Initial thoughts on UKIP’s advance in the Euro elections

So UKIP topped the poll in the UK’s 2014 euro elections, returning 24 MEPs compared to Labour’s 20 and the Tories 19, with Lib Dems holding onto just 1 seat (they used to have 11).

Even with the surge of anti-EU parties elsewhere, it is unlikely this will have a big effect in the European Parliament because the pro EU parties still easily outnumber the anti-EU/EU sceptic parties there. However in terms’ of the UK’s domestic politics, and the debates about EU and immigration (the two main themes of UKIP’s campaigning) there could be a significant impact in various ways:

  • The Lib Dems, the most consistently pro EU of the major parties in Britain, who took Nigel Farage and UKIP on directly in the campaign and positioned themselves as “the party of in”, have had a disastrous result. They were lucky to hold on to their single MEP and fell to fifth place behind the Greens.  Those who believe in the EU should be concerned that the one party that was unashamedly, full throttle, pro EU got a drubbing after taking on UKIP in a high profile manner.
  • UKIP are unlikely to win more than a handful of Westminster seats at the next general election, due to the vagaries of first the post, the higher turnout, the fact we’ll be electing a government, and the likelihood they’ll fall back to at best 3rd place in share of vote. However, I’d expect the other parties to pander more strongly to the concerns of the voters who voted for them. Expect more talk of immigration controls, reform of the EU or pledges of referendums on EU membership.
  • A bigger impact may come from the reaction in Scotland to these Euro election results – Scottish politics has swung to the left of British politics generally for  as long as I can remember.  With UKIP’s perception as a party to the right of the Tories, the prospect of UKIP influencing Westminster politics may give a boost to the “Yes” campaign in the Scottish independence referendum. If that boost is big enough for “yes” to win the referendum, then British politics will have the biggest shakeup it’s seen for centuries as Scotland negotiates independence. The fall out would make the next Westminster general election unpredictable.

 

 

The impact of the coalition’s plans on Britain’s debt

When considering the impact of the coalition’s spending plans it’s worth noting the impact they claim it will have on the Britain’s debt. There are 3 key figures to consider:

  • The total public debt. I.e. the total amount the government owes. According to the June budget, the official public sector net debt stood at 53.5% of GDP in 2009/2010 and was projected to rise to 74.4% of GDP by 2014/2015, had we stuck to the previous government’s plans. Under the coalition’s plans, the figure for 2014/2015 is just under 70% of GDP by 2014/2015, peaking at just 70.3% the previous year and falling to 67.4% by 2015/2016. In other words, even with the additional reductions in planned spending and increases in tax, the UK’s debt as a proportion of GDP will still grow for the next 4 years.
  • The budget deficit. This is the shortfall between total public spending and tax revenues for any given year. Again according to the June budget, the public sector net borrowing stood at 11% of GDP in 2009/2010, and was projected to fall to 4% of GDP in 5 years time under the previous government’s plans. Under the coalition’s plans, the deficit is projected fall to 1.1% of GDP by 2014/2015, and the “cyclically adjusted” deficit is project to be eliminated that year and go into surplus in 2015/2016.
  • The interest paid. This the minimum amount the government has to spend to service the debt (more needs to be spent to reduce it). This figure was projected to rise from £30.3 billion in 2009/2010 to £67 billion by 2014/2015 under the previous government’s plans. It is now project to rise to £63 billion in 2014/2015 and £66.5 billion in 2015/2016.

Thus the difference between the coalition’s plans and the previous government’s plans is that the former would see the deficit eliminated and the debt as a percentage of GDP starting to fall by 2015/2016, where both would still be increasing under the latter. And these figures are all dependent on economic growth projections being realistic. If growth is slower than expected, then eliminating the deficit within the current timescales will require even larger reductions in planned spending or bigger increases in taxation than we’ve seen thus far.

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On the size of the coalition’s spending cuts

The home page of the TUC‘s campaign against the coalition’s spending cuts describes the campaign as being “against the Government’s deep, rapid cuts in public spending” (emphasis added). A blog called “A Thousand Cuts”, dedicated to critiquing the coalition’s plans has “The slashing and burning of Britain’s public services” as it’s sub-title. The BBC claims the Institute of Fiscal Studies described the cuts as “longest, deepest, sustained period of cuts to public services spending at least since World War II”.

In other words, we’re being told by various sources that the cuts to public spending are going to be larger and more severe than we’ve seen in recent decades. But what are the numbers behind these claims?

The Adam Smith Institute (ASI) summarises the figures on total managed expenditure as follows:

Year TME (£ bn) Nominal change (%) Real change (%)
2010-11 696.8
2011-12 699.8 +0.43 -1.54
2012-13 711.0 +1.60 -0.39
2013-14 722.0 +1.55 -0.44
2014-15 737.5 +2.15 +0.14
2015-16 757.5 +2.71 +0.70

Meanwhile they summarise current spending (covering the vast bulk of “front line services”) as in the following table:

Year Current Ex. (£ bn) Nominal change (%) Real change (%)
2010-11 637.3
2011-12 651.1 +2.17 +0.16
2012-13 664.5 +2.06 +0.06
2013-14 678.6 +2.12 +0.12
2014-15 692.7 +2.08 +0.08
2015-16 711.4 +2.70 +0.69

From these tables we see that under both measures of spending, the budgets will increase in nominal terms every year, and current spending will increase overall in real terms. Note that these figures come from the budget documents themselves and assume inflation of 2%. The ASI conclude:

Now, OK, these are not exactly big rises – but nor are they swingeing cuts that will (a) have any significant effect on the economy or (b) on the public services-using population at large. What the coalition’s spending plans really amount to is a five-year, real terms freeze of current expenditure, combined with three years of significant falls in capital expenditure. The overall impact of that is a a very small, real terms drop in TME (roundabout 1.5%) between now and 2015-16.

I’m not so certain the cuts will be quite as small as that in real terms. Current official measures of inflation are significantly higher than 2%. According to the BBC, the Consumer Price Index was last measured at 3.1% whilst the Retail Price Index (which used to be the main official measure of inflation) was measured at 4.7%. At 3.1% inflation, the current expenditure of £637.3 billion would rise to £742.40 billion by 2015-16 in real terms. The projected £711.4 billion would thus represent a 4.18% cut in spending in real terms rather than a 0.69% increase. At 4.7%, the £637.3 billion would rise to £801.82 billion and the projected £711.4 billion would represent a more significant 11.27% cut.

All of these figures are a far cry from the picture of “deep, rapid” cuts or “the slashing and burning of Britain’s public services” offered by some. Of course, a freeze or small reduction in spending represents a major shift compared to the constant increases in spending under the previous government. Also, it may be that within individual departments there will be more severe cuts than this picture represents since e.g. health spending is being protected.

Nevertheless what we’re actually getting is something in between a freeze and a modest reduction in total spending in real terms.

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The DNA database and Mark Dixie

Update: The Times also has a useful look at Labour’s claims on this issue.

The Labour Party continue to portray Tory plans to restrict the retention of DNA of those charged, but never convicted, of a crime as somehow being “soft” on criminals, citing the case of Sally Anne Bowman who was killed and raped by Mark Dixie:

Gordon Brown MP, Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party, and Alan Johnson MP, Labour’s Home Secretary, will today make a campaign visit to highlight the vital role that DNA plays in tackling violent crime and why Labour has been fighting Tory plans to downgrade the DNA database.

At the visit in Stevenage the Prime Minister and Home Secretary will be joined by Linda Bowman, whose daughter Sally Anne was murdered in 2005.

Sally Anne’s murderer Mark Dixie was convicted through use of the DNA register, having been arrested but not convicted in a pub brawl.

The problem with this line of attack is that the Tories’ plans would not have made any difference in Mark Dixie’s case. When he was arrested his DNA was taken and compared to samples from the Sally Anne Bowman case. There was no need to have his DNA on the database to do that. There was thus no need to retain DNA for those never charged or never convicted to solve similar such cases. All that’s needed is to have a database of DNA collected from crime scenes and to have a policy of checking arrestees’ DNA against that of old crime scenes.

Such an approach is surely a far more proportionate use of DNA, far more respectful of privacy whilst at the same time more focussed on solving crime than retention of the DNA of those never charged with a crime in the first place, or those who have charges dropped or are acquitted.

Meanwhile, Genewatch point out that many of Labour’s other claims about the DNA database have to be taken with a large dose of salt.

How to shoot yourself in the foot in election advertising

The Labour party are trying to put voters off from voting Tory with this:

Being compared to Gene Hunt, one of the most popular characters from recent TV shows, is actually likely to boost Cameron’s chances, not hinder them. It has also opened up an obvious Tory response:

Tories Gene Hunt poster

Ouch!

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Tory Peer in bid to limit officials’ right to enter homes

[Hat Tip: Big Brother Watch]

The BBC reports:

It may sound like a Monty Python sketch – but an ancient law allowing people on private land without a warrant if they are following a bee might still apply.

The law, aimed at protecting honey supplies, is one of 1,208 powers of entry in dozens of different Acts of Parliament unearthed by a Tory peer.

Lord Selsdon recently launched a fresh bid to curb wide-ranging powers for officials to enter private homes.

He called for a code of practice to put strict limits on entry powers for all cases except those involving suspected serious crime or terrorism.

Introducing his Powers of Entry Bill in the House of Lords, Lord Selsdon said he had been pursuing the issue for more than 30 years but was not going to let it drop as “it has got into my blood”.

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On the Tories and future transfers of power to the EU

In his speech outlining his party’s new post Lisbon treaty policy on the EU, David Cameron pledged that no more powers would be transferred to the EU without a referendum:

Never again should it be possible for a British government to transfer power to the EU without the say of the British people.

If we win the next election, we will amend the European Communities Act 1972 to prohibit, by law, the transfer of power to the EU without a referendum.

And that will cover not just any future treaties like Lisbon, but any future attempt to take Britain into the euro.

He also pledged that any attempt to use the Lisbon Treaty’s “self amendment” clause would require approval by Parliament:

But people will rightly say that the Lisbon Treaty does not just transfer powers to Brussels today.

It allows further powers to be transferred in the future, because it contains a mechanism to abolish vetoes and transfer power without the need for a new Treaty.

We do not believe that any of these so-called ratchet clauses should be used to hand over more powers from Britain to the EU.

Furthermore, we would change the law so that any use of a ratchet clause by a future government would require full approval by Parliament.

Note that he is not pledging that power transfers arranged via the ratchet clause would require a referendum.

Read the rest of this entry »

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