Thursday, May 10, 2007

Highlight of the Blair Era

I've been tagged by Peter Sanderson for my highlight of the Blair era. Highlight is too positive a word for what I have to say, but here it is.

The moment when:

  1. It became clear there were no WMDs in Iraq.
  2. David Kelly was dead in suspicious circumstances and the Labour machine was spinning against him.
  3. It was clear that Tony Blair was personally responsible for taking the country to war on a lie. (And saying something is certain when it isn't is a lie.)
  4. In spite of what was, if we can be excessively charitable, a gross failure of judgement, leading to many thousands of deaths, Blair didn't resign. If this is not a resigning issue, what on earth is?
  5. Noting that if Blair had taken responsibility and resigned, this may well have tipped the balance in the US election 2004 into a defeat for George W Bush - because it would have been harder to bareface out the war as not a mistake.
  6. The Labour Party, knowing all this, failed to sack him. This is a gross dereliction of duty. It is the job of a parliamentary party to depose Prime Ministers who have lost the plot. The Tories did it with Thatcher when it had to be done, when she was still quite popular in much of the country. But no, the Labour Party clearly did not think he had done anything particularly wrong, and so I consider them as guilty as he is. People who thought that Labour was good at heart, only doing what it had to do to win power, to protect public sevices and tackle social exclusion, were disabused this day.
I'm sorry if this is all too obvious, but it is hard to compete with a betrayal of the British people of this magnitude. Even if you like the New Labour programme, you think that up until the Iraq war the government was doing great, and you thought at the run up to the war, that maybe invasion was the best way to deal with the known threats, according to the intelligence.

Even with that perspective you have to look back, and realise that the intelligence was distorted for political ends, and that the rush to war was driven by a timetable intended to pre-empt the completion of Hans Blick's inspection. A shabby, dishonest, criminal, murderous act.

I tag: Joe Taylor, Anders Hanson, Forceful and Moderate, Tom Papworth and Millennium Dome

Cicero has it succinctly.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Scotland's butterfly ballot

Much attention has been given, rightly, to the confusion that has been caused by holding elections under two different PR systems (one, a "mixed" system already) on the same day.

While this confusion clearly did exist, and many voters put numbers or Xs on the wrong ballot papers, most of the spoilt parliamentary papers I saw were not like this. A great many had two Xs on the list vote, and nothing on the constituency vote. And many had a single vote on the list, and nothing on the constitency - and so were valid votes on the list.

Why were the constituency and list votes on the same ballot paper at all? Because, I suppose, this makes the scanning process much more efficient. Obviously with hand-counting, two contests on one ballot paper would be more work, but with machine scanning, it is less.

The list contest was on the left half of the paper. This makes it the 'first' vote. The greens, for example, after successfully winning seats with the message 'second vote green' have had to campaign 'first vote green' this time. This is an acceptable strategy, but it is bound to lead to confusion between first vote and second vote, and first choice and second choice - and hence spoilage rates. The psychological advantage the greens had previously, that they may get second votes from people who considered them a second choice, has gone. This will have harmed them, but that was never an advantage they were entitled to keep. On the other hand, a lot of papers spoiled with two votes on the list included one for the greens or socialists, and so they do have a grievance there.

What must have aggravated the confusion was the way that the list options took the entire column on the left of the ballot paper, and the constituency candidates were at the top of the right column. This looks very much like one long list carried over into a second column. How many voters saw it thus, and thought they had one, or two votes to be used anywhere in the long list? Tens of thousands, it seems, that's how many.

On the question of the computer failures, I am looking forward to the conclusions from the enquiry. But I am rather less concerned here than I am about some of the systems used in England, that are completely paperless, and thus have no way for results to be checked, and, frankly, for which we have no grounds to trust the result. While scanning does have transparency issues, these are an order of magnitude less than they are for things like internet voting. Yes, it seems a fix had to be applied to a live election system, and this itself can be a security question mark. I hope the electoral commission has the know-how to ask the right questions here.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Greens would condemn billions to poverty

I posted on a liberal view of Sheffield a letter I sent to the Sheffield Telegraph in which I suggested that Green Party hostility to business and trade threatened to condemn millions to poverty - billions worldwide. The Greens have replied to a similar letter to the Sheffield Star, and this is what they say:

As for Lib Dem Joe Otten's claim that our policies would be bad for business, we
are the only party to recognise fully the damage often done to the local economy
by inappropriate developments. This is why we vigorously opposed Sheffield's
Supercasino bid, and the current proposals for the New Retail Quarter and a new
market near the Moor.

The theme here is that according to the greens, there are two kinds of business. Local/small business which is good, and global/big business which is bad. The local economy must be protected from the global economy. So far so familiar.

Of course real life is not so simple. I am a one man business, which is good, but I sell all over the world, which, presumably, is bad. Although my product is transmitted electronically rather than by air freight, which is good. But it is software, so perhaps charging for it at all is bad.

Is the problem with the supercasino that it will damage all our small local casinos? I wonder.

Does this rebuttal deal with my unqualified claim that greens are hostile to business? Well no it doesn't. Big and small businesses each have their different strengths and weaknesses. Big business can pour resources into a problem. Small business can adapt rapidly, and know its customers. Each is successful where its relative strengths are decisive. Hostility to business in this case might mean refusing to recognise the benefits of this diversity and trying to impose a single model.

The bizarre thing about this belief in the moral superiority of small and local business is that it has very little to do with environmental sustainability - or - for that matter other social goods like wages and employment conditions. Why is it that greens are fascinated by what size a business is even more, seemingly, than how much pollution it generates?

Of course there are examples of good small business, contributing to civil society over and above what might be strictly necessary. And there are examples of bad big business. But the reverse examples can be found too. These examples mean very little - if you have a policy to deal with problem behaviour, shouldn't it apply equally to businesses of all sizes?

Now we do have some excellent local shops in Sheffield. One of the things that makes them excellent is that they must compete for trade. If everybody went only to their nearest shops, we wouldn't be rewarding competitiveness, we would be rewarding price gougers. Maybe you think your local shopkeeper is just too decent to gouge, and maybe they are. If so, that would be because gougers don't tend to run that sort of shop. If we rewarded them to, they would.

Wronger than the idea of protecting local business, however, is this idea of the local economy as the antithesis of the global economy. Almost all high value innovations demand a great deal of specialisation. Medicine, technology, art, you name it, to justify doing one particular thing very well indeed we need to be able to sell it worldwide. Cut off from trade it would be quite impossible to have much medicine, quality goods, never mind good renewable energy and so on. The way to build your local economy, then, is to provide goods and services in high demand and sell them as widely as possible. And with your earnings buy from elsewhere rather than trying to make do, or you will forego all the benefits of your earnings.

These are practical considerations which must trump a baseless prejudice for the small and local. Where this lesson has been learned - in much of Asia-Pacific for example - prosperity has followed. Yes, there is an environmental footprint to this - but imagine the alternative - of making do with cobbled together home grown versions of everything. If it were possible, wouldn't the environmental footprint be even higher? But it isn't possible, without specialisation and trade, to achieve anything like the standard of living people worldwide rightly demand. To try would condemn billions to poverty for no environmental benefit.