Archive for septembre, 2010

Swing Voters Poll

Mercredi, septembre 29th, 2010

According to Lord Ashcroft, the Conservative party can gain from voting reform. It would be in the marginal seats that the Alternative Vote (AV) system would make a decisive difference, should the public vote yes for AV in the referendum planned for May, 2011.
Samples of 1500 people were interviewed in each of the following four groups of marginal constituencies:
1. The 50 most marginal and Labour-held with the Conservatives second.
2. The 50 most marginal and Conservative-held with Labour second.
3. The 25 most marginal and Liberal Democrat-held with the Conservatives second.
4. The 25 most marginal and Conservative-held with the Liberal Democrats second.
Under the current first-past-the-post voting system, Labour would now gain 28 of the seats where it was in second place to the Conservatives (group 2 above), due to a 4-point drop in the Liberal Democrat share exclusively benefiting Labour.
For the 25 Liberal Democrat-held seats (group 3 above), a dramatic 15-point fall in their vote compared with the general election hands all these seats to the Conservatives plus a further 5, the total of 30 new Conservatives then still two more than the 28 lost to Labour (in group 2 above).
Under AV the results are less dramatic. In Conservative-Labour marginal constituencies (group 2 above), while Labour voters were much more likely to give their second preferences to the Liberal Democrats, the latter were in turn more likely to give their second preferences to the Conservatives, although by a smaller margin. Overall Labour would gain 16 Conservative seats from group 2 under AV.
The effect of AV on group 3 above (the 25 Liberal Democrat-Conservative marginal seats) was that the Liberal Democrats were significant beneficiaries of second and third preferences. However, they were also so lacking in first preferences that the vote transfers only served to narrow the Conservative gains under first-past-the-post to 19 new seats under AV.
The overall result under AV would still leave the Conservatives (with 19) three seats up on Labour (with 16), compared with their two seat advantage (from 30) over Labour (with 28) under first-past-the-post.
This analysis of course takes no account of the effects of the proposed reduction in the number of constituencies (see article under Categories/Chairman’’s Blog/Electoral Bias in the right hand column index), other possible changes in voter behaviour under AV (see the article under Categories/Chairman’s Blog/Alternative Vote in the right hand column index) and a surge in support for the Liberal Democrats compared with their current low standing in the opinion polls.
For full details of this Swing Voters Poll, go to www.lordashcroft and click on Latest News.

Schools & Social Mobility

Jeudi, septembre 23rd, 2010

Michael Gove, the Conservative education secretary in the Coalition government has stated that schools should be the engines of social mobility. However, the best performing schools such as the independents, tend to be those dominated by the sharp-elbowed, middle class (as David Cameron has described them) and do not reflect the composition of society at large. This results in other schools in the area being left with a disproportionately larger number of pupils from lower income families. To improve social mobility, therefore, the better schools should accept a more balanced input of pupils from a wider social spectrum. This could of course prove quite traumatic for those less affluent , with children notoriously capable of also being verbally very cruel, very likely singling them out as the so-called poor kids, bussed in from the surrounding districts. Some Conservative MPs have also questioned that if such a selection is made on the basis of income, why not on the grounds of ability (as for the former grammar schools via the 11+ exam)?
Yet even though a fortune has been spent on schools in the UK over the last 2-3 decades, the social gap between rich and poor children is not narrowing. Indeed, Mr Gove says that other countries are moving ahead faster than the UK and the gap is getting worse. Time will tell whether his education policies e.g. for Free Schools will be any more effective than those of his predecessors. However, his conclusion seems right that richer children in general do better than poorer children and that the biggest predictor by far of how well a child will do in later life is the income of the parents. It is ironic that Britain has somehow become more socially divided over the last 25 years when so much money has been ploughed into state schools.

Fiscal Credibility

Mardi, septembre 14th, 2010

To restore its fiscal credibility within global financial markets, the Coalition has set itself the political goal of eliminating the current structural deficit (11% of GDP) in the UK by the end of this parliament (2015). Ed. Balls now shadow education secretary but with a major economic influence on Gordon Brown in the last government, has responded with what seems a rather self-serving attack on this planned deficit reduction programme, when linked to his ambitions as a candidate in the current Labour leadership contest and an associated need for public-sector union votes.
According to Mr Balls, there was no significant structural deficit until the collapse of tax revenues from the financial sector in 2008, although the Office for Budget Responsibility (charged with an independent watch over government fiscal policy) has this deficit already averaging 2.7% of GDP (£40 billion) from 2003 onwards. He had even warned the previous Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, that his planned £73 billion of fiscal tightening (of which £52 billion was in reduced planned public spending) to try and only halve the deficit over four years, was a mistake. Although seemingly ignoring the negative effects of the financial markets on the credit rating and associated elevated borrowing costs of the UK government, he is on the side of the more Keynesian economists who argue that the aggressive cuts planned by the Coalition will severely undermine the recovery. Indeed, he is advocating for the UK economy the example of the US which to date, despite its large deficit, has hardly tightened fiscal policy with almost US$1 trillion of financial stimulus and additional proposals from President Obama for e.g. US$50 billion of extra spending on infrastructure. The latter is viewed as key to supporting more rapid economic growth in the future. In the UK, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) for the employers supports this case in warning against large cuts in spending on roads and rail.
The problem for the UK is that it is not as fortunate as the US which has in its favour the US$ as the major reserve currency in global financial markets, should the US choose to continue to try and spend its way to economic recovery. That is, unless the Chinese government, with its huge foreign currency reserves in US$, decides for geopolitical reasons to severely undermine the value of its US government bond holdings through a major sell-off. In the case of the UK, according to the Institute of Fiscal studies, a policy of ignoring the financial markets and rating agencies, together with continued borrowing instead of cutting public services and projects, would result in a deficit of 7% of GDP by 2015 and total public debt rising unsustainably towards 100% of GDP and beyond.
Within Europe in comparison, a country such as Germany with a deficit below 4% and a booming export sector has much more fiscal space should it so choose, to stimulate demand in its domestic market and at the same time drive overall growth within the Euro-zone and the EU. However, Germany with a memory of the effects of hyper-inflation not that far in its past, prefers savings and investment over the seemingly unrestricted consumer borrowing and spending of its more profligate neighbours, who should first put their own houses in order.

Fairness

Jeudi, septembre 9th, 2010

Fairness is probably best associated in the British mind (or, that is, how some of us at least would like to perceive ourselves as associated) with an inherent and traditional sense of fair play, using as an example the sporting analogy of equal conditions (or a level playing field) for all within the agreed rules for a particular game. Indeed, it has been suggested that this is one of the reasons for the British being the initiators of many of the organised games and sports with popular appeal around the world. Whether within the multi-cultural Britain of today a common understanding of, and general adherence to, such a sense of fair play still applies is open to debate. However, the Conservative party is associated with certain traditional values and its current image in the public mind is embodied by David Cameron its leader and the Prime Minister. His image is that of a patrician commanding respect through his bearing, complemented by good manners (although perhaps considered rather old fashioned in the Britain of today), born to lead with a self-confident and business-like approach; together with all this, however, must come a traditional sense of responsibility with respect to public trust, to ensure that the rhetoric of the Coalition on fairness is not specious or proven lacking in reality underneath the fine words.
Therefore, it was careless of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after insisting his budget cuts were both fair and progressive, to be caught out so easily by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS). The IFS was able to point out that the distributive effects of the tax and welfare measures of the Coalition, when the tax increases on high earners adopted from the last Labour government are excluded, are in fact not progressive but more regressive with the poorest unfairly suffering cuts proportionally greater than the better off.
It is ironic that the Chancellor has just announced today that he has appointed Robert Chote the Director of the IFS as the new Chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility, the putative independent watchdog over Treasury fiscal projections.