Archive for August, 2011

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Was going for a smaller House of Commons a mistake?

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Does it increase the risk of the changes being voted down?

The big UK story in the Financial Times this morning is something what we’ve touched on several times here on PB already – the possibility that the planned new boundaries for the next election get voted down when they come before the commons in two years time.

Jim Packard reports that “that significant numbers of Liberal Democrat and Tory MPs” look set to join Labour in opposing the detailed changes. The reasons are obvious – many fear that the new electoral map could cost them their jobs.

The legislation has already gone through parliament – what will need a positive vote in the commons are the detailed boundary changes that are being drawn up by the boundary commissioners.

But why push for a reduction in the number of MPs in the first place? Surely the key measures are equal-sized constituencies, more boundary reviews, and a fast track procedure for consultation on the changes?

It’s these changes that will help meet Tory concerns about the electoral system being biased to Labour. In this context the reduction in the number of MPs is almost irrelevant.

The main consequence of moving to 600 seat house of commons is to create a group of MPs with a vested interest in seeing the detailed changes being stopped.

As it is there’s a strongish possibility of the plans going down and the likely result of that is that the 2015 general election would be fought on the 2010 boundaries.

The English boundary commissioners are due to publish their initial proposals in just over a fortnight a few days before the party conference season starts.

@MikeSmithsonPB



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The PB Nighthawks Cafe is open

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

This is the regular open thread on PB. Have a good evening.

@MikeSmithsonPB



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What a home-coming for John Bercow!

Sunday, August 28th, 2011


Daily Star

But TMFI Sally – TMFI

Do we really want to know?

@MikeSmithsonPB



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Have we become disenchanted with all three party leaders?

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

How’ve they done as we end the political year?

This week’s party leader ratings from YouGov are now out and show very little change on a week ago.

I thought it might be useful to do a comparison from August 27 2010 – exactly a year ago. With Ed Miliband the change is from the end of September 2010.

Back then all three of them were enjoying net positive ratings – now they all have at least double digit negatives.

At the end of August last year Cameron was on 59-32 so had a net positive of 27%. That’s now minus 10%.

Miliband‘s first ratings from the end of September 2010 were 43 – 23 showing a net positive of 20%. That’s now become minus 23%.

Nick Clegg has fared the worst. A year ago he was on 47 -41. So a net positive of 6% has now become a net negative of 45%.

So not good for any of them though Dave is doing best. His figures are kept up by the support of Tory voters who today rate him at 92 – 6. Miliband’s problem is with Labour supporters who put him at 62 – 31. That figure is even worse than Nick Clegg is doing amongst Lib Dems. He’s on 69 – 27.

@MikeSmithsonPB



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It’s Saturday night in the PB Night Hawks Cafe

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

This is PB’s overnight open thread slot. Talk about anything particularly what’s in the Sunday papers as they start to appear.

We’ve also the dramatic developments with Hurricane Irene off the east coast of the US. I’ve got a special interest here – my son Robert, his wife Lucille and their two young children are on holiday in Long Island.

Robert, it should be noted, played a key part in the creation of PB and continues to manage the technical side.

Meanwhile tonight’s YouGov poll for the Sunday Times has CON 38: LAB 41: LD 9. This is the smallest Labour lead for some time.

@MikeSmithsonPB



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Why weren’t ICM’s VI numbers in the Guardian print edition?

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

Is the paper embarrassed by what its pollster is finding?

After yesterday’s article looking at what happened the last time pollsters were tested against real election results a PB regular contacted me to say that the latest ICM poll was not covered in the print edition of the Guardian.

I found that hard to believe so I’ve just popped into my local public library to go through this week’s print editions of the paper.

I might have missed it and be doing the paper a grave injustice but the only coverage of the poll I could find were two paragraphs (see right) at the bottom of a single column story on page 11 of Wednesday’s edition. There was no reference to the voting intention responses.

What seems to have been with-held from print readers of the Guardian was that for the second month running ICM had the Conservatives on 37% still one point ahead of Labour. The Lib Dems, meanwhile moved up a point to 17%.

My understanding is that there was something of an effort by Labour spinners to dismiss the poll as an outlier and I hope that the Guardian has not succumbed to any pressure.

Outliers are generally caused by sampling error and the fact that that the poll showed almost no change from July suggests that it wasn’t.

There are methodological reasons why ICM comes out the way it does: the views of non-voters from the 2010 general election are heavily discounted even if they say they are certain to vote; a proportion of the “will vote – won’t says” are allocated to the parties they voted for last time and of course, unlike the ubiquitous YouGov surveys, ICM does not use the controversial newspaper weightings.

It’s not unknown for papers not to print the findings of polls they’ve spent thousands of pounds on but I cannot recall the Guardian ever doing it with ICM.

The paper’s long-standing relationship with the most accurate pollster from 1997, 2001, 2010 and the AV referendum is something of which it should be proud.

@MikeSmithsonPB



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Obesity: should fatties be taxed rather than fat?

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

Could a risk-based National Insurance system ever work?

Government health drives are always dangerous things politically, as they tend to deliver unpopular information to people who know the truth of it but dislike having to admit their failings to themselves and so blame the messenger. That the message is frequently accompanied by tax increases doesn’t really help either.

The reports about obesity published in The Lancet yesterday and widely covered in the media fit very much into that mould, advocating more micromanagement of people’s lives and taxes on high-fat food.

It is true that there’s a problem and as the BBC’s report boldly commented ‘this is likely to get worse if current trends continue’. That being the case, what other options – well beyond those put forward in The Lancet – might there be to encourage healthier lifestyles?

One of the givens of British politics is that the NHS is untouchable. It might be possible to reform administrative structures far away from the patient experience but the idea of the hospital or GP available to visit free at the point of delivery is so ingrained and accepted that it would be suicidal for any mainstream party to advocate a change to that settlement.

That may well be the case but even if it is, it doesn’t imply that the funding need come from general taxation based on a single national tax rate. People are well used to their household and motor insurance being linked to the risk they’re perceived to present and the record they have. With the right systems in place, it would be entirely possible to apply the same principles to the national insurance system – those most likely to use it pay more.

The advantage of such a system being tax-based is that unlike private health insurance, the amounts paid would vary with income. Additionally, the universal principle could enable the rate for any one individual to be capped and for no-fault conditions to be excluded from the calculations.

Even with such fairness features incorporated, it would still be a courageous minister who proposed such a policy. There would be losers and there’d no doubt be an outcry that people were being penalised for their lifestyle choices. In practice, the poorer social groups may also end up with higher rates (though lower bills) if, as the evidence suggests, there’s a higher preponderance of unhealthy habits such as smoking, than in the richer income groups. While that’s a choice-based outcome, it would still be a political problem (it would be a problem now in relation to tobacco duty were the relationship not more apparent).

Introducing a direct connection between lifestyle and health tax, or between risk and premium, would be hugely controversial. It would, however, be improving transparency and leaving people to determine for themselves how they get to a healthier life, while incentivising that outcome.

Will it happen? I doubt it – the political costs are too high and it’s far easier to carry on as things are. In which case, as the saying goes, if we continue to do as we’ve always done, we’ll continue to get as we’ve always got. Fatter.

David Herdson



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Good evening PB Night Hawks..

Friday, August 26th, 2011

On the evening that Sally B has been evicted..

The big political news as we open the PB Night Hawk Cafe is, of course, that Sally Bercow has been evicted from the Big Brother house. A nation mourns just as it does when Manchester United win.

Meanwhile there’s an interesting post on the Archbishop Cramner blog in which he tries to create a cabinet consisting solely of bloggers.

Greg Callus, Morus as we know him, and myself are both in the list – but who would you choose?

Whatever have a good night in the cafe.

  • Prints of Marf’s Night Hawks cartoon will be available soon to buy.

    @MikeSmithsonPB