Saturday, July 28, 2012

Olympics Opening Ceremony Wasn't Political

Friday's Olympics Opening ceremony was a great spectacle. Many have drawn attention to the £27m price tag and suggested that such largesse could hardly fail to provide success. Well, perhaps, but then I'd point to the Millenium Dome as an example of even greater expenditure that wasn't so well received.

But the real value we get from that expenditure is derived from the international attention the ceremony gets. The whole show portrayed a positive, some might say romantic, view of Great Britain and that can only benefit us in terms of international trade and tourism. This is important at a time when the Euro Zone (which currently repesents almost 50% of our current international trade) is lurching from one crisis to another, weakening our trading opportunities. We need to build a strong brand image across the globe to make up for Europe's slump. And of course a boost to tourism in this country won't go amiss either.

Watching the ceremony on the television was very enjoyable. Normally Twitter adds an extra dimension as people share their observations either witty or critical. However, on this occasion I found it significant detracted from my enjoyment. This was one event I was hoping could bring people together and certainly wasn't expecting party political point scoring. However, the inclusion of three letters in a set peice was enough to ignite an explosion of party political animosity that I foolishly failed to ignore.

Mention the NHS to any normal person and they'll think of hospitals, GPs, illness, cures, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, a whole range of thoughts and emotions both positive and negative. People don't genially think of Tories or Labour socialism, centralised state provision of localised private provision, free at the point of use etc. No, but politicos do.

As soon as those letters appeared, left wing politicos erupted with claims that this ceremony proved, beyond doubt, that they were right about everything and Britain was really a socialist nation after all. "The best Labour Party political broadcast ever" claimed one Labour MP. Right wing politicos reacted similarly, that this was a left wing ceremony portraying Britain as a socialist state. Then, the lefties attacked the righties for politicising the ceremony. If there's one thing you can always rely on the Left to deliver it is hypocrisy. And enormous national debt, obviously. But I digress.

I may be in a minority of one, but I don't see any justification for party political point scoring. Yes, the NHS was mentioned, but such is the political consensus, there is no lack of commitment from the leadership of either party to a free at the point of use health service available to all.

The left want you to believe otherwise about the Tories. But that is because their idea of the NHS is fundamentally idealogical. All services must be provided by the state and all employees must be state employees. This ideological stance isn't even shared by everyone on the left or in the Labour party. The Blairite wing has long since worked out that a centralised Brobdingnagian organisation can't deliver the services required at an affordable cost to the nation. The Governemnt's NHS reforms were aimed at ensuring the concept of a national health service providing free care to all can survive in the coming decades of pressure on the public purse, by allowing GPs real choice in who provides the services they prescribe for their patients. This is an anathema to those with truely left wing beliefs as it could lead to charities, not-for-profit organsiations or even, heaven forfend, private providers, servicing patients, if they can provide better care and value for money. And so, they paint the Tories as anti-NHS. What they really mean is they are anti-reform of the NHS.

But whether you are pro or anti reform of the NHS, the ceremony wasn't making a political point. It was celebrating British institutions, including the monachy, hardly an institution close to the heart of your average lefty. It's a shame us politicos can't sometimes put politics aside and just enjoy a national spectacle when we see one.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Playing The Victim - Now It's May's Turn

After George Osborne suggested that Labour has some questions to answer over the Libor scandal that occurred while they were in power, Ed Balls switched to his highest spin setting and very successfully diverted attention from valid questions about Labour and Libor and turned the tables on the increasingly hapless Chancellor.

Balls' genius was to re-frame Osborne's question in the media's and therefore public's mind as a direct accusation against himself - Osborne hadn't suggested Labour had questions to answer, he had said Balls had directed the whole affair. Now, there's no evidence for this, so Balls is onto a winner straight away. When Barclays insinuated that the Bank of England had suggested they "low-ball" the Libor rate, Balls saw his opportunity. He knew that, whatever the strong likelihood was that ministers in the last government were aware, even complicit in, the rate fixing, there wouldn't be any trail back to him. So effective was the deeply engrained principle of "plausible-deniability" within the Labour leadership. All dodgy decisions or instructions were to have no paper or electronic trail back to a minister. Everything was kept informal and verbal. 

Mr Cooper
So when the deputy governor of the Bank of England refers to "senior Whitehall sources" everyone knows they are Labour ministers, but there's no actual proof they had anything to do with it. Great. And, perhaps they didn't. Certainly, that's what the Deputy of The Bank of England, Paul Tucker told the select committee when he appeared before them shortly after Osborne said Labour had questions to answer in an article in The Spectator. And how Balls, the BBC, the Guardian and a myriad of other left wing and not-so-left-wing-but-not-keen-on-Osborne media outlets jumped on the news. Osborne should apologise immediately. The number of times I heard BBC commentators talk as if this was a blatant truism. Osborne had accused Balls of pressurising the BoE and now his accusations have been denied (albeit by someone who would never have admitted to the charge even if he was guilty, but let's ignore that for now).

Osborne released a statement clarifying that he hadn't accused Balls of anything and this was immediately cast as a humiliating climb down. Game, set and match, Ed Balls.

Well, now the government finds itself with an opportunity, rather sweetly involving Balls' wife, to exact some revenge in a similar fashion. This time over the G4S debacle. Again, a crisis born under Labour - they signed up contracts with G4S when they were in power. Ex-Labour minister John Reid is a G4s Director - so it could easily be said that Labour have questions to answer again. But that line isn't being played very hard since Osborne's problems. No, the opportunity here is that Yvette Cooper made a quite specific allegation in the Commons that Theresa May knew before the last couple of weeks that G4S was struggling to meet it's commitments. Well, what do you know, today Nick Buckles confirmed Theresa May's account that she was only told on the 11th July.

So, where is the outcry for an apology now? I'll watch the BBC news in the morning and pick up a Guardian expecting to see the headlines dominated with the word "APOLOGISE"...

I may be disappointed.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Women Are Cleverer Than Men

May not be backed by scientific evidence
It's official, women are more intelligent than men - according to the Sunday Times at least.

Putting aside doubts as to IQ tests accuracy in measuring real levels of intelligence, this finding is interesting. It suggests that women were once lagging behind men but have recently overtaken them in terms of their IQ score. This won't come as a surprise to many who have observed boys falling behind girls in academic achievement for many years. Surely it was only a matter of time before this trend fed into adult world?

Well, that all seems very plausible, but if you read the article more closely you realise that, in fact, there is very little evidence to make direct comparisons between men and women's IQ scores. The headline "WOMEN REALLY ARE CLEVERER" would have been more accurate, if less catchy as "THERE IS SOME EVIDENCE THAT WOMEN'S IQ SCORES ARE INCREASING FASTER THAN MEN'S AND IN SOME COUNTRIES SUCH AS ARGENTINA, NEW ZEALAND AND ESTONIA, WOMEN HAVE MARGINALLY OVERTAKEN THEM".

The rather sexist conclusion to the article comes in the form of a comment from a woman who has very little regard for her husband who she clearly thinks is a bit dim...

"For many women such stereotypes are being reversed. Helena Jamieson, 33, a consultant, studied English literature at Cambridge and her husband, Luke, 37, a stay-at-home father, studied geography at Kent University.
She said: “We have done the role reversal. I’m definitely the more intellectual person in the relationship and I’m at work full time rising up the career ladder while he is raising our daughter.
“In the past men would belittle me and that is just never an attractive quality in a man. I think women probably always knew secretly deep down that they were the more intelligent ones — but as the gentler sex as well we were quiet about it and let men continue to believe that they ruled the world.” "
Of course, unless Helena is living in Argentina, New Zealand or Estonia, there's little evidence her sex is any more intelligent on average than men. But let's not let that little fact simplify her massive superiority complex. [UPDATE: See Helena's comments below. She isn't the stereotypical man-basher the article portrays]

I suspect there has been an equalisation in IQ scores of the two sexes and this reflects sociological changes in western societies over decades. The question is why was there ever a difference in the measure, and how relevant the score is to measuring the people's real potential level of intelligence. I wonder if Helena had focused on the more substantial difference in average IQ scores between societies in the West and the 3rd world, whether her views would have made it into a national newspaper article at all. If they had she would probably be condemned as a racist. But a bit of light hearted stupid man bashing is fine, it seems.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Banking: Better Not More Regulation

The recent Libor scandal has given politicians another reason to focus attention on the failing in the banking industry and away from their own glaring inadequacies.

The danger is that the dividends that banker bashing pays in the ballot box will lead to greater and more complex banking regulations. But surely that is what we need? Well, no. What we need is better (also less and simpler) regulation and real punishment for those who to transgress the rules. Those who thought it was a great wheeze to fiddle the interbank lending rate should have been in no doubt before they started that a) it was illegal and b) it was punishable by a stiff prison sentence. In reality, even if a bent trader knew what he was doing was wrong he never really felt like anything would be done about it.

It's worth a listen to Niall Ferguson's Reith Lecture, part 2 - The Darwinian Economy. He makes the above point very powerfully. We need better, simpler regulation and genuine punishment for those who transgress...