29 September 2010

Quantifying and Visualising the Lib Dem Effect in the Coalition

If you're like me your head is spinning with spin. Labour are bellowing that this is a Tory government propped up by sell-out Lib Dems; the Lib Dems are insisting that this is a true coalition government with two parties coming together, comprimising and acting in the national interest. Which is true?

The most objective way of assessing the coalition at this early stage is the coalition agreement. An analysis of this text and the roots behind each policy would give the best description of how this government is formed.

Happily the Guardian have done exactly this analysis and provided it as a spreadsheet. It list each commitment and gives the party of origin behind it (as well as their view of whether it is on track to be delivered - something I have ignored for this post). I have taken this spreadsheet as Gospel, so any inaccuracies in it are down to the Guardian not me.

This spreadsheet gives the following results: of the 399 policies in the agreement, 174 are solely from the Conservatives, 91 are solely from the Lib Dems, 80 were policies of both parties, and 54 are of unknown origin.

So that's 44% Tory, 23% Lib Dem, 20% both and 14% unknown.

I know what you're thinking - what's that done to the pie chart?

And ignoring the policies of unknown origin, here's a little Venn diagram showing how much is Tory, how much is Lib Dem and how much was agreed by both parties:

Looking at those percentages and comparing them to the vote shares at the general election (36% Tory, 23% Lib Dem) you could argue that the Tories have got too many of their own policies through. Then again if you split the policies shared by both parties between them, the Lib Dems start to look like they have more influence then our vote deserves us.

But compare this to previous terms of government, like the previous five years where Labour got 100% power from just 35% of the vote. The coalition is emphatically a more democratic outcome than what Britain is used to.

UPDATE 19:45 - For those of you who prefer your Venn diagrams circular, have this bonus graphic:

Finally, here is a full list of lines from the coalition agreement that wouldn't be there without the Lib Dems in government (according to the Guardian):

We will bring forward detailed proposals for robust action to tackle unacceptable bonuses in the financial services sector; in developing these proposals, we will ensure they are effective in reducing risk.

We want the banking system to serve business, not the other way round. We will bring forward detailed proposals to foster diversity in financial services, promote mutuals and create a more competitive banking industry.

We will take steps to reduce systemic risk in the banking system and will establish an independent commission to investigate the complex issue of separating retail and investment banking in a sustainable way; while recognising that this will take time to get right, the commission will be given an initial time frame of one year to report.

We will cut red tape by introducing a ‘one-in, one-out’ rule whereby no new regulation is brought in without other regulation being cut by a greater amount.

We will impose ‘sunset clauses’ on regulations and regulators to ensure that the need for each regulation is regularly reviewed.

We will find a practical way to make small business rate relief automatic.

We will seek to ensure an injection of private capital into Royal Mail, including opportunities for employee ownership. We will retain Post Office Ltd in public ownership.

We will seek to ensure a level playing field between small and large retailers by enabling councils to take competition issues into account when drawing up their local plans to shape the direction and type of new retail development.

We will review the range of factors that can be considered by regulators when takeovers are proposed.

We will reinstate an Operating and Financial Review to ensure that directors’ social and environmental duties have to be covered in company reporting, and investigate further ways of improving corporate accountability and transparency.

We will ensure that Post Offices are allowed to offer a wide range of services in order to sustain the network, and we will look at the case for developing new sources of revenue, such as the creation of a Post Office Bank.

We will end the so-called ‘gold-plating’ of EU rules, so that British businesses are not disadvantaged relative to their European competitors.

We will introduce a Freedom Bill.

We will scrap the ID card scheme, the National Identity register and the ContactPoint database, and halt the next generation of biometric passports.

We will outlaw the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.

We will extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.

We will protect historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.

We will restore rights to non-violent protest.

We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason.

We will introduce a new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

We will abolish the unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission and replace it with an efficient and democratically accountable system that provides a fast-track process for major infrastructure projects.

We will maintain the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and other environmental protections, and create a new designation – similar to SSSIs – to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities.

We will explore a range of measures to bring empty homes into use.

We will promote ‘Home on the Farm’ schemes that encourage farmers to convert existing buildings into affordable housing.

We will phase out the ring-fencing of grants to local government and review the unfair Housing Revenue Account.

We will require continuous improvements to the energy efficiency of new housing.

We will introduce stronger consumer protections, including measures to end unfair bank and financial transaction charges.

We will take forward measures to enhance customer service in the private and public sectors.

We will increase households’ control over their energy costs by ensuring that energy bills provide information on how to move to the cheapest tariff offered by their supplier, and how each household’s energy usage compares to similar households.

We will seek to extend protection and support to ‘off-grid’ energy consumers.

We will seek to spread information on which policing techniques and sentences are most effective at cutting crime across the Criminal Justice System.

We will have a full review of the terms and conditions for police officer employment.

We will make hospitals share non-confidential information with the police so they know where gun and knife crime is happening and can target stop-and-search in gun and knife crime hot spots.

We will promote better recording of hate crimes against disabled, homosexual and transgender people, which are frequently not centrally recorded.

We will review the operation of the Extradition Act – and the US/UK extradition treaty – to make sure it is even-handed.

We will maintain the independence of the BBC, and give the National Audit Office full access to the BBC’s accounts to ensure transparency.

We will maintain free entry to national museums and galleries, and give national museums greater freedoms.

We will examine the case for moving to a ‘gross profits tax’ system for the National Lottery, and reform the National Lottery so that more money goes into sport, the arts and heritage.

We will use cash in dormant betting accounts to improve local sports facilities and support sports clubs.

We will cut red tape to encourage the performance of more live music.

We will look at whether there is scope to refurbish Armed Forces’ accommodation from efficiencies within the Ministry of Defence.

We will support defence jobs through exports that are used for legitimate purposes, not internal repression, and will work for a full international ban on cluster munitions.

We will hold a full Spending Review reporting this autumn, following a fully consultative process involving all tiers of government and the private sector.

We will push for the EU to demonstrate leadership in tackling international climate change, including by supporting an increase in the EU emission reduction target to 30% by 2020.

We will introduce measures to promote a huge increase in energy from waste through anaerobic digestion.

We will refuse permission for additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted.

We will replace Air Passenger Duty with a per-flight duty.

We will work towards an ambitious global climate deal that will limit emissions and explore the creation of new international sources of funding for the purpose of climate change adaptation and mitigation.

We will work towards full compliance with European Air Quality standards.

We will investigate measures to help with fuel costs in remote rural areas, starting with pilot schemes.

We will extend the right to request flexible working to all employees, consulting with business on how best to do so.

We will undertake a fair pay review in the public sector to implement our proposed ‘20 times’ pay multiple.

We will press for the European Parliament to have only one seat, in Brussels.

We will maintain the goal of ending child poverty in the UK by 2020.

We will reform the administration of tax credits to reduce fraud and overpayments.

We will publish serious case reviews, with identifying details removed.

We will regulate lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists and ensuring greater transparency.

We will end the detention of children for immigration purposes.

We support E-borders and will reintroduce exit checks.

We will explore new ways to improve the current asylum system to speed up the processing of applications.

We will support efforts to establish an International Arms Trade Treaty to limit the sales of arms to dangerous regimes.

We will review what action can be taken against ‘vulture funds’.
We will support reform of global financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in order to increase the involvement of developing nations.

We will explore alternative forms of secure, treatment-based accommodation for mentally ill and drugs offenders.

We will urgently review Control Orders, as part of a wider review of counter-terrorist legislation, measures and programmes. We will seek to find a practical way to allow the use of intercept evidence in court.

We will ensure that there is a stronger voice for patients locally through directly elected individuals on the boards of their local primary care trust (PCT). The remainder of the PCT’s board will be appointed by the relevant local authority or authorities, and the Chief Executive and principal officers will be appointed by the Secretary of State on the advice of the new independent NHS board. This will ensure the right balance between locally accountable individuals and technical expertise.

We will give every patient the right to choose to register with the GP they want, without being restricted by where they live.

We will make the NHS work better by extending best practice on improving discharge from hospital, maximising the number of day care operations, reducing delays prior to operations, and where possible enabling community access to care and treatments.

We will prioritise dementia research within the health research and development budget.

We will seek to stop foreign healthcare professionals working in the NHS unless they have passed robust language and competence tests.

Doctors and nurses need to be able to use their professional judgement about what is right for patients and we will support this by giving front-line staff more control of their working environment.

We will encourage NHS organisations to work better with their local police forces to clamp down on anyone who is aggressive and abusive to staff.

We will restore the earnings link for the basic state pension from April 2011, with a ‘triple guarantee’ that pensions are raised by the higher of earnings, prices or 2.5%.

We will commit to establishing an independent commission to review the long-term affordability of public sector pensions, while protecting accrued rights.

We will explore the potential to give people greater flexibility in accessing part of their personal pension fund early.

We will establish five-year fixed-term Parliaments. We will put a binding motion before the House of Commons stating that the next general election will be held on the first Thursday of May 2015. Following this motion, we will legislate to make provision for fixed-term Parliaments of five years. This legislation will also provide for dissolution if 55% or more of the House votes in favour.

We will bring forward a Referendum Bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the event of a positive result in the referendum, as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies. We will whip both Parliamentary parties in both Houses to support a simple majority referendum on the Alternative Vote, without prejudice to the positions parties will take during such a referendum.

We will review the control and use of accumulated and future revenues from the Fossil Fuel Levy in Scotland.

We will fund a significant premium for disadvantaged pupils from outside the schools budget by reductions in spending elsewhere.

We will help schools tackle bullying in schools, especially homophobic bullying.
We will simplify the regulation of standards in education and target inspection on areas of failure.

We will ensure that all new Academies follow an inclusive admissions policy. We will work with faith groups to enable more faith schools and facilitate inclusive admissions policies in as many of these schools as possible.

We will reform Access to Work, so disabled people can apply for jobs with funding already secured for any adaptations and equipment they will need.

We will increase the personal allowance for income tax to help lower and middle income earners. We will announce in the first Budget a substantial increase in the personal allowance from April 2011, with the benefits focused on those with lower and middle incomes.

We will further increase the personal allowance to £10,000, making real terms steps each year towards meeting this as a longer-term policy objective. We will prioritise this over other tax cuts, including cuts to Inheritance Tax.

We will reform the taxation of air travel by switching from a per-passenger to a per-plane duty, and will ensure that a proportion of any increased revenues over time will be used to help fund increases in the personal allowance.

We will seek ways of taxing non-business capital gains at rates similar or close to those applied to income, with generous exemptions for entrepreneurial business activities.

We will make every effort to tackle tax avoidance, including detailed development of Liberal Democrat proposals.

We will review the taxation of non-domiciled individuals.

We are committed to fair pricing for rail travel.

We will ensure that public funding mechanisms for university research safeguard its academic integrity.

Fifteen Albums

I thought I'd play along with this meme. It is totally non-optimal; it's missing The Cinematic Orchestra for a start. I also think there are too many entries from too recently; ten of the albums were released in the last ten years. But I tried to ensure it covers the range of soulful/rhythmic/electronicky sounds that I love.

THE RULES: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen albums you've heard that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.

UPDATE 30/09/10: Yestereday I posted a link to a YouTube clip featuring one of the best tracks from each album on Twitter. I've now embedded each of these clips below the name of the album for your delectation.

The Avalanches - Since I Left You

Mr Scruff - Keep It Unreal

Quantic - Apricot Morning

Q-Tip - The Renaissance

James Brown - In The Jungle Groove

The Haggis Horns - Hot Damn!

Fat Freddy's Drop - Based On A True Story

Bonobo - Days To Come

Silkie - City Limits Vol 1

Guido - Anidea

London Elektricity - Power Ballads

Alix Perez - 1984

Orbital - Orbital 2

Daft Punk - Alive 2007

Hybrid - Wide Angle

27 September 2010

UN Publicise How They're Boosting the Taliban

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime are one of the biggest global proponents of drug prohibition. They uphold the Conventions that insist that the War on Drugs must continue to be fought, that recreational drugs must continue to be illegal, and downplay all the terrible consequences this worldwide policy is inflicting.

UNODC use all the latest communication techniques to push this message. Their Twitter account provides continuing coverage of the impact they make on international media outlets.

However this tweet from today was a surprisingly frank admission:

UNODC in the news: UN's hard-line anti-drug czar may boost Taliban: http://bit.ly/aygizZ
It's great to see UNODC publicising how the policies they espouse are providing hundreds of millions of dollars of funding to our enemies in Afghanistan, and propagating the War on Terror.

Perhaps they might want to think about how to start reversing this situation - by taking opium production out of the black market and allowing national governments to provide strictly controlled supplies of heroin to addicts, thus stabilising dependent users whilst draining drug traffickers and the Taliban of money.

Do read the article linked to. It shows there are interesting diplomatic dynamics at play between the US/UK and Russia, who take an even harder line approach to opium crops than ourselves.

22 September 2010

Changing the Culture of Disbelief at the UK Border Agency

One of the most thought-provoking fringe events I attended at Lib Dem conference was on asylum policy. Hosted by my new favourite MP Julian Huppert, it featured passionate experts from the UNHCR and Refugee Council, along with Tom Brake, a prominent backbench Lib Dem MP on justice and equality issues.

A real problem arose from the discussion about the culture of mistrust at the UK Border Agency regarding asylum applications. At the moment, the UKBA staff assessing asylum claims have a habit of using any minor doubts over the validity of a claim to reject it and let the courts decide if the claimant wishes to appeal the decision.

This leads to a huge number of initial claims being made in error. A third of rejected cases are overturned on appeal. This is inefficient, expensive and creates huge anxiety for the asylum seeker, whose fate is left in legal limbo often for years.

The question floated at fringe was how do we change this culture? Here's my suggestion: Pay UKBA staff a bonus which they get to keep whilst they make correct initial decisions. But for every incorrect decision they make (when the courts overturn an initial decision), deductions are made from the bonus.

This would mean it is now in the financial interest of UKBA assessors to not waste court time and money by getting the decision right first time. It should also ensure that staff take a more sympathetic approach to dealing with asylum cases.

I managed to catch up with Tom Brake and his well-informed researcher later. I was informed UKBA staff are currently incentivised to get cases closed within six months, whatever the outcome. The coalition has come out against these kinds of arbitrary targets set by the Labour government, which do little to ensure the best quality services are provided for each individual's circumstances.

Changing these incentives to get more decisions right first time would be fairer to asylum seekers and save the taxpayer money. Win!

14 September 2010

Extremist Muslims in Phil Woolas's Leaflets

You are probably aware that Phil Woolas is currently in court over allegedly lying about his Lib Dem opponent Elwyn Watkins in election leaflets delivered in Oldham East and Saddleworth just before the general election. One of the dubious claims made by Woolas was that Watkins was "wooing" Muslim extremists.

Phil Woolas specifically names the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPACUK) as these extremists in the "Saddleworth and Oldham - The Examiner" leaflet which triggered the historic legal proceedings against him. Sure enough, MPACUK were openly campaigning for a vote for Watkins to defeat Woolas.

MPACUK have been praised for their work in getting British Muslims involved in mainstream politics and the promotion of women's rights within Islam. While MPACUK subscribe to jihad as a religious duty, they encourage this via democratic means rather than violence. The most extreme view that MPACUK promotes is anti-Zionism, which some argue has crossed the line into anti-Semitism. So it is arguable that MPACUK are extremists in this specific context.

This is the image from the Woolas "Saddleworth and Oldham - The Examiner" leaflet:

This image is not from an MPACUK demonstration. It is from the Danish cartoon demonstration organised by al Ghurabaa and The Saviour Sect in London on February 3rd, 2006. While MPACUK were against the publication of the cartoons, they equally condemned the militant protest, and called for those involved to be prosecuted.

So Woolas called MPACUK extremists, and illustrated Muslim extremists using an image from a extremist protest that MPACUK opposed. This is highly deceptive. It gives entirely the wrong impression of the Muslims who were campaigning against Woolas, or the Muslims that he asserted Watkins was wooing.

Bestival 2010

I was at Bestival this weekend, and had one of the most incredible and intense weekends of my life.

The genre-defying sonics of Flying Lotus blew my mind, the heart-melting soulful reggae Fat Freddy's Drop left me in tears, and the bouncy blissful glitches of Four Tet had me captivated. And that's just the acts beginning with 'F'.

But my moment of the weekend was with Mary Anne Hobbs. Despite leaving her Radio 1 show last week, she is still the undisputed Queen of All Things Electronic and Experimental. She proved her acumen atop the most spellbinding stages I've seen - I can only describe it as an exploding dystopian tripod.

She finished her set with this old skool rave meets ground-shaking dubstep banger. Enjoy!

13 September 2010

European Political Compass

I promised this in my last blogpost, so here is my result from the EU Profiler test:

I feel this plot nicely shows how I generally fit in rather well with the Lib Dems. The big difference is immigration - where I would like to see all restrictions lifted, the party advocates relatively tough controls. There is also interestingly a significant difference in the law and order category. (By the way, this access is badly labelled - I'm certainly not for more disorder!)

8 September 2010

Me on the Political Compass

I did this quiz ages ago, but never posted my result.

Here you go:

I actually see myself as a fiscal centrist, but there I am leaning towards the Left (by the quiz writer's definition).

I also did one a while back which matched my views to those of the European political parties. I'll post that tomorrow.

1 September 2010

Let's Have a Raffle

There is a horrible way to have proportional representation in single member constituencies.

Instead of counting the votes cast, draw one at random. That candidate is elected. The more votes a candidate receives, the greater the probability of them being elected.

At a constituency level, this is very unfair to the individual politicians, particularly those who don't get elected despite being the most popular. However on a national scale across all the different constituencies, the law of large numbers means the net result will tend towards one that closely represents the will of the people.

There are no wasted votes and no motivation for tactical votes. Every vote has just as much chance as any other, no matter where you live. At the moment, how much your vote matters is a postcode lottery, because First Past The Post creates safe seats where voters have no chance of determining the outcome of the election. Switching to a raffle system would move the unfair lottery element away from the electorate and onto the politicians themselves.

Of course politicians would hate this system, as it would be unfair to them, so it will never happen. However the FPTP-supporting politician should question why they are happy to make the system a postcode lottery for the electorate, but not a lottery for themselves.

The only way of running elections which is fair to both politicians and the electorate is multi-member constituencies.