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Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Monday, 29 November 2010

Fewer

The OBR has reviewed its projections for the economy.  In the area of public sector jobs they have reviewed  public job losses down from 490,000 to 330,000.  This is based on the CSR decision to make a higher proportion of the cuts from the welfare budget rather than departmental budgets (with the warning that welfare cuts have proven much more difficult to realise in the past so this may have to be revisited).

Unsurprisingly they have cottoned on to the fact their predictions for this year were wrong and have raised their predictions to 1.8% but this good news in the short-term is tempered with predictions of lower growth in future years.  With the sobering warning that:

"The economy will continue to recover from recession, but at a slower pace than in the recoveries of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s."

It also is predicting a further drop in house prices.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Wordle 3 - Arlene Foster speech

Wordle: Arlene Foster speech

In its full unblurred glory here.  Text below the break.Building the 2021 economy

Accident

The powerpoint for my contribution to the Blogging for Unionism session at the DUP Conference, entitled the Accidental Blogger.

Wordle 2 - Peter Robinson speech

Wordle: Peter Robinson 2010 speech

In its full unblurred glory here. Full text below the fold.

Wordle 1 - Nigel Dodds speech

Wordle: Nigel Dodds Speech

In its full unblurred glory here. Full text below the fold.

Conference Update 2

Proceedings have begun with the first session a debate on reforming government and financing public services.  UPDATE Two hard pressed BBC technical staff snoozing on the sofa outside the room. UPDATE Problem with electricity supply for a few moments.  UPDATE For the want of a Mac, colleague fighting with a PC laptop and slowwifi to get conference photos uploaded.

Music

The entrance music has been finally sorted.  It is one of those small details that manages to lead to lots of discussion with much reviewing of lyrics and videos.  Whenever you have a couple of wits in the office this becomes even more difficult as they can find a humorous take down on almost anything.  Anyway here are my three suggestions that were not selected.

Moby - Lift me up



Tiesto - Adagio for strings


ACDC - Thunderstruck


Conference Part 1

Up at about at 6.30 to finish my powerpoint for the blogging workshop. Now about to head off to the Federation of Small Businesses breakfast event to talk to some local companies. As regards what I'll blog I'll be trying to at least doing some wordling and key excerpts of speeches.

8.50am UPDATE:  Wifi signal is working even if the mobile isn't.  The minor last minute preparations have prevented me from getting to the breakfast so having to opt for the coffee and lots of biscuits.  I have now been informed that the Blogging for Unionism session will be videoed - there go half my jokes.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Forward



DUP's Conference PPB.

Conference

I'll be at the DUP conference on Saturday under multiple hats - member, staff, contributor. As there is apparently free wifi at the venue I was considering adding blogger to the hats.  On the day this may prove impractical but if the opportunity arises what would be useful to try and cover?

Quote of the day

"To have seen the financial crisis coming, he argues, it would have been better to “go back to old-fashioned readings of history, studying institutions and laws. We should have talked to grandpa.”

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Serve



A simple and engaging web ad on a concerning problem, suicide among war veterans, but that still provides a hopeful outcome to aim for. (Hat/tip A Pint of Unionist Lite Daily)

55/45

Our government has decided to support the Irish government and economy through a direct loan of over £7 billion as well as billions more through European Union support mechanisms.  It must be recognised that this decision is not an easy one, to characterise it as a black and white issue would be a mistake.

There is national interest at play.  An Irish economic and banking collapse would have consequences for the British economy with the resulting pain particularly acute for Northern Ireland as well as the need for a further bailout of some of our banks. 

However, it would be a misjudgement to represent the bail-out as an panacea for Ireland.  It will not prevent the Republic experiencing acute economic pain in the next few years.  Its aim is to prevent a collapse not spare the Irish from pain (nor prevent the knock-on effects of that pain to Northern Ireland).  The second problem is it may not work.  There is the potential to be throwing good money after bad.  The lack of any positive signs from the Greek bailout makes such concerns rational as do the economists' predictions (scroll down) that a number of countries will end up quitting the Eurozone even with bailouts.  The bailout may simply be buying time rather than solving the problems.

This leads us to the complicated factor in the decision, the Euro.  How much the Euro contributed to the Irish crisis will no doubt be debated for years to come but what cannot be disputed is that Ireland finds itself without a number of economic tools that a country with its own currency would have.  The problems within the Eurozone have pretty much validated the Thatcherite critique of the entire project but validation does not mean protection from the consequences. 

There is an attempt to defend what was done as for Northern Ireland.  However, this leads to something of a contradiction.  Previously we had been informed the cupboard was bare both in terms of cash and borrowing.  Action on either would not be in our national interest.  Now the Coalition government has managed to find both, cash for the EU and now loans for the Republic.  So concern for the banking sector seems to have been the motivating factor.

However, it was the Euro that negated the need for our participation in the bail-out.  The IMF are sufficiently concerned about the world economy and the EU from an economic (and equally political perspective to keep propping up the Euro) that whatever borrowing Ireland needed would have been forthcoming.  The absence of a £7bn loan from us would not have left Ireland wanting it would have beens ecured elsewhere.  It would have also kept us out of the potential morass of further bail-outs for other countries. Any promises that we won't should be treated with the sceptcisim any statement on Europe from this government deserves.  For me the 55/45 comes down on the side of No.

The die is cast on our particpation but if the government's concern for Northern Ireland is genuine there is a further step it must take.  The Coalition government is to produce a paper on the future of British banks, the over-reliance of Northern Ireland on Irish banks must be addressed in that paper.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Arnie

George Savage MLA may not come to mind when looking for an Arnie/Terminator type but in the Portadown Times he's trying to do his best I'll be back impression.  He states:

"...watch this space. The Upper Bann constituency hasn't seen the last of George Savage MLA."

Curiously he hinted of:

"...a group of malcontents could emerge from Ulster Unionism to set up a party within a party..."

Meanwhile his fellow non-selectee Harry Hamilton claims:

"...his moderate type of Unionism had been rejected by the old guard."

Monday, 15 November 2010

Dominoes

They had been referred to as the PIGS but events seem to be leading to GIPS with Ireland apparently in talks for a bailout and Portugal now talking about getting in on the act:

"Meanwhile, Portugal's finance minister has said his country is at a high risk of needing a bailout due to the danger of contagion from other debt-hit euro nations."

Freedom


Good pic.

Quote of the day

"Given Sinn Fein's decision to drop Gerry Adams into Louth const, does that make him leader of the parachute regiment?"

Irish Labour Party tweet on Gerry Adams promising to do for Louth and the Republic what he did for West Belfast.

Exception

While official denials continue to emanate from Dublin about a bailout for the Irish economy, the working assumption of everyone else appears to be that it will happen.  Professor Morgan Kelly provides an insight into why while a former IMF economist, Simon Johnston, advices them to do it now rather than later.

However, Coffee House blog reveals some of the possible detail of the bail-out.  The bail-out may not be restricted to the credit facility available to Eurozone countries but also involve access to the emergency funding mechanism that all EU members potentially contribute through.  This would involve a potential £6bn loan bill for the UK with it appearing the Treasury consider Ireland an exception to the previous rule:

"It's thought that any bailout to Ireland will be made from the European Financial Stability Facility Fund – a eurozone mechanism from which we're exempt – but there's also talk (£) of deploying the EU's emergency fund, which could make us liable for a loan of up to £6 billion. Whereas Treasury officials were keen to keep a solution to the Greek crisis within the eurozone, they are now telling the papers that, "This is not like Greece. [Ireland] are close trading partners."


It also sums up the difficulty of such decisions:

"It rather sums up the peculiar situation facing Europe, including the UK. Failure to act means that the contagion from Ireland could spread. But action carries with it clear costs, both fiscal and presentational. It's true to say that few domestic voters will relish the idea of propping up ailing economies elsewhere, particularly at a time of gruel and restraint at home. And what kind of precedent is being set should other countries, such as Portugal and Spain, go the way of Ireland themselves? A few years ago, the Celtic Tiger was a proud, growling beast. Now we must grapple with the consequences of its death."

Friday, 12 November 2010

Small Bites

The government will be able to transfer some powers from Britain to the EU without a referendum under new proposals, despite promising the public would get to vote on any such move.

The new EU Bill says a minister will be able to simply state the transfer of power is not significant enough to merit a referendum in some cases.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

110%

UUP health policy has managed to become even more confused.  Previously their finance spokesperson, David McNarry argued against the ringfencing of health (twice) while others said UUP policy was:

"Health has been protected in England and Wales. The Ulster Unionist Party welcome this announcement and stresses that the same principle must be the case in Northern Ireland."

Yesterday Sammy Wilson proposed to provide the same protection to health spending as there is in England and Wales.  As Ian Parsley points out this means:

"Entirely in line with the rest of the UK, Health will be protected. Oh, and entirely in line also, social services and public safety won’t be."

However, it now appears that neither of these two positions was UUP policy.  They have now adopted a third and attacked the Wilson announcement.  Their health spokesperson, John McCallister, argues not simply for protection but for a £600m increase in health:

"...health and social care is underfunded in Northern Ireland to the tune of £600m compared with England - we believe this disparity must be rectified as part of the Budget discussions."

Over the 4 years of the CSR in strict cash terms this would require £2.4bn to be found for health (more with inflation).  This is higher than the revenue cuts of £2.2bn under the Coalition plans.  So one of the three UUP health funding policies is advocating increasing the cuts in all the other department by almost 110%.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Torture

On my desk I have a McCain presidential campaign baseball cap.  (I was not want of these who fell for the Obamamania.  Obama always looked like a empty suit to me and has now spent two years provided evidence for my first assessment.)  One of the stances that attracted me to McCain was his opposition to the use of torture, including the practice of waterboarding.  It was one of the policies instituted by Bush I considered a fundmental mistake.

While judicial activism and the rights industry trying to turn ever interest groups concerns into a list of rights has improperly warped the proper understanding of human rights, this should not blind us to the central importance of classic human rights as the basis of our democractic life.  Within those the right not to be tortured is crystal clear:

"Article 3 – Prohibition of torture
No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

There are no caveats on this right unlike for example the right to life.  This issue has once again come into focus following President Bush's claims about how the use of torture saved lives.  Others have chosen to praise Bush's comments.  Both are wrong.  The defence of "saving lives" is a questionable one. The alleged success of one technique does not preclude the possibility of another approach being equally successful.

This August Belfast saw its last Victory over Japan Day parade by 14 veterans, some who paraded with the help of family members.  Allied troops who fought in that Far East campaign were subjected to the waterboarding torture by Japanese soldiers.  After the war some of those soldiers were tried, convicted and hung for this war crime.  We did not subject them to the same treatment as they meted out.  This is part of the suffering of servicemen the poppy campaign remembers.  Perhaps those who wear a poppy but advocate torture should reflect on that contradiction. 

We were better than the totalitarians of the past and are better than their modern manifestation, Islamic extremism. We should act accordingly.

Immediate

Apparently Harry Hamilton, the UCUNF Upper Bann candidate in the 2010 Westminster election, has told a local newspaper, the Banbridge Chronicle, that he has "no immediate future in the UUP".  This follows his failure to be selected as an Assembly candidate.  There is some ambiguity in that comment but it's hardly a ringing endorsement either.  So is a third Westminster candidate heading for the door?

Judging from the local papers the UUP have been fighting like a bag of cats over the Assembly selections and in the interests on internal harmony they have made the unwise decision to run three candidates.  They have failed the getting it test and learned little from their near miss in 2007.

I've never met the man but he came across in the documentary about his campaign, Queen and Country, as a decent bloke. Although he was a bit naive and inexperienced in terms of campaigning.  An eve of poll leaflet is a standard tool, primarily to push turnout rather than change minds.  He and his campaign manager came across as entirely blindsided by the DUP using one and thus tried to blame it falsely for the result.  Regardless, the result he achieved - a comparable performance with Trimble in 2005 - was creditable especially when the media fascinated on one aspect of his life, the Freddie Mercury impersonations.

Test

A Falklands test would have been a sensible one for the Defence Review but it was not  chosen.  The ability to send a credible fighting force to a distant part of the world is essentially what the military has had to do on a number of different occasions - Falklands, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Gulf War I & II, Afghanistan.  However, this is not the direction which it went perhaps because it would have failed it?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Monday, 8 November 2010

Long Standing

"It is a long standing position of the Ulster Unionist Party that Northern Ireland needs a more normalised form of Government with a voluntary 'cross-community' coalition..."

Was it really? How long-standing? Only 4 years ago during the St Andrews negotiations the voices for such a change were restricted to the DUP and Alliance while the UUP argued against it?  The biggest opportunity for such a change since 1998 was missed with UUP complicity.  Perhaps it is a more recent discovery.

Also there is no barrier whatsoever to the Assembly having an opposition tomorrow.  The UUP can leave the Executive.  So why not act on what they advocate?  Perhaps this is what he means with this awkwardly phrased conclusion to his statement:

"in the short-term the principled following of democratic parliamentary principles by political parties may be what is required to improve governance in Northern Ireland."

However enough of poking a stick at the UUP.  On the bright side it does confirm that the Unionist parties have the exact same policy on the future development of government structures here.  Now perhaps we could turn ourselves to the task of persuading nationalists of its benefits and addressing their fears.  Also as devolution was over sold we have to be careful how we sell voluntary coaltion.  The Coalition government demonstrates how uncomfortable even a voluntary arrangement can be. 

Two pictures

After I got a pass for Stormont, one of the things I noticed early on was two pictures on the wall as you entered the canteen.  They were of the Assembly staff standing on the steps.  The pictures were taken seven years apart (IIRC the first in 2002 and the second in 2009).  Throughout that time the Assembly had not grown in powers (although by the second devolution was running without interruption).  However, the amount of space taken up by the number of staff had grown very noticeably.  A recent Assembly question confirmed this growth, almost 50% in five years.

Today the Assembly adopted a motion proposed by Peter Robinson making the Assembly Commission subject to the same cuts as elsewhere in government.  This needs to happen not only for the reality of our public finances because no cost-cutting programme will be taken seriously without it being clear that the political institutions are subject to the same as every other part of government.  They should also perhaps be thankful that more is not being sought of them.

(Note I had always intended to take a photo of the two pictures so I could blog on the topic. They would have been good visual aids to the incremental growth of government through lost of small decisions. However, I kept forgetting my camera and was told they were recently removed.  So I'm afraid you'll have to take my word for it.)

Choices

In amongst Dissenter's analysis of what is wrong with 'liberal' Unionism he outlines another sticky choice when it comes to candidate selections for Tom Elliott - ditch a sitting MLA (McClarty) or ditch the party's female Westminster candidate (Macaulay):

"...David McClarty cannot now be selected on appeal to the Party Executive without the second most popular candidate being selected. The problem? That would mean candidates would both be men. On the other hand, there is a risk of alienating or demoralising a substantial proportion of the constituency association."

If this representation is accurate then either has its problems.  If McClarty is chosen, then unlike Paula Bradshaw's non-selection, blaming the constituency association defence is simply unavailable.  This will have been a conscious decision of the centre.  If he isn't Dissenter points to the obvious campaigning problems.

Anything else could lead to the now almost obligatory threat of a legal challenge (already rumoured to have been threatened in one other constituency).  He could funk it and go for three to avoid too much of a row (rather this would more likely delay it to the election itself with different campaign teasm trying to do one another over).  However, with a 2010 Westminster performance of just over a quota this would sow the seeds for an Ulster Unionist equivalent of the SDLP's West Tyrone debacle in the 2007 Assembly election.  It could also increase the likelihood of a nationalist gain already increased to a degree by the new boundaries for East Londonderry.

National

The good news at a national level has once again been tempered by the local news.  The Ulster Bank is reporting a further decline in private sector business activity making Northern Ireland the worst performing region for 20 months.  The private sector has now been shedding jobs for 32 months. On the positive side the survey did show some growth in the manufacturing sector.

Meanwhile the Northern Bank is somewhat more upbeat predicting the NI economy will grow 1% this year (although he national economy managed nmore than that in one quarter).  While reporting growth Scotland, Wales they are the second and third worst performing regions.  So the national economic policies pursued by Labour and now the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are not achieving a meaningful spread in growth across the country.  Hardly surprising as regional differences was never a meaningful consideration in the development of them.  A national plan that failed to take account of these was never truly national but that appears to be what we have.

Cross purposes

On Friday the UUP Chief Whip, Fred Cobain, repeated the call to break the link with the Conservatives if they do not amend the St Andrews Act.  He admitted that they show no sign of doing so.  The News Letter article claims:

"Several figures key to the Conservative and Unionist project privately admit that the two parties relationship is over in all but name..."

However, in some unfortunate message timing, Jim Nicholson MEP had an insert in the Belfast Telegraph outlining his work. On the front page it had the logos of the Conservatives in Europe and the European Conservative grouping.

With the deadline past for the UUP to outline what it thinks is the future of the link, publicly at least it appears to be at cross purposes.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Nature

The TUV have just released a new leaflet (pdf file).  In keeping with its attempts to shift its ground and perceptions, it tries to go for some positivity:

"TUVʼs positive vision for Stormont: We donʼt want to wreck Stormont, we want to make it better for you...Jobs for you, not job for the boys: Facing up to economic reality, getting the priorities right"

However, its nature overwhelms the intent.  In terms of economic vision it manages to offer even less than the UUP document (yes it appears that is possible).  It calls for a economic strategy and that's about it.  No ideas of what it should actually contain only what it shouldn't.

They only have two ideas for savings - cut backs on the operation of government (fair enough) and abolish North-South bodies.  On the second suggestion the numbers don't entirely add up to the level of savings they claim.  A number of the tasks fulfiled by cross-border bodies would still need to happen so a Northern Ireland enitity would have to be created unless of course the TUV wishes to turn off the lighthouses and end all funding to Ulster-Scots etc etc. Even if we take their figures as accurate it would only fill about £500 million of a £4 billion hole (although perhaps they will save the rest by axeing the NHS as their economics spokesperson, David Vance, believes.)

The lack of ideas isn't the only thing undermining the "jobs for the you, not for the boys" message. The centre pages are taken up by what even the accompanying press statement admits is a "lengthy" article on the history of the methodology for electing first minister.  An article that involves some interesting re-writing of Allister's history in the DUP. He says:

"If there was a single occasion when I realised my days in the DUP were probably numbered it was 17 November 2006."

Despite this apparent realisation and objections to the legislation as soon as November he went on the campaign trail for the DUP in the subsequent Assembly election in February 2007.  There is also a bit of irony by-pass about the complaint of parades legislation being in abeyance.  Overall, the shoot of positivity gets buried by the muck-spreader.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Growth

Finally got a moment to stop chasing my tail and comment on the UK growth figures of the third quarter. 

First the estimated 0.8% is good news.  It is down on the previous quarter but appears away from double dip territory. Locally, the question will be how spread is this growth across the country?  So far it hasn't been.

Second it raises further questions about the Office of Budget Responsibility.  Its estimates are the underpinning for the cuts programme and it appears its projections for this year at least have seriously underestimated growth. The Treasury projections that were much derided as over-optimistic appear to have called it better.

Third, if the strong growth continues it will have a political impact upon the cuts programme.  The sooner and more the economy grows the better for tax revenues.  This will open up a debate about how much of the spending deficit was genuinely structural and how much was caused by the downturn. 

However, depending on their scale better revenues don't necessarily solve all the problems.  There would be the issue of paying down the national debt.  There is also the nature of the cuts programme.  When the Coalition actually looked at departmental spending cuts it was not so easy hence why the axe was shifted to the welfare budget to provide more of the notional savings than originally planned.  Welfare cuts have proven notoriously difficult to deliver in the past.  Therefore, the potential benefits of extra revenues could be diluted by the inability to achieve the proposed savings but these potential pitfalls should not get in the way of what was good news for the UK.

Boozer wins

Despite Young Boozer's name issues he managed to get elected as the Alabama State Treasurer.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Humbug

Ballymena Council will be switching on its Christmas lights tonight (with no doubt many more towns etc to follow suit).  This news has helped bring out my inner scrooge.  What is the point of spending money on Christmas lights?  Is there any evidence that they have an identifiable impact upon shopping behaviour?  I find it hard to believe there is.  The electric light bulb is a technology that we managed to crack many many decades ago, does seeing them in different colours and predictable designs really manage to differentiate one shopping town from another?

Fav ad of the mo

Grand Master

With the news that Robert Saulters is to stand down and in particular having read this tweet I feel it incumbent on myself to also rule myself out of seeking the office of Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.

Liberalism

It seems the defeat in the Westminster election has led to something of a re-think at TUV HQ. Some interesting footwork over language with more positivity and liberal buzz phrases seeping into their public statements. Jim Allister even  used the rhetoric of the DUP's moving forward slogan in his recent statement about talks with the UUP.    While Keith Harbinson referred to the "terrorist past" of Sinn Fein, note past not present.

If this shift continues then it pretty much confirms that the division in Unionism is essentially about timing i.e. how quickly we get away from mandatory coalition.  Somewhat typical of Unionism that it manages to gut itself over a detail within a policy consensus.  All three parties are signed up to the same goal. 

It will be interesting to see if its voters notice and how they react.  For some this will no doubt bring back memories of the DUP's repositioning and be wary of the dilution of the position.  Also outright opposition has been the TUV's Unique Selling Point without it what does it have?

Fluster

The arty farty types have been tryng to develop a fluster around the DCAL Minister, Nelson McCausland, expressing his dislike of excessive swearing in a play.  My reaction was somewhat different particularly when I read the line:

"...some people are particularly prone to swear."

I can imagine my name crossing his mind as he typed that line.  I must admit to taking advantage of his dilike of swearing in the past.  He used to be my boss and I discovered that excessive Anglo-Saxon was a good way of getting him to go away a little quicker particularly when he was giving me some thankless task.

As to my present campaign to give up my vice, it has slipped back a bit but overall my langauge has improved.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Challenge

The DUP has produced a set of proposals (pdf file) on how the budgets cuts could be dealt with and the budget re-ordered to drive the economy forward.  It aims to:

"balance our budget and provide the same range of services, to the same high standards, without the community feeling any appreciable level of pain...ensure that Northern Ireland emerges from the present difficulties stronger than ever to face the future."

Its package of proposals on the revenue budget includes:
  • Unfreezing the regional rate by raising it at the rate of inflation for the next four years and also capping the district rate to the rate of inflation as well.
  • No water charges.
  • Civil Service Pay freeze for those earning above £21k a year.
  • Legislation to end any entitlement to one step pay progression.
  • Reducing perfromance bonuses
  • Ministerial pay reduced by 5-10% through voluntary return.
  • Reduce use of consultants.
  • Financial Management e.g. identifying and dealing with under-spends
  • Freeze in civil service recuritment.
  • Quango review with proposals for abolition, merger, sharing of back office swervices or return to the department.
  • Better Asset Ultilisation - the second highest cost of government is the public estate and this seeks to manage it better.
  • Continuing to tackle absenteeism.
  • MLAs cut.
  • Departments cut to 8.
  • Procurement procedures overhaul.
  • Review of North-South and East-West spending and approaches.
  • Efficiency Savings of 2-3% per year.
  • Commitment in principle to taking and using Corporation Tax powers.
  • Prioritisation of disadvantaged communities.
  • Greater Utilisation of Community and Voluntary Sector.
On capital spending it recommends:
  • A transfer of £100m from revenue to capital in the early years of the CSR
  • New revenue streams for capital e.g. rather than selling the Port of Belfast it provides an annual dividend used for capital spending.
  • Asset disposal (later in the CSR period to allow the market to recover)
  • Private sector mechanism e.g. joint ventures
  • Sale and leaseback of public sector assets
On jobs it outlines a number of additional jobs programmes to create 7000 jobs.