that he was fundamentally opposed to its passing.

Now I have reached the end of my post, I remember why I’ve been so much more interested in American politics than British politics. (In a Walter Sobchak-esque voice) Say what you want about the tennents of George Bush, but at least he had an ethos.


March 03, 2008

(Little) Uber Tuesday II

Follow-up to Uber Tuesday from True Contradictions

I haven’t blogged about the US primaries in nearly a month, so its time to get back on the prediction box again. In the last month the big day turned into a score draw, followed by 11 straight primary defeats for Clinton. (The Obama camp count 12, since the results for democrats abroad, who voted on uber tuesday, weren’t in until afterwards.) So surely the race is over now? Obama’s got the delegate lead, after 11 wins he must have the momentum.

Well not quite. Tomorrow Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont all vote, with Texas and Ohio holding the lions share of the votes. Both of these states are traditionally expected to be Clinton strongholds. Both Bill and that clever guy with no hair, Carville have both said that these are must win states for Clinton. Her campaign has focussed on them heavily in the last month, since a defeat in either would really signal its end. Polls initially going her way have turned against her in the last week or so.

The real question at this point is whether Obama’s mail to the Canadians saying he really loves NAFTA and he’s just using it as a political football will hurt him. I suspect not his late in the day. Clinton has made a resurgence in the polls – she was down an average of 7 pts in Texas from polling data 5 days ago, its back to a level playing field again. Its entirely possible her message sits better with people in Texas and Ohio than Obama’s – I can’t really see why she is gaining otherwise. And the numbers frequently lie. Especially given the inherent pro-Obama bias of the texas polling system – I wouldn’t be surprised for him to take more delegates, whilst Hillary wins the popular vote. Hillary will probably win Ohio by 5-10% or so.

More interesting than this is speculation on the final race for the presidency. McCain has been doing very well in nationwide polling recently – of the last 5 nationwide polls I’ve seen Obama has only won one of them. Still the difference is narrow enough at the moment to not really be important. McCain’s campaign is in a poor state of organisation, and highly susceptible to a heavy tv spend over the summer months – as Clinton did in 1996 against Bob Dole. Such a strategy could only really work if Obama were to take the nomination early, months of uncertainty would help McCain a lot more.

Another issue is fundraising – In Janury Obama hauled 31 million, and early february this seemed to accelerate even more for both Democratic candidates. The question is how sustainable this is. McCain has huge fundraising potential, since his campaign hasn’t reached out to many republicans, who would certainly be more interested in seeing him in the White House than Clinton (I will continue to ignore Ann Coulter since I belive she is one of the few people whose endorsement would do more harm than good) and probably Obama as well. Consequently I wouldn’t be too surprised if McCain is competitive in fundraising by the time the conventions roll around.

I’ve already mentioned a few possible running mate choices for the democrats, but lets lengthen that list a bit and increase the chance of me being correct!

McCain

Condi
She has excellent brand name recognition, good experience, she’s female, african American, clever and would help get conservatives on board with McCain. She’s a fairly long shot though, and would provide Democratic amunition to tie McCain in with an unpopular administration.

The Midwest
States in this region are looking competitive, and are necessary Republican holds, so two term governors from this region such as Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota are possibles. Pawlenty is McCain national campaign co-chair.

Charlie Christ
Popular florida governor, who would help secure that state for the republicans, and has sound conservative credentials. Unfortunately he’s not married, and rumoured to be gay – if there’s anything that could put off Republicans more, or the ‘Reagan Democrats’ that McCain needs the votes of then he’s running mate being ‘outed’ as gay would be it. Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter would have a field day. To quote a republican strategist – ‘The republican party is the party of family values – and where’s his family?’ Still he’s probably one of the strongest options for McCain.

Obama

Bloomberg
Obama should really look for a middle of the road – cross partisan democrat who has experience and popularity. Good thing Michael Bloomberg has recently announced he won’t be running! Bloomberg doesn’t have a long term Washington History, but his business experience is invaluable, he also has unmatchable fundraising ability. Whether Bloomberg would be willing to understudy is another matter.

Tim Kaine
Virginia governor who jumped on the Obama bandwagon early. He’s also in a key swing state, and has a lot of experience at the statewide level.

Bill Richardson
Even though I mentioned him in my previous running mate rundown – its worth mentioning that he hasn’t thrown his support behind Hillary as one would expect him to. He’s also being heavily courted by the Obama camp. Even if he isn’t named as VP – I read a suggestion to name him as secretary of state at the same time – in order to bolster Obama’s lack of experience.

Janet Napolitano
Governor of Arizona and thus could help Obama in the south or west of the country. Being a female helps balance the ticket, and the geography works too. Also a former Attourney General of Arizona, so comes with strong experience. Not being a washington insider helps Obama’s message of change. For the same basic reasons Kathleen Sebelius .

Clinton

I’m not going to bother suggesting vice presidential nominees, since I think Clinton would have a massive uphill struggle getting elected if she were democratic nominee.


February 12, 2008

American Idol considered Torture

Earlier today the CIA stated that they had used American Idol on prisoners. This is the first time that the organisation has admitted to using the controversial technique in the War on Terror. While he was being interviewed by Congress Michael Hayden, current CIA head, stated that American Idol had been used on 3 subjects who were imprisoned at Guantanamo bay, but not within the past 1 week.

The British foreign secretary, David Miliband, recently stated, “We would never do anything like that”, when asked about the use of American Idol. The television show is considered torture by several human rights groups, including Amnesty International, and the US congress has considered banning it, however, President has made it publically known that he would veto a bill, stating, “I particularly like the early rounds, when there are more of what we texans call, ‘shit singers’”

Kuwaiti-born Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has been accused of planning the september 11th attacks, claims that American Idol was used on him. Both of the other two detainers who were forced to watch American Idol were also suspected of being high level Al-Quaeda operatives.

The technique itself involves forcing the detainee to sit through an entire episode of American Idol. This can range from 23minutes, to a whole hour for a final. Public opinion has turned against the show after people released the contestants were all boring, and fat.

When asked what he thought about the technique Seth McFarlane, Family Guy creator, replied, “not good meg, not good.”


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