UK 2015 General Election: Predicting the Unpredictable

Ballot boxAs I write these words, we’re just days away from the UK General election, which has been billed as the most unpredictable for a generation or more.

That might be true, but is it totally unpredictable?

While the exact outcome is going to be pretty difficult, we can certainly get a sense of what is more or less likely to occur.

I’ll be broadcasting on-air overnight that night for Global: Europe’s largest commercial radio group. I have teams across the south region region waiting for the ballot papers to be counted, and the results to come in. It’ll be a long night for all of us in the broadcast media, but an exciting one, not least because the exact outcome is so uncertain.

But the opinion polls – which have remained pretty consistent throughout – do give us at least some sense of what we might see come the early hours of Friday 8th May.

Firstly, a quick disclaimer about the figures. Polls, let’s not forget, predicted a trouncing for John Major’s government back in 1992, almost right up to election day, only for him to re-enter Downing Street with an increased majority.

But the polls are the best we’ve got, and with the figures in them being so fixed for so long, there’s a good chance that they are painting at least a reasonable picture of the outcome.

If you extrapolate the percentage-based polls into actual seats won for each party (a risky business), we can see a lead of ten or so seats for the Conservatives over Labour, around half of the Liberal Democrats losing their seats, a less than impressive result for UKIP, and domination in Scotland by the SNP.

What kind of a parliament does that create, and how do we create a government out of it? I feeling that our system is quite outdated. In my book from a couple of years ago, “TREASON: And Other Good Ideas“, I suggested a system where the people directly elect the head of the executive branch. That way, if you ever get a fragmented parliament (the legislative branch), you at least know that the Prime Minister is in his or her position with a reasonable degree of legitimacy.

However, we live in a different world to the one I suggested then, so for now, we have to deal with the system as it stands. And as it stands, things might get ugly.

Simply put, neither the Conservatives or Labour will win enough seats for an outright majority. That’s something we can be at least fairly certain of.

For the Tories, it looks very unlikely there will be enough Lib Dems to form a coalition with, and even factoring UKIP and the DUP from Northern Island, there may not be enough for a “grand coalition.”

It’s looking equally as grim – if not more so – for the Labour Party. They could form a coalition with the SNP, as they’d have enough seats between them to form a government.

But this would be almost impossible after Labour’s leader Ed Miliband ruled out a coalition. If he went back on his word now, he’d possibly push Labour out of No. 10 for a decade or more. Plus, most people in the UK would see this as an illegitimate government (even if it wasn’t technically), as only people in Scotland could vote for the SNP, who could hold Labour to ransom for anything they wanted.

There’s a slim chance that Labour could form a coalition with other left-leaning parties other than the SNP (like Plaid Cymru in Wales and the Green Party if they do better), but again, there’s a good chance Labour will have fewer MPs than the Tories, and so any government not formed mostly of Conservatives could be seen as not “right” by many people: “How can a party have the most MPs but not be in government?” The answer, is “well, it’s our quirky system”, but that won’t be satisfactory to many.

So I’ll put my neck on the line and do something fairly daft: I’ll predict the outcome for the least predictable UK general election in a long time:

I think that we’ll end up with a minority Conservative government. It’ll be a short-lived entity, which will build bridges and alliances in some areas, but fail to pass many of its bills as they wind their way through the parliamentary system, but possibly just about getting Labour to sign off on its Queens Speech, for the sake of stability if nothing else. Then, as soon as this October, or maybe into next year, we may go to the polls again. It might end up being a poisoned chalice for the Tories who end up stuck between a rock and a hard place, while becoming so unpopular that they lose the subsiquent election convincingly.

I’ll report on events as they happen on the Heart and Capital networks, and LBC. It’ll be interesting to see just how wrong I am.

We’ll find out soon.

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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? 😉

DRM on eBooks

wbookA great post on TechDirt about an ebook publisher that hasn’t seen any significant increase in piracy since they stopped using DRM (Digital Rights Management, or copy-protection) on their titles.

If anything, the number of copies purchased increased. I always thought this would happen if you sell your digital products that are more aligned to what the market wants – i.e. a very good price and with no restrictions on where you can make use of them – you will always be better off.

If you have heavy copyright restrictions on a song, TV show, movie or ebook, the pirated version is actually better than the legit version. And you’ve just created a kind of moral hazard – there is now an almost valid reason or motivation to remove that copy-protection and once you’ve done that, why not just add it to a file sharing site or torrent? Where as if you just have it available cheaply, and copyright-free, people just buy it, use it, and – generally at least – have less motivation to share it. Just buy it yourself dude, and use it however you’d like.

Now let’s be clear, I’m a hypocrite. All of my books are available on the Nook, Kindle iPad, etc. And all of them have DRM. But that’s seldom a decision that’s made by the author. That’s a publisher/distributor issue. And I’d love to have no DRM on my books. In fact, DRM-free pdf versions of most of my books are available and as far as I’m aware, it hasn’t increased piracy on my books one jot.

Andy Jones TV is back (and the new book is here!)

I’ve been locked in a dungeon for the past few months doing the new book ‘TREASON (and other good ideas)’ and I’m happy to say that not only is it out, but it’s selling pretty well too so far.

As such, I have had a tiny bit more time to do the pretentiously-entitled Andy Jones TV, so it’s back for season three, and now in high-def as well as a new style that allows me to churn them out on a more satisfyingly ad-hoc basis.

As such, here’s the first episode (a few are up already) that mentions TREASON. Hope the book is as fun to read as it was to write it!

And here’s why you can buy TREASON in it’s various guises:
Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/TREASON-other-good-ideas-Jones/dp/1446180603/
Amazon.co.uk: http://www.amazon.co.uk/TREASON-other-good-ideas-Jones/dp/1446180603/
US Kindle edition: http://www.amazon.com/TREASON-other-good-ideas-ebook/dp/B004HKII80/
UK Kindle edition: http://www.amazon.co.uk/TREASON-other-good-ideas-ebook/dp/B004HKII80/

New Book Info Coming Soon…

I know, I’ve really been slacking on this blog, (and Andy Jones TV) but it’s all been for a good cause; my new book. It’s out now, and I’ll have all the info for you real soon.

In the meantime, on the back of the new book, some have asked for a brief summary. And I thought about it a bit last night. I think the book is basically a rather mischievous thought-experiment, but also, it has a message about what we might be able to define as good government. As such, I scribbled this down and thought you might find it interesting. Or you might find it to be nonsense. Either way, enjoy:

Andy Jones’ 3 Rules of Good Government
1) Government must keep us free above all other things.
2) Government may make us safer, unless this violates rules one.
3) If government violates rules one or two, then it must be ended, and a government that obeys rules one and two must be put in its place.

Cash For Influence. Don’t Reduce the Cash. Reduce the Influence.

So the revelations keep coming.

Politicians, (namely Labour politicians, namely Stephen Byers et. al) have been selling their influence for a fee. The Tories shouldn’t be too self-righteous about it, they’ve done things like this, and worse. However, this is really a stunning story, and surely it’d normally be the death-knell for a government. For some reason, that hasn’t happened.

The Times has reported the scandal, (see the link above) but no one seems to be running that heavily on it. I wonder why?

Alas, I fear that it’s because we’re all in a daze after the never ending expenses scandal. I think that pushed the boat out for us. However, the expenses scandal is chickenfeed compared to the idea that Byers can describe himself as “a taxi for hire.” This is corporatism/socialism of its nastiest, most cynical form.

Oh, and this actually brings us to the US health care mess. Yes, they are related.

President Obama has won. The US will now have a massive expansion in the state involvement in health care. The mainstream media in the UK is treating this like it’s a wonderful thing. But it’s another disaster. As I mention in the LBJ chapter of my book about the American Presidents, President Johnson’s plans to create two new massive bureaucracies in the form of Medicare and Medicaid cost a fortune, made health care more expensive, and reduced the amount of quality care available for everyone.

If the government in the US regulated the grocery business as much as it did the health business, then people would literally be starving in the streets. Remember those haunting images of people queuing for hours in communist Russia for a loaf of bread? But because there’s a total free market in the food-shopping biz, competition keeps quality high and prices low. You pay for your food. If you don’t like the price/quality, shop elsewhere. That’s why most grocers don’t poison their customers. They want them to come back. The good businesses thrive, and the bad businesses die out.

As I’ll explain in detail in my forthcoming book (Treason and Other Good Ideas), the health care industry in the US was the best in the world not too many years ago. In terms of quality of care and innovation it still is. But it went from number 1 in the world to number 37 in a very short time. Why? Because politicians took it over. And the special interests swooped. The politicians, in a cynical power grab, stole huge amounts of influence in what would have otherwise been the private buying decisions of millions of individuals.

When American health care was the best in the world, (and people purchased health insurance like they purchase car insurance, or home insurance), America was number one. Now it’s a 50/50 split between government owned/private health insurance (with government over-regulating the private half too), the US has fallen through the league table. That’s a bit fat failure. A modern tragedy.

And, in a nutshell, here’s my problem with President Obama’s plan: if health care was comparatively great when it was 100% private (with both private charity and the doctors Hippocratic Oath helping the poorest people), and then it started to seriously suck once the government got involved from the late sixties until now, (with the relationship between doctor and patient being forever severed, because the health insurance company is now the customer), how can more of what made it suck save it?

I sincerely worry about the quality of care available to the poorest and middle-class Americans in the coming years. And I worry even more about the horrific unfunded liability that this giant mess will leave for future generations. Look at the figures of this ‘cost-neutral’ plan. None of it adds up. The president hasn’t consulted an economist of any intellegence. He’s consulted a witchdoctor.

Now let’s look at why this story relates to Byers and the ‘cash for influence’ scandal. Basically, the socialized health care system that will now infect the American people was the result of exactly the same forms of ‘cash for influence’.

In this health care debate, the one group that was totally on Obama’s side was the private health insurance lobbyists. Notice how very few in the media have mentioned this? Let me say it again, the large private health insurance corporations funded the propaganda that helped get Obama’s health plan passed.

Think about it, why would the health insurance corporations be the main group behind this? Isn’t it obvious? They’ve bought something with their money – billions in extra revenue without having to innovate their services and lower prices, as they would have had to have done if the president merely chose to deregulate the industry. They bought the huge influence and power that Obama now wields. And how the hell did they manage to push this through with the Democrats using “deem & pass”rulings? That’s about as anti-democratic as you can get isn’t it?

So in both of these unfortunate stories, undue influence has been paid for. The anti-capitalists will shriek and wail (though less at the health care tragedy because they love the ‘attack’ that appears to have been inflicted on the free market), but as always, they miss the point. The failure here is nothing to do with capitalism. It has nothing to do with the money that has changed hands to purchase influence. It’s to do with the fact that this influence EXISTS to begin with.

The political class simply have way way WAY too much power over our lives. End of.

If you want to see reason, logic and truth win the battle for ideas, then you MUST severely limited what government is allowed to do. In a ‘cash for influence’ scandal, don’t reduce the cash. You can’t. Just reduce the influence that cash can buy. It’s time to neuter government.

Is the Time Nearing For Treason?

As the characteristically eloquent Daniel Hannan points out, as of today, Britain ceased to be the principle architect of its own destiny.

And it seems, the only legal way out on our own terms is now officially to commit treason.

Which is ironic, considering that “treason” happens to be the working title of my next book…