UK 2015 Election: Proof I Don’t Know What I’m Talking About

In the blog-post I wrote right before this one, a few days before the UK general election, I decided to predict the outcome, and guess which of the major parties would form a government, and how long it would last.

I’m currently resting up (or at least, I’m supposed to be) after a 24-hour marathon stint on the Heart and Capital radio stations, breaking all the overnight stories of the election. As the ballot-booths are flat-packed away for now, and the black-and-white “Polling Station” signs are taken down off the walls of community centres and school halls across the country, I think it’s only fair that I look at what I wrote a few days ago, and see how it tallies with the reality.

And it’s pretty clear. I couldn’t have been more wrong about the outcome if I tried. I didn’t even entertain the idea that there might be a majority government, given the consistent message from the polls that suggested otherwise.

So I’m W. H. Wrongy McWrongstein, of Wrongsville, Carolina. Population: Wrong.

Proof, if any proof were really needed, that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

But how did all the polls get it all so wrong? We had months of the polls, from a host of different pollsters, day in and day out, all showing that no party would have enough MPs to form a majority. But when the big day came, we had one clear winner.

David Cameron and the Conservative Party wiped the floor with virtually everyone (except in Scotland, of course. There, the pollsters were spot on about the Scottish Nationalist Party and their dominance). UKIP were decimated. The Greens; right back where they started. The Liberal Democrats exiled to obscurity. And Plaid who?

And as I write, David Cameron is live-tweeting announcements about his new cabinet, fully Liberal Democrat-free following his 331 seats in parliament.

An outright Conservative majority. How did we get here?

The only explanation I can think of (and given how wrong I was in my election prediction – did I mention that? Way, way wrong – my explanation may not carry much weight), is that we’ve seen a repeat of the 1992 election.

Then, a beleaguered Tory government – Lead by John Major – was sleepwalking into a comprehensive defeat.

Their opponents – Labour – were all but guaranteed to form the next government. Labour’s leader Neil Kinnock even went as far as to host a victory rally before polling day.

Then the election day came. And the Tories won. Comprehensively.

I believe that yesterday – as in 1992 – the public maybe didn’t quite form an opinion of how to vote until they got into the polling booth. Major’s government were as far removed from ‘cool’ as you could get. Voting for them was almost an embarrassment to some. Why would you tell a pollster that’s what you were going to do? Even if it was what you were going to do?

But even if it was only in the back of their mind, there was a genuine concern about where the country was headed under a Kinnock government. Back to the old days of economic illiteracy and ‘managed decline’. The people blinked, and Major stayed in Number 10. A few years on, and our deficits turned to very impressive surpluses.

The unique way in which the global market crash in 2008 hurt Britain was – for a big part – down to our unaffordable public spending. We had the deficit of a basket-case economy. But we just kept on spending, kept on trying to live off that ‘hair of the dog’ each morning.

Though it wasn’t totally popular to some, modest steps were taken by the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition from 2010 to introduce austerity. It’s a dirty word these days, but all it really means is “living within your means”. Income has to be equal to, or lower than expenditure. That’s not evil free market dogma, or cruel Tory “ideological” cuts. It’s called maths. If you get £5 a week pocket money, and spend £6 a week on stuff, you’ll have to borrow £1. If you do that every week for ten weeks, you’ll owe £10. One day, that has to be paid back. See: maths?

Now I’m not a big fan of the coalition for a variety of reasons. The debt that’s been piled on over the past five years is inexcusable, and they’re no way near classically liberal enough for my tastes. But, the Tories wanted to eliminate the deficit in five years. They were in coalition, so couldn’t be as radical as they’d like to be. Let’s say, they could only be half as radical. So by 2015, they’ve cut the deficit in half.

It’s a fairly clear demonstration that, generally speaking, they were right. The (now unemployed after losing his seat) Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls went on every TV and radio show in the country describing the austerity (living in your means, i.e. maths) measures as being “to far and too fast” for the first two years of coalition. Turns out, if do want to criticise the coalition’s austerity measures, it’d be better to say they didn’t go far enough and weren’t implemented quickly enough.

The coalition decided to lean in the direction of maths/austerity. Labour leader Ed Milliband – who resigned this afternoon – said for every public sector job cut, a private sector job would also go, creating greater levels of unemployment.

The coalition cut half a million public sector jobs. Two million private sector jobs (more than in the 13 years of Labour) emerged. Most of them better paying, contracted jobs.

So one group called it right, one group called it wrong. It was actually so simple we missed it. And in the back of many people’s minds, they understood. Even if it took them until they had the HB pencil in their hands in the ballot booth to really see it.

But don’t listen to me. I’m W. H. Wrongy McWrongstein, of Wrongsville, Carolina, remember?

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The Federal United Kingdom?

TREASON (and other good ideas)In the aftermath of the Scottish referendum, which saw the Scots vote to stay part of the Union, 55%-45%, I interviewed John Redwood MP, who has been the driving force behind the proposals of English MPs (only) for English votes.

He took me through his plan, which no doubt he pushed for in a mini-conference with Prime Minister David Cameron in Chequers days after the Scottish vote.

Basically, it’s a simple plan. There will be no new English parliament, they’ll use the current one in Westminster. There will be no “Members of English Parliament”, they’ll just use the current MPs who represent English constituencies. Mr. Redwood told me that this would make it a fairly “cost-free” solution, that doesn’t burden the people who yet another layer of politics.

His case is compelling, and it will probably be the primary type of English devolution that the Tories will push for. It will also be the most popular in terms of backing among the electorate.

That said, I wish that we were looking for a more radical solution. The “Redwood Plan”, (as I’ve just decided to start calling it) will help “federalise” the UK more, but I’d take it much further.

Some are concerned that a totally federalised solution in the UK wouldn’t work, as 85% of the population would live in one of the constituent parts (England) and the remaining 15% in the other three areas (Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland). Gordon Brown made that same point recently.

That could be a valid practical point, but I think it wouldn’t matter so much if we had this solution:

  • The Parliament in Westminster is called the “UK Parliament” with a Prime Minister and Vice Prime-Minister (who we vote for on a national level, counting all our votes up, just like they did with the Scottish referendum). We then also have MPs on a constituency basis, but the whole parliament just concentrates on UK-based decisions, that are dramatically cut, like national defence, international trade and relations, embassies, infrastructure projects of “UK importance”, etc. The MPs are paid a salary that matches the national average full-time wage (about £22,500 at present, plus expenses). The job is effectively not a full-time job, as their responsibilities are dramatically cut.
  • This dramatic cut in power and cost in the UK parliament is used to create (hopefully almost revenue-neutral) four parliaments in the UK: One in Scotland (which already exists), one in Northern Ireland (again, we’re almost there with that), Wales (upgrading the Welsh Assembly) and a new English Parliament (maybe set up in the middle of the country in Manchester? Or London if that’s more practical and economically viable).
  • The MPs in each of the four parliaments get to legislate on everything else: income taxes and all other taxes, health, education, infrastructure, policing, etc. They are the source of most government income, and a percentage (say, 10%) from each of the 4 “states” kicks up to the UK government to fund it. This is crucial: all 4 “states” MUST be self-funding. Again, a First Minister and Second Minister (with a constitutionally-recognised order of succession) is voted for separately in state-wide Executive elections, that maybe coincide with the state MP elections, and possibly the UK executive/legislative elections.
  • Power then for many more things goes down to each region, constituency, town/city/parish.

Probably not viable, but much more democratic and accountable. This isn’t my utopian idea, but a practical step towards a “Federal Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” that makes us more prosperous and free.

And of course, some of this is covered in my book TREASON (and other good ideas) which – unsurprisingly during this time of potential UK constitutional upheaval – is making something of a comeback in sales.

Sorry to end the post on a cheap plug, but hey, I’ve got to eat, right? 😉

The NHS: Britain’s State Religion

Stethoscope“The NHS is Britain’s national religion” stated then Prime Ministerial hopeful David Cameron before the last election. The phrase was meant to show he understood how preciously we hold the NHS to our collective heart, and that he wasn’t going to “tamper” with it too much.

He’s right that we hold it dear, and he’s right that we in the UK treat it as a religion, but he’s way off if he thinks this is a good thing.

A religion is a belief that operates on faith – without any evidence. Indeed, often the absence of evidence is a requirement. Even if there is evidence to the contrary, it merely serves to boost the congregations faith and proclaim their beliefs in a louder more vocal way.

The overwhelming evidence is that Britain, with it’s nation health service, has one of the worst healthcare outcomes in the western world. Everyone (almost) can provide some anecdotal story about how their Aunty Mabel received great treatment and that the nurses were very kind, but it’s just that – an anecdote. The fact is, even lucky old Aunty Mabel would have better treatment if she’d have been treated in Singapore, or Germany, or many other countries.

I have big problems with the healthcare system in the US. But those problems are the SAME as the ones facing Britain. The narrative in the UK is you either have our post-war NHS system, or you have an “evil” “private” system like the US. But what about the other systems, many of which, unlike both the UK and US models, are fairly free-market solutions?

The thing is though, pretty much all the ills with the American system are to do with the fact that it’s not a free-market system when compared to say, the cellphone market, or the grocery business. If the grocery industry was run like the US healthcare system, millions and millions of Americans would go to bed hungry every night. And more than a million every year would starve to death. But luckily, the comparatively free market grocery “system” in America means that the problems with diet over there are down to over-consumption (type 2 diabetes, heart decease and obesity), not starvation. I appreciate there are hungry people in the US, but I think we’re all smart enough to understand the problem in context. Tens of millions in the US will not go hungry tonight.

The US government contributes about 75 cents of every dollar spent on healthcare. There are anti free-market rules about not buying coverage in a different state to the one you live in, and if you do buy insurance, (or what they laughably call insurance but is really a system to pay for everything in advance, not just to insure yourself against unforeseen problems) you’re forced to pay for coverage for things irrelevant to you. But all that is for another post.

Basically healthcare the the UK and the US is faced with the same problem: the distance between the customer and the seller. If the majority of us had to directly buy your own health services and goods, the prices would fall and the quality would rise, at levels we can’t imagine now. That’s what happens in every other comparatively “free market” capital-intensive, zero marginal cost business/service. The problem in both systems, is the state stands in between consumer and service.

But you can’t make that argument in the UK. Because our Aunty Mabel said those nurses were so nice to her. Even when she went in for a chesty cough and contracted the norovirus on the ward. They were lovely. And the only alternative is the evil private American system where people die on the street because they can’t afford healthcare, right?

Amen.

Syria, Chemicals and War

Several days ago, I posted this on Twitter:

I know, it’s a flippant, loose, possibly ignorant response to what was (then) our possible response to the chemical weapons deployment in Syria. That’s what you get for only having 140 characters to play with on Twitter.

But I stand by it. And I’m pleased that our Prime Minister took the issue of war/a clinical strike to the legislature, and that they voted against it. The media were hyperventilating over how this result weakened David Cameron, but I think it’s one of the strongest, most mature things he’s done since walking into No. 10.

And now that Obama has followed suit – citing the vote in Westminster specifically – I think Cameron will come out all the stronger.

I’m still deeply concerned that the war drum beats on in D.C. though. And it seems like the majority of the legislative branch will vote for war. There’s even worrying talk that Britain’s parliament may vote again once we get word that Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack.

The civil war in Syria is horrific. I mourn the loss of innocent people there, I really do. if someone wants to set up some refugee camps and needs monetary support, then tell me where to sign up. If you want to advocate clearing the trade embargoes and restrictions in Syria and anywhere else in the world, then I’ll stand by that – the only real way to guarantee security and peace in the long term. (I’ll show you a Penn & Teller clip tomorrow that perfectly explains why this works).

But we’re talking about picking winners and losers in a intricate and difficult war with too many complexities even for the Syrians themselves to understand. It’s not a war with “good” side (i.e. “the rebels”) and a “bad” side (i.e. Assad).

Yes, Assad is a monster. Maybe he or his supporters deployed those chemicals that John Kerry claims killed 1,400+ people. But the only other significant time chemical weapons were used in Syria, a UN inspection found it was rebel forces who had deployed them.

And “the rebels” are not one group. It’d be great if they were like the plucky American minutemen, fighting for freedom and independence, simply pursuing a classical liberal democratic republic. But they’re not. There isn’t two sides to this war – there’s at least seven at the last count. At least two groups of rebel forces are directly linked to Al-Qaeda. So we’re going to fight Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and back them up in Syria?

I’d love to see Assad removed from power – but replaced with what? The two million or-so Christians living in Syria are protected by the Assad regime. What happens to then once he’s gone and replaced with – possibly – something even worse?

Maybe it won’t be that bad. Maybe whoever from the rebel forces rises to the top will be much better than what they replace. But in a situation so complex, and with Iran, China, Russia and more involved and looking on with interest, surely the most dangerous thing for British and American political leaders to have now is certainty?

Andy Jones TV: David Cameron Must Make the Moral Case for Limited Government

My take here:

I was watching Conservative Party leader David Cameron squirm on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC One, mostly because he was avoiding the real issue of spending cuts. It seems that to really get over the recession and general deficit, Britain needs to start by cutting government down by 30-odd percent, rather like they did successfully in Canada.

If DC and his chums want to win the next election with a large majority rather than just pip the rest at the post, Andy argues that he needs to make the strong moral case for significant cuts, a limited government that does less than it is and have us doing more and making the key decisions over our own lives. Only then can he smash the threat of a hung parliament or win on a slimmer majority.

As Ayn Rand always said, an economic and social revolution is easy once you’ve had the moral revolution for individual freedom first.