25 October 2012

UK second homes in the EU

A post here a year ago attempted to estimate the number of UK residents who own properties in the EU. This was with a view to assessing the impact of their voting in any “In/Out” referendum on EU membership. The assumption was that property ownership would probably make them more reluctant to leave rather than less. On the basis of the data then available and some assumptions that were little more than guesses, I came up with a figure of 500,000 EU properties and the possibility, at two votes per property, of a million votes being involved.

Now some data from the 2011 census has been made available in an ONS Statistical Bulletin, Number of people with second addresses in local authorities in England and Wales, March 2011. This states that:
820,814 usual residents of England and Wales (1.5 per cent of the usual resident population) had a second address outside of the United Kingdom.
and that such people:
… were concentrated in London and the South East. More detail on the destinations outside of the UK will be published in later census releases.
As soon as the latter data is made available, I will update this post. For the moment my figure for the EU alone, which I didn’t expect to be at all accurate, seems to have been an overestimate.

  • The proportion of the second addresses outside the EU is probably small.
  • My EU estimate, such as it was, was for the UK as a whole including Scotland and Northern Ireland which have about 11% of the UK population. Applied pro rata (but note the bias towards London and the South East) my estimate would come down to about 440, 000 properties for England and Wales (E&W). At two votes per property, this would be equivalent to about 880, 000 “usual residents”.
The relevant 2011 Census questions are shown below:

People who own properties in the sunnier parts of the EU and rent them out, if they can, between June and September, may not stay at those addresses themselves for more than 30 days a year – they could, quite properly, have answered Q5 with a “No” and gone on to Q7.

On the other hand, people in the 820,814 who do stay at an address abroad for more than 30 days a year, may not own it. Their views on EU membership would therefore not be influenced by the considerations that property owners might want to take into account.


The 30 days a year threshold is worth thinking about. Consider the case of someone who is working full-time with 5 weeks paid holiday a year and public (bank) holidays. They wish to spend as much time in their EU property as possible when the weather is good. So assume they fly out on Saturdays and back on the Sundays 15 days later and that they do this twice a year. The first trip might well be at Easter, to take advantage of Good Friday and Easter Monday public holidays. The next could be in mid-summer, say August. In all, they would have spent 32 days (30 nights) in their property and used 18 days of their paid holiday entitlement. They would have 7 days paid holiday left to take at Christmas and New Year (combined with the three seasonal public holidays) and at other times, which might be adequate for some people.  If they had only only 4 weeks paid holiday, they would have only 2 days left.  This doesn’t seem practical so they are unlikely to be in a position to spend 30 days a year abroad.

24 October 2012

Update on the Royal Navy’s Trident

In 2006 the Labour government announced that the UK would construct new nuclear submarines to carry the Trident missile system. Since then two issues have emerged which have been the subject of posts here: a review of alternatives to Trident, which was a Lib Dem element within the 2010 coalition agreement, and the implications of Scotland becoming independent, the Royal Navy's Trident submarines currently being based there.

Posts here on the first of these appeared in June (concentrating on the ‘Moscow criterion’) and in September just after the cabinet reshuffle. Nick Harvey, who had led the review, ceased to be a minister and his role was transferred to another Lib Dem, Danny Alexander. Harvey later addressed a fringe meeting at the Lib Dem annual conference, his remarks appearing at length in the Guardian on 27 September:
… to convince ourselves that the only point of having any deterrent at all is the capability of flattening Moscow is the wrong and distorting lens through which to view the debate."  
Instead of replacing Trident with a like-for-like 24-hour nuclear armed submarine presence at sea after the current system is due to be taken out of service in 2028, cheaper alternatives are being considered. These range from stepping down the patrols, to designing missiles to be launched from aircraft, surface navy ships or land, to a delayed launch system.  
The delayed-launch model would involve developing a nuclear warhead for a cruise missile that could be launched from existing Astute submarines, Harvey said, "but having perfected that technology simply put it away in a cupboard and keep it as a contingency in case there ever were to be a deterioration in the global security picture that might need the UK government to take it out of the cupboard".  
In this situation, the UK would store the warheads in a secure military location, from where they could be removed, put on the tip of a missile and put to sea within weeks or months.  
… Harvey told a fringe debate at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton that the idea of moving "down the nuclear ladder" had support across all three armed services: the army, the Royal Navy and the RAF. He said one reason for growing support for the review's alternatives was a "perfect storm" of defence capital costs around 2020, including building the new joint strike fighter aircraft and Type 26 frigates, a new generation of unmanned aircraft, and amphibious craft for the navy.
At the PMQs on 17 October, the first after the party conferences, Harvey was able to return to this theme, but only after an earlier question by a Conservative MP who is well-known as a supporter of the UK nuclear deterrent:
Mr Speaker: Question 4 is a closed question.  
Nuclear Deterrent  
Q4. [122163] Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Whether he remains committed to the continuation of the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent after the Vanguard submarines are withdrawn from service.  
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend will be delighted to know that the answer is yes, we are committed to retaining an independent nuclear deterrent based on the Trident missile system. That is why we have continued with the programme to replace the Vanguard class submarines, including placing initial design contracts with BAE Systems.  
Dr Lewis: That is indeed an excellent answer. Given that a part-time nuclear deterrent would be dangerously destabilising, will the Prime Minister confirm that the British Trident successor submarines must and will operate on the basis of continuous at-sea deterrence [CASD]?  
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. One of the key elements of the credibility of our deterrent has been that it is continuously at sea, and the Royal Navy takes immense pride in having been able to deliver that without a break over so many years. I have met some of the crews and visited some of the submarines. What they do is incredibly impressive and I pay tribute to them for the service that they provide. Yes, being continuously at sea is a key part of our deterrent.
Sir Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD): Returning to the Trident issue, has the Prime Minister looked at the severe cost pressures facing defence at the very moment the Trident replacement has to be paid for? Joint strike fighter airplanes, Type 26 frigates, unmanned aircraft and Army vehicles all need paying for at much the same time. This has to come out of the defence budget, and austerity will be with us for some time yet, so will he keep an open mind about how exactly to replace our nuclear deterrent?  
The Prime Minister: All the things that my hon. Friend lists are programmes that are fully funded and will be properly invested in, because, as he well knows—because he played a major role in it—the Government have sorted out the defence budget. Having carefully considered the issue of the nuclear deterrent, I do not believe that we would save money by adopting an alternative nuclear deterrent posture. Also, if we are to have a nuclear deterrent, it makes sense to ensure we have something that is credible and believable, otherwise there is no point in having one at all.
A post here in February considered the practicalities of removing Trident from Scotland after independence and another in March attempted to put some bounds on the cost. In June Harvey and another defence minister, Peter Luff, gave oral evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee on the subject. Currently only an uncorrected transcript is available with the caveat that “Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.” Subject to that, the evidence at Questions 315 to 351 is worth reading in full, but particularly noteworthy are:
Q326 Mr Reid: Have you done any planning as to how long it would take to replicate the facilities at Faslane and Coulport elsewhere in the UK?  
Nick Harvey: While it would be possible to do so, it would be fraught with difficulty. It would be a very challenging project, which would take a very long time to complete and would cost a gargantuan sum of money. When the facilities there were upgraded for Astute and the previous upgrade of the nuclear deterrent, the cost of that upgrade in today’s prices was about £3.5 billion. That was upgrading an extant facility. If we were to replicate it somewhere else, that figure would be dwarfed by whatever that would cost. … The costs would be absolutely immense. I would have thought that relocation would be just about the least favoured option that it would be possible to conjecture.  
Q343 David Mowat: I was just reflecting on this approximately £5 billion figure for moving Trident. Effectively that is one of the costs of separation. …  
Nick Harvey: The only figure that I have used was that a previous upgrade in today’s money cost £3.5 billion and I felt that that would be dwarfed by the cost of re-establishing-  
Q349 Chair: … if the Scottish Government did win, we had separation, they wanted Trident out and they were willing to be reasonable, they would have to be satisfied that you had no alternative but to keep them there for 20 years. It is not an unreasonable point to pursue with you.  
Nick Harvey: I am not saying that anything cannot be done.  
Q350 Chair: Good. That is the first time the MOD has ever said that.  
Nick Harvey: I am saying it would be difficult and not straightforward.  
Q351 Chair: Ah yes-that is the traditional MOD caveat. You forgot to mention expensive.  
Peter Luff: And lengthy.  
Nick Harvey: I took all of that as read.
The SNP at its party conference this month decided that their policy should be that an independent Scotland should become a member of NATO but that the SNP leadership should first seek an agreement that Scotland could be nuclear-weapon free. Their leader, the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, said in an interview on BBC1's The Andrew Marr show on 21 October:
Nobody seriously believes that Scotland as a country of 5.25 million people would want to be in possession of nuclear weapons. That would be a bad thing for Scotland; I think it would be a bad thing for nuclear proliferation across the world. So our opposition to stationing or hosting nuclear weapons in Scotland is unconditional. What we do say, however, because we have substantial indications that our friends and allies want cooperation, we'd be happy to be a member of NATO on a non-nuclear basis. 
When he was asked by Marr how the UK could deal with this, Salmond said it would be "far better" if it was "curtains for Trident", but that Trident removal would have to be "as soon as can be safely arranged." He ruled out a Cyprus sovereign base arrangement. The RN could "either relocate Trident to another facility in the rest of the UK or alternatively they could use the nuclear facilities in America, or in France for that matter. Trident is effectively an American weapon.” 

The last comment was disingenuous: the Trident missile system is American but the submarines and warheads are made in the UK – or in England as Salmond would see it. The diplomatic and logistical problems of relocating RN Trident to another country are obvious but, of course, would not be Salmond’s problem, nor would establishing another facility in England or Wales. He will have his hands full enough however in attempting to negotiate with NATO on the terms proposed while at the same time many in his party are unhappy with joining the Alliance at all. Two MSPs announced their resignation over the issue on 23 October.

So where does this leave the RN and the UK deterrent? The PM seems to have pre-empted the Lib Dem review of alternatives by endorsing Trident and CASD. But, if in 2014 Scottish independence proceeds on the basis of current SNP policies, would the remaining UK embark on the “difficult and not straightforward, … expensive and lengthy” undertaking of rebasing Trident? Ian Jack in an article in the Guardian in September, The SNP says it would kick Trident out of Scotland. But at what cost?, drew attention to the prosperity of the part of Scotland adjacent to the Trident base – indicated by the presence of one of that nation’s five branches of Waitrose:
So in the process of Scottish independence, as yet hypothetical, my guess is that Trident will become a bargaining chip to be deployed by Edinburgh's negotiating team in exchange for a big London favour. (Bigger oil rights? A smaller share of the national debt?) Its bases will survive where they are on leasehold into the mid-2020s, when the submarines are due to be replaced, at a currently estimated cost of £25bn. But, sadly for the shipworkers of Barrow, there will be no replacements. A truncated UK will then have lost the taste and the budget for "punching above its weight", and Trident submarines will be seen as what they are: a strange consequence of British military ambition in the last century, as beautiful and terrible in their way as the Dreadnought, though unlike the Dreadnought (one hopes) never used. And so they will quietly pass away, leaving Helensburgh's Waitrose among their monuments.
Recent opinion polls indicate 30 to 40% of the Scottish electorate in favour of independence, 50 to 60% against.

Meanwhile the US Navy has problems of its own, made clear at the recent annual conference of the Naval Submarine League. The USN will need new submarines for its ballistic missiles to be in service from about 2030 to 2080. At some point in those years a new missile to replace Trident will be required, and there is scope for cooperation with the US Air Force, but:
The other crucial partner on ballistic missiles is the United Kingdom, whose only remaining nuclear weapons are on its Vanguard submarines. Ironically, the [US] Navy has a better record of collaboration with the Brits than with America's Air Force. The Royal Navy has relied on U.S.-designed missiles since the Polaris Sales Agreement was signed in 1963. Even after the Americans delayed the SSBN(X) program by two years, they stuck to the original schedule to develop the missile compartment so it would be ready in time for the British could use the design in their own new missile submarine, which must enter service two years before the American sub.

The Scottish Affairs Committee has now published a report, The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: Terminating Trident—Days or Decades?. The Chair of the Committee, Ian Davidson, MP said:
A separate Scotland would be presented with a choice over Trident: it could honour the longstanding commitment of the SNP that there should be no nuclear weapons in Scotland and insist on the ‘speediest safe transition’ of Trident from Scotland. In reality, Trident can be deactivated within a matter of days, and the warheads removed within twenty four months. In the process, the UK would lose the ability to operate its nuclear deterrent and effectively be forced into unilateral disarmament, for an indeterminate period.  
Alternatively, a separate Scotland could allow Trident to remain on the Clyde long enough for the UK to identify and develop a new base elsewhere. This option would mean armed nuclear submarines operating out of Scotland for twenty years or longer. Developing a new base, particularly replicating the facilities at Coulport, could only be done at great expense, and the UK Government has made it clear that any such costs would be included in the Separation negotiations.

20 October 2012

Charles Joseph Minard

Died in Bordeaux SW France 24 October 1870

It was about 20 years ago that someone introduced me to Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. One of the most impressive examples he provided has the title:
Carte Figurative des pertes successive en hommes de l’Armée Francaise dans la campagne de Russie 1812 - 1813 Dressée par M Minard, Inspecteur Général des Ponts et Chaussées en retrait Paris. le 20 novembre 1869  
Figurative Map of the successive losses in men of the French Army in the campaign in Russia 1812 - 1813 Prepared by Monsieur Minard, Inspector General of Bridges and Roads in retirement Paris. 20 November 1869.
This image (left) is now well-known, and much admired for its skillfully combining time, space, attrition and temperature data relating to Napoleon’s campaign, now regarded as to be avoided. Tufte’s website explains Minard’s sources (some of the data he used are subject to later revision) and also provides a translation of his obituary taken from the Annales des ponts et chaussées. The latter appears as Annals of Bridges and Roads and I wonder whether the translator understood the significance of ponts et chaussées in France, referring as it does to the members of an elite corps of engineers, Le corps des ingénieurs des ponts et chaussées, established in 1716, one of the grands corps de l’État. Traditionally the ponts et chaussées recruited from the École polytechnique in Paris (one of the grandes êcoles), whose graduates are known as les X. But France is changing like everywhere else and the École polytechnique, like the École des ponts, which Minard had directed during his illustrious career, is now part of ParisTech.   ParisTech has recently opened an institute in Shanghai, and Minard’s corps has become the corps des ingénieurs des ponts, des eaux et des forêts!

Reading the obituary, I noticed that Minard had retired in 1851, at the age of seventy, and also that on 11 September 1870, within a year of completing his Russian campaign map, he left Paris. The Franco-Prussian war, which had begun on 19 July 1870, was going badly for the French, Napoleon III and his army being captured at the Battle of Sedan on 2 September. Minard, anticipating the route to be taken by French governments in 1914 and 1940, departed for Bordeaux eight days before the siege of Paris began. Sadly, he died of a fever six weeks later on 20 October.

It occurred to me that Minard might have been buried in the Cimetière de la Chartreuse in Bordeaux. But this seems not to have been the case. Although the Bordeaux municipal archives very kindly provided me with a copy of his death certificate (below), they hold no burial record. I can only assume that his remains were returned to his place of birth, Dijon in the Côte d’Or département of the Burgundy region, perhaps for internment in a family vault there. It would be interesting to find out.

It was only when reading Cartographies of Time by Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton that I learnt that Minard had in fact produced a pair of campaign maps (below), the first showing the attrition during Hannibal’s trans-Alpine advance on the Roman Republic in 200BC. A recent programme in Melvyn Bragg’s BBCR4 In our Time series, available for download until October 2013, describes Hannibal’s career and legacy.

19 October 2012

Dr Jokers in the House of Cards

When I first heard of the NHA party (National Health Action party) earlier this year, I followed it on Twitter (@NHAparty) and then on its recent website. The official launch is to take place on 15 November in Old Palace Yard, Westminster.

My initial feelings were that it might present the Tories with every politician’s (and general’s) nightmare of having to fight on two fronts simultaneously. In this case, UKIP would be on their right flank and NHA on their left, the first draining away their natural supporters and the second picking up the centre-undecided sort of voters they need to get more seats at the next election than they managed in 2010. I expected an onslaught on NHA to start fairly soon from the usual right-wing press and internet sources. But the opening rounds have come from well to the left of centre in the form of an article posted on the LabourList website, The National Health Action Party must be strangled at-birth, because:
It can only prosper at the expense of the only truly NHS party – the Labour Party. The National Health Action Party’s only offer is independent MPs voting how they please on everything from abortion to trade union rights, with no accountability or even consistency. But their potential to prevent Labour winning seats, as Richard Taylor did in Wyre Forest, is huge.
The article explains that:
Dr Richard Taylor beat the sitting Labour MP David Lock in 2001 after a huge campaign against the closure of the A&E. The Wyre Forest seat had gone Labour in the landslide of 1997. The ‘Health Concern’ campaign was supported by the local Lib Dems, who stood their candidate down to help defeat the Labour MP. Taylor was elected with an 18,000 majority. It was a famous victory.  
… Now Taylor has launched a new political party to stand more independent candidates like him. It’s called the National Health Action Party, and aims to stand fifty candidates against sitting MPs who support reforms to the NHS. This will presumably include current and former health ministers, and high profile MPs such as the party leaders. For example, one of the party’s founders Dr Clive Peedell is rumoured to be taking on Lib Dem Ian Swales in Redcar.  
The NHS is the closest we have to a national religion. People are passionate about their local NHS services, even when they aren’t very good, and better ones are available further away. If 50 National Health Action Party candidates stand across the UK, with ‘Dr’ ahead of the name on the ballot, and a party logo eerily reminiscent of the NHS logo, they will hoover up tens of thousands of votes in 2015. I doubt any will win seats. But they’ll win enough votes to keep the Tories in power. Why? Because they kinds of people likely to vote for an ‘NHS candidate’ are the kinds of people Labour needs to win to take seats from the Tories and Lib Dems.
We need some opinion poll data to clarify all this, once the average voter has some idea of what the NHA party is about. It also depends on just which seats the NHA candidates will stand in. Two of their FAQ answers shed some light:
4. Won’t you increase the chance of the Conservative and Liberal Democratic Party candidates being elected by splitting the anti-government vote? How many candidates will be standing at the next general election?  
We are not intending to contest all parliamentary seats. Instead we will be carefully and strategically selecting seats where we will have the best chance of being elected, or where we can have the biggest impact on the public’s consciousness. We hope to field about 50 candidates in the next general election.  
5. The Labour party have said they will repeal the Health and Social Care Act, so why do we still need a political party to defend the NHS?  
As of yet, the Labour Party has not given a detailed account of how they intend to repeal the Act or explained clearly what would replace it. Furthermore, we have seen the frequent practice of all major parties failing to honour their pre-election pledges. The Labour Party’s record on the NHS is also poor. It helped open the door to the exploitation of the health service by commercial providers. The NHA Party will be vital for ensuring that any future government repeals the most damaging aspects of the Act and restores the NHS to its founding principles.

18 October 2012

On the subject of A Levels

Ed Miliband’s “one nation” conference speech on 2 October was well received, even in the Tory press. Perhaps so much so that by the following weekend a reaction had to set in. For example, Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail:
There are two kinds of posh. There is the posh you can see. We all know those posh boys. They stand out a mile in their top hats and tails, their fancy traditions, that air of born to rule. They may as well be painted blue. Then there’s the other posh. Clever posh; connected posh; the posh that is so posh it can pretend to be poor.  
Ed Miliband got into Oxford with two B grades at A-level. Now that’s posh. Did you know Ed went to a comprehensive? You’d have to be stuck down a Chilean mine shaft not to. Miliband stood up at the Labour conference this week and shouted the odds for education, education, education. Not in the way that Tony Blair did it. The education Miliband banged on about was his own at Haverstock School in North London. Bleedin’ ’ell, cock, it was tough. And no doubt it was. Haverstock is no Camden School for Girls. It doesn’t have half the West End on its list of alumni. Yet, either way, no chances were taken when little Ed went to Haverstock. His father, Ralph, was a significant Left-wing intellectual and author and very highly regarded in academic circles. He could afford to go comprehensive. He knew he wasn’t going to be the progenitor of horny-handed labouring types.
and so on in the same vein until:
For the son of a prominent Marxist intellectual to end up leader of the Labour Party via Oxford, the LSE and Harvard: let’s say that’s not what you’d call a long shot. Ed Miliband got two As and two Bs at A-level and went to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, to read Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Try to do that now, without a foot in the door. Better still, try to do it if not one of your A-levels is in politics, philosophy or economics. Economics graduates always need maths, though, and Ed was good at maths. Not great. Further Maths was one of his B grades, actually. Even so, they took him. Now that’s posh.
So two Bs at the beginning of the article has become two As and two Bs by the end (maths and English and further maths and physics, respectively according to Wikipedia)!  Furthermore the current Oxford PPE entrance requirements make it clear that:
You may apply for PPE having done any combination of subjects at school; it is not necessary to have studied politics, philosophy or economics. History and Mathematics are useful backgrounds, but are not essential. Although a background in Mathematics is not formally required for admission, PPE applicants should have sufficient interest in, and aptitude for, mathematics to cope with the mathematical elements of the course. Mathematics is a particular advantage for the Economics component of the course, as well as for the first year logic course in philosophy, and for understanding theories and data in politics.
Ed Miliband took his A levels and went to Corpus Christi College, Oxford in 1989. At that time an entrance offer was secured by the level of performance reached in Oxford’s entrance examinations which he probably would have taken in late 1988. Presumably having done well enough to be offered a place, he subsequently secured whatever grades at A level were required of him. Of course, it would seem likely that having a father who was a professor of politics and an older brother (David) who had entered the same college to read PPE in 1983 could only have been helpful. According to a profile in the Daily Telegraph published in 2008, David’s A levels were three Bs and a D, subjects unspecified.

David Cameron also read PPE at Oxford (Brasenose College), taking the entrance exam in late 1984 to enter in 1985*. He had taken his A levels at Eton in 1984 getting As in economics with politics, history and history of art** - all a long way from the “math-science death march” Unlike art, history of art tends not to be viewed as a ‘soft’ (as opposed to the preferred ‘hard’) subject by the best universities when evaluating candidates.

Cameron: Practically a Conservative, Hanning and Elliott, pages *48 and **35.

16 October 2012

Non-appearances can be deceptive, too!

The Royal British Legion is the UK’s leading charity in support of serving and former members of the armed forces and their families. It was founded in 1921 when Earl Haig became its first president. His direction of British forces in France from 1915 to 1918 continues to be a subject of controversy among historians. However, the Legion is famous now for its major fund-raising activity, the Poppy Appeal. British politicians rarely appear in public from late October to 11 November not wearing a poppy. So it was surprising when Paul Staines and Harry Cole reported in their Guido Fawkes column in 14 October’s Daily Star on Sunday that:
DURING his leader’s speech at the Tory Conference last week, David Cameron emotively led the hall in a standing ovation for our troops to “show how profoundly grateful we are for everything they do”. Yet this year was the first time ever that a Tory party leader has failed to put in an appearance at the Royal British Legion’s reception at the Conservative Party Conference. Downing Street tells Guido that while “the Prime Minister is very supportive of the Royal British Legion and the excellent work they do…unfortunately he is unable to attend more than a tiny number” of receptions at conference. An event for property developers Canary Wharf Group was one of the tiny number he did manage to attend. It was held at the same time as the Legion’s reception, in the room next door. Seems our wartime leader misplaced his gratitude.
However, immediately after his party’s Conference on 11 October the PM had announced in a speech at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) the government’s plans to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War in 2014, mentioning the Legion twice. A possible explanation for Cameron’s non-appearance at the Legion event in Birmingham may be a story in the Sunday Times (£) also on 14 October. This was an exposé of former senior military officers who were claiming to be able to lobby Whitehall on behalf of defence firms. It stated that:
The Royal British Legion began an investigation after Lieutenant-General Sir John Kiszely, its president, was named as one of six former commanders recorded by undercover reporters, who claimed they represented a South Korean arms firm looking for business. Sir John was quoted by The Sunday Times as saying that he could use his role at the charity to promote the company’s agenda with the Prime Minister and other figures at Remembrance Day events.  
… Sir John described how his role at the Legion exposed him to various senior figures. “It sounds totally grand: you’re standing there waiting for the Queen with nothing else to talk about to Philip Hammond than whatever,” he said. The Falklands veteran also claimed that the Festival of Remembrance for Britain’s war dead was a “tremendous networking opportunity”. Contacted by The Sunday Times after the sting, the Sir John said that he had always kept his commercial interests “entirely separate” from his role with the Legion and had never used access gained through it to discuss any business interests.
On 15 October, Kiszely resigned as Legion president. And possibly the Number 10 press team in the days before the story broke had been living up to their reputation for competence.

In his speech Cameron made the point that:
However frustrating and however difficult the debates in Europe, 100 years on we sort out our differences through dialogue and meetings around conference tables, not through the battles on the fields of Flanders or the frozen lakes of western Russia.
The Menin Road by Paul Nash
(next to the PM at the IWM on 11 October)
Libby Purves in The Times on 15 October, writing in support of the recent award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU, put it more pointedly:
Maybe our present justifiable disgruntlement with the EU (I see even Michael Gove is joining in) will actually be tempered a little by the coming year of remembrance of the 1914-1918 war. We will be made to see the horror of that period more clearly than we ever do through the fuzzy sentimentality of Downton or the poppy-wreath dignity of the Cenotaph.  
… The EU is, very often, a pain in the neck. But it is part of an attempt never to do it again: to create what Churchill called a “richer, freer, more contented European commonality”. OK, Churchill didn’t think Britain should be actually inside it (“We are linked but not compromised, interested and associated but not absorbed”) but he spoke for his own proud, bruised times. Whether or not Britain should stay within its sticky and often mismanaged embrace, I do not know. But looking across the Channel, and remembering worse times, it would be wrong to begrudge the EU its prize.
A post here earlier this year contained a quote from Cameron:
If your vision of Britain was that we should just withdraw [from the EU] and become a sort of greater Switzerland, I think that would be a complete denial of our national interests.
It will be interesting to see what line (if any) the WW1 centenary activities will take about the UK’s relationship with a historically belligerent Europe. I would be surprised if it were one to help UKIP.

7 October 2012

Disraeli reminds me of who?

In the Daily Mail on 6 October, the historian Dominic Sandbrook set out to explain how inappropriate it was for Ed Miliband in his Labour Party Conference speech to attempt to annex Disraeli and his ‘One nation’. The Mail subeditors, rarely inclined to terseness, headlined the piece Red Ed’s One Nation hero was a vacuous, egotistical hypocrite who sent British soldiers to die needlessly in foreign wars. (Remind you of anyone?). This was presumably intended to point the reader in the direction of Tony Blair. However Sandbrook had a different target, offering a scathing rejection of Disraeli the man and of ‘One Nation’ and obviously admiring his rival, Gladstone:
… the One Nation slogan is merely an excuse for woolly, weedy, do-nothing politics. As the Labour firebrand Michael Foot once sagely remarked, if you sit in the middle of the road long enough, eventually you will be run over. So if I were David Cameron next week, I would not bother trying to reclaim Disraeli. Instead, I would proclaim my attachment to a far greater Victorian politician: the Liberal statesman William Gladstone. Given that he is already in bed with the Lib Dems, Mr Cameron might shudder at the thought of invoking a Liberal hero. But he would be in good company: no less a figure than Mrs Thatcher, after all, once told her conference that ‘if Mr Gladstone were alive today he would apply to join the Conservative Party’. Although Gladstone and Disraeli are forever associated in the public imagination, they could hardly have been more different. Disraeli was funnier, more flamboyant and more dashing. But on almost every count that actually matters, Gladstone was far superior. He was a more convinced reformer, a more imaginative chancellor and a dedicated public servant who genuinely cared about the plight of the poor.
On the way to this conclusion Disraeli’s shortcomings were made clear:
He was a brilliant speaker, an accomplished novelist and a flamboyant showman.  
At bottom, Benjamin Disraeli was interested only in Benjamin Disraeli. His entire political career was devoted to his own advancement; it is not for nothing that he famously boasted of having climbed ‘to the top of the greasy pole’.  
As a young man in the 1830s, he tried to make his name as a novelist. But when money and fame were slow to materialise, he decided on politics instead.  
It was entirely typical of his cynical style, though, that once the Corn Laws had bitten the dust, he made no effort to restore them. Throughout his career, he saw principle as subordinate to tactical self-interest.  
Indeed, it is telling that like those other shameless mountebanks David Lloyd George and Tony Blair, Disraeli loved the glamour and intrigue of military adventures abroad.  
It was little wonder his critics thought Disraeli represented all that was worst about imperialism. But the truth was that, in the absence of any concrete policies or principles, he instinctively fell back on the basest jingoism. In 1876, he even conferred on Queen Victoria the title of Empress of India, to the outrage of commentators who objected that such tawdry baubles were basically un-British. It was pure Disraeli: eye-catching, vainglorious, utterly without shame and ultimately demeaning to all concerned. For Professor Parry [Disraeli’s most recent biographer, the eminent Cambridge historian Jon Parry], Disraeli’s fundamental quality was his ‘astonishing egotism’.  
And his personal life, which was full of affairs, fell a long way short of Ed Miliband’s conspicuous uxoriousness. When Disraeli died in 1881, Gladstone nicely summed him up as ‘all show and no substance’.
The politician this description brought into my mind certainly wasn’t Ed Miliband, or David Cameron, or Tony Blair. I'm afraid it was Boris Johnson!

3 October 2012

The UK macroeconomic facts of life

In his Labour Party Conference speech on 2 October, Ed Miliband asked the audience:
Have you ever seen a more incompetent, hopeless, out of touch, u-turning, pledge-breaking, make it up as you go along, back of the envelope, miserable shower than this Prime Minister and this Government?
Good rollicking stuff, to which the cynic can only answer: possibly not, but surely rivalled by the one led by Gordon Brown and in which you were Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change! In the Daily Telegraph, Allister Heath, the editor of City A.M, provides a more adult perspective on what he calls:
The dirty little secret of contemporary politics is that there is very little difference between what the Coalition and Labour intend to do on macroeconomics. Ed Miliband's policies are little more than Coalition-lite. In an economy worth £1.57 trillion a year, and with the Government spending at least £683bn, of which around £130bn will probably be borrowed, a raging argument over whether £1bn extra should be spent on apprentices or £3bn of 4G money on housing is tantamount to a phoney war over 0.3pc of GDP. Such differences are little more than rounding errors.  
A genuinely game-changing left-wing alternative would need to involve numbers 10 times larger: spending would have to be increased by £45bn to make a real difference. Such a move would be suicidal, so we should count our blessings that Labour are only pretending to reject austerity. But the furiousness of the debate in Westminster is often inversely proportional to the true significance of the issue at hand. Britain's political classes have succumbed to what Sigmund Freud described as the narcissism of small differences. It suits everybody involved to exaggerate differences.
(our awareness of “small differences” possibly having been raised by Grayson Perry)
Heath concludes that
:… a Miliband administration would end up spending roughly the same share of GDP as the current Coalition, and would be forced to stick with austerity.  
… In the absence of dramatic supply-side and tax reforms – which neither Government nor Opposition back – the New Normal over the next few years will be growth of 1pc or so a year, meaning no extra money to spend on Labour's client groups or on public services, robbing the party of its main justification.   
… Labour is in desperate need of fresh thinking. It should ditch its meaningless "predistribution" idea, pseudo-intellectual drivel that could be used to justify anything.
Heath, whose article should be read in full, goes on to suggest some changes, particularly on monetary policy, should Ed Miliband be inclined to take on Ed Balls. He does not address two major problems – the impact on already strained household expenditure of increased mortgage repayments should (when!) interest rates go up, and how much longer lenders will allow the UK to borrow £130bn a year, which is, slightly more tangibly, about £356million every calendar day or £513million every day that the markets are open - about £10 for each adult.

ADDENDUM 17 October

In an article in the Daily Telegraph, Allister Heath has now started to address the point “how much longer lenders will allow the UK to borrow £130bn a year” above:
Since August 1, the Debt Management Office, which is tasked with raising cash for the Treasury, has sold £34.3bn of new IOUs. During the same time, the Bank of England bought £32bn of them. The difference – a relatively trivial £2bn – is the net amount the market had to absorb. There is actually a scarcity of some kinds of gilts. Interest rates on government debt are no longer a meaningful representation of what private lenders are demanding to extend cash to the British state. There is a false market in government bonds.  
… In August, the Bank actually bought more gilts (£14bn) than the Treasury issued (£10.1bn). So far this financial year, the Bank has bought £62.5bn worth of gilts, almost two thirds of the £100bn or so issued. Total gilt purchases by the Bank have reached £365.7bn out of a total gilt market of £1.164 trillion. he state now owes 31pc of the national debt to itself. The official line is that these gilts will eventually be sold back to the private sector, as QE makes way for quantitative tightening (QT), but this is unlikely. Either the gilts owned by the Bank will be held until maturity and then rolled over; or they will eventually be cancelled.  
… Forget about the tough rhetoric: the UK is being kept afloat by a new bubble, albeit one caused by QE rather than house prices. It is only when reality eventually reasserts itself that we will finally understand what fiscal pain really means.
Unfortunately August 1 is about 11 weeks ago, which suggests that the UK is currently borrowing at a rate of over £160bn a year.

1 October 2012

What’s in a PM’s name?

The 2010 Coalition has now reached the halfway point of its existence, and there is, as yet, no significantly good news about the economy. The Conservatives have decided to move onto different ground and attempt to convince the electorate that Ed Miliband lacks the qualities perceived as being required of a Prime Minister. This was, according to the Financial Times (£), a stratagem decided on at Chequers on 17 September, and, according to the Guardian, encouraged by private opinion polling. So, never slow off the mark, Boris Johnson delivered an attack in the Daily Telegraph on 1 October which was ad hominem to start with:
... a total disappointment; and as leader of a major political party, he looks to me like a drip of the first order. According to yesterday’s YouGov, the Tories are only five points behind Labour — a measly five points, in the depths of what has been the longest and deepest recession many people can remember, when George Osborne is accused of slashing public services, and when many families have experienced a real deterioration in their standard of living. When Neil Kinnock was doing Ed’s job in the early Nineties, he managed to go about 24 points clear of John Major — and he still lost. What is wrong with Ed? The Tory strategists say it is all about his look, his manner, a certain teenage gawkiness compared to Dave’s look of Regency confidence; and that is certainly borne out by the polls. Dave wins big on who the voters both want to be PM – and, crucially, who they think will be PM.
and then goes on to policies:
Elections in this country, especially general elections, are not just about personalities. They are about programmes, about where you want to take the country, and it is here that Ed is getting it hopelessly wrong. Some Labour top brass accuse him of a do-nothing strategy, of trying to sneak into Downing Street with an exhibition of masterly inactivity. If only that were true. In so far as he has done anything with the Labour Party since taking over from Gordon Brown, Ed has moved it to the Left. He is back in the pocket of the union barons, .. etc etc
Johnson optimistically concludes:
Over the next two and a half years the most likely political outcome is surely this: that the economy will steadily recover, and the signs of hope that we are now seeing will multiply. After enduring a long period of unpopularity, during which they did difficult but sensible things, the Conservatives will be rewarded for their patience. I have said it once and I say it again. David Cameron will be returned with a thumping majority in 2015.
Paul Goodman (a former Tory MP and executive editor of Conservative Home) explained in the FT on 1 October that the Tories have a trump card in the form of Ed Miliband. He doesn’t see Miliband’s leftwardness as a problem, in fact
“Mr Miliband is safe to continue criticising capitalism if he closes down his risks on tax and spend by choosing to tax something unpopular, like utilities. But not to worry: … these gathering clouds have a silver lining for the Tories – namely, the personality of the Labour leader himself. The poll ratings of the two main party leaders convey a clear message: better strong and smug (Mr Cameron) than weak and weird (Mr Miliband). Leader ratings aren’t always decisive in elections; Lady Thatcher was less popular than Jim Callaghan in 1979. However, they matter, and Mr Miliband’s biggest problem, like that of the Tories, is less one of policy than of people. Or rather of one person. Himself.
Whether the Tories' tactic will pay off or whether, as C4News’ Gary Gibbon suggests, Miliband will be trained to subdue his professorial geekiness and mannerisms at least enough to disarm the voters, we shall see, particularly when at the pre-election TV debates. But there is one aspect of Miliband that can be put into some sort of historical context now: his surname.

I remember reading, but regrettably cannot now source, a report that after the death of their father, Ralph, David and Ed Miliband were the only adults with that surname (other than their mother and wives who acquired it by marriage). It certainly is unusual, much more unusual than those of nearly all British prime ministers in the last 200 years. From Guardian and Wikipedia data, it can be seen that 34 different men and one woman have been Prime Minister since 1812. I have classified their surnames under four headings:

16 English Common - as seen every day on the side of lorries and vans eg Robinson, Russell, Wilson

 8 English Uncommon – but not unsettling for the average voter eg Wellesley, Primrose, Asquith, Attlee

10 Scottish, Welsh, Irish – eg Balfour, Macmillan, Cameron (but not Brown)

 1 Exotic – Disraeli

(There were four PMs with hyphenated surnames, three of them Scottish; Gascoyne-Cecil has been put in English Uncommon; the unhyphenated Bonar Law again is Scottish.)

In 2015 Miliband would be only the second PM in over two hundred years with an Exotic surname. In his day Disraeli only had to satisfy a small and relatively sophisticated franchise. Since 1930, essentially the start of the modern franchise, there have been 10 PMs with English surnames, five with Scottish and one Irish (Callaghan).  But so what in 2015?  After all, the 21st century may, for all we know, see an Umunna, Patel or Singh in Number 10.


In his speech to the Labour Party Conference today, Miliband mentioned Disraeli five times (and "One Nation" 46 times).  He also said:
My conviction is rooted in my family’s story, a story that starts 1,000 miles from here, because the Miliband’s haven’t sat under the same oak tree for the last five hundred years. Both of my parents’ came to Britain as immigrants, Jewish refugees from the Nazis. I know I would not be standing on this stage today without the compassion and tolerance of our great country. Great Britain.
I'm not sure the oak tree remark was very sensible; it may come back to haunt him.

Red Princes and Princesses

The strange death in China last year of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, the arrest and trial of Gu Kailai for his murder, and now the disgrace of her husband Bo Xilai, have probably made people in the UK more aware of the dynastic nature of the Chinese Communist Party. In the US, China is analysed closely, and anyone looking to learn more about the ‘princelings’ should find Jeremy Page’s 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal informative. The WSJ interactive graphic shows Bo Xilai’s antecedents and also the elite positions now occupied by other children of Mao Zedong’s comrades.

Once a concept like princelings is established it travels and then gets transferred. The UK political blogger Guido Fawkes ran stories last month about Will Straw (son of Jack) “spending time in the Lancashire seat of Rossendale and Darwen” and Euan Blair (son of Tony and Cherie) apparently being interested in selection for the Labour seat of Coventry North West. But he was able to cap this shortly afterwards with news that Joe Dromey (son of Jack and Harriet née Harman) was “devoting a lot of time to work in the safe Labour seat of Lewisham Deptford”. This story was run under the headline The Red Princes: Third Dromey Trying to Get on the Gravy Train (left).

The Labour Party’s annual conference began at the end of September , so good timing for Guido and not surprising that Toby Young in the Sun on Sunday on 30 September came out with:
In case you’re in any doubt that Labour is the true party of inherited privilege, I give you the Wedgwood Benn dynasty. Tony Benn, that old socialist warhorse, was the son of Viscount Stansgate, a Labour Secretary of State, and his son, Hilary Benn, went on to serve in Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s Cabinet. The latest addition to this fine, aristocratic line is Emily Benn, Tony’s granddaughter, who was selected to stand as the Labour candidate in East Worthing and Shoreham in 2007. To cap it all, this was when she was 17, before she was old enough to vote!
More accurately, although selected at 17, Emily Benn was old enough to vote by the time of the 2010 election in which she came third, behind the LibDems, and the Tory, Tim Loughton, who increased his majority.

Although Guido has, so far, only picked on our ‘Red Princes’, their Chinese analogues include Princesses, as Damien Ma reported in the Atlantic last year in Meet the Red Princesses and Princes: The Chinese Elite's Globe-Trotting Kids. No doubt some Red Princesses will be surfacing here before long – the Blairs have a daughter as well as another son, Nicky. And before the last election, Georgia Gould, daughter of the late Philip Gould, was reported to be interested in the Labour selection for Erith and Thamesmead shortly after graduation. According to the Daily Mail she had taken over as Chair of the Oxford University Labour Club from none other than Nicky Blair!

Of course, political dynasties are not uncommon among the Conservatives either, perhaps not quite so intertwined, but we can expect the Daily Mail and Guido to give them a miss. Damien Ma put his finger on something relevant though, when he concluded:
It is far from clear whether any of them [the Red Princesses and Princes] will have political aspirations in the future, and if they do, whether their experiences will decisively shape their world views. The average Chinese -- actually, average anybody -- would struggle to identify with what they represent or to determine whether they will be forces for change or stasis in China over the next decades.
Our political class certainly isn’t short of people from the PPE/researcher/adviser mould now.  Their clone-like offspring are likely to be at two removes from reality rather than one. In the 2020s, when they are all at each other’s throats as were their parents in the last decade, it should make for lively political reporting, if not good government. Let’s hope Leveson doesn’t stifle the Guidos before then. I would put my money on Straw Jr, who was accepted into the civil service fast-stream, no mean feat, and is at least prepared to take on a currently Tory-held seat rather than a safe Labour one, and also bet on Nicky Blair of whom we hear little - but remember the significance in British politics of birth order!

Of course, a reasonable conclusion is that there can’t be that many good graduate jobs around, if all that these wealthy and well-connected kids can aspire to is Parliament. Also, perhaps being an MP with a safe seat is far more congenial, by comparison with most paid work, than many of us plebs realise or the current incumbents care to let on. But the princes in particular should take heed of ‘famous father syndrome’ which can easily afflict those who follow in parental footsteps. One of the best-known sufferers was Randolph Churchill. When it became known that his surgically-excised growth was benign, Evelyn Waugh famously remarked that "It was a typical triumph of modern science to find the one part of Randolph which was not malignant and to remove it."


In his Guardian Labour Conference Diary Michael White reported for 1 October:

Tony Blair's former press chief Alastair Campbell is "thinking about" standing for election at the next general election, he revealed yesterday. Asked on LBC radio whether he had ambitions to become an MP, he said: "All I'll say to you is I get a lot of people asking me, particularly when I'm up here, and I do think about it and I am thinking about it and I don't think there's a fantastic rush. We sort of know when the next election is."

Which constituency Campbell has in mind has not been reported yet.  He has two potential princes and one princess, and a partner, Fiona Millar, who was rumoured to be interested in taking over Glenda Jackson's seat