Wednesday, March 31, 2010

When Does 'Optimism Bias' Become a Lie?

Optimism bias, always looking on the bright side of life, is normally a good thing. It keeps us all going when things get tough.
However, too much of it and a person is self-delusional and in a 'la la' land where everything that said needs thorough fact checking (I met one such person on Tuesday night, not a pleasant experience).

This affects institutions too.

The reason why the small Institute for Fiscal Studies's economic forecasts and comments are more revered than the the mighty HM Treasury is because the latter is prone to chronic, politically induced, optimism bias. The former produces evidence-based policy while the latter changes the evidence to back the policy. We will know when trust in politics has been restored because it will be when HM Treasury figures are treated with even half the weight of the IFS.

The Heaviest Element Known to Science

"Oxford University researchers have discovered the heaviest element yet known to science.

The new element, Governmentium (symbol=Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called pillocks. Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact.

A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that would normally take less than a second to take from 4 days to 4 years to complete.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2 to 6 years. It does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganisation in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Governmentium's mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganisation will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes. This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as a critical morass. When catalysed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium (symbol=Ad), an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium, since it has half as many pillocks but twice as many morons."

(taken from the internet, thank you BMitchell)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Shameful Politics of Local Labour

You don't get more desperate than this shameful display by the Labour candidate for Cambridge at a recent debate. The Basil Fawlty wannabe has already had to apologise for remarks about Cambourne, so why is the Labour candidate moving on to insult Germany with his latest antics? Wasn't the trek to Cambourne humiliating enough?

No wonder people are fed up with politicians.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Term Limit Hypocrisy

Earlier this month I met Francisco Santos, the Vice President of Colombia. He told me how under the leadership of President Uribe, Colombia has made great strides in the fight against its narco-terrorists. The Vice President noted how the current President accepted the decision by the Supreme Court that he could not stand for re-election, despite hugely positive poll ratings and a national grass-roots campaign to keep him.
This was a sign of maturity in the Latin American political world but could also apply elsewhere...

Term limits are usually enforced by those ambitious to hold office and ignored by those in office. The hypocrisy comes when the same person who came to power by the limit is the one who leads the campaign to circumvent it.

Those who pursue unconstitutional means to achieve their aims should be thrown out of office.

Friday, March 26, 2010

“They Make a Wasteland and Call it Peace”

...ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant

The Roman author Tacitus put these words into the mouth of an ancient British leader, Calagus, speaking on the day of the final battle with the Emperor’s legions.

There is a debate going on in some quarters as to whether ‘stability’ is the right option.

Some will want to hold on to nurse – or Gordon Brown – for fear of the future.

The people approaching the forthcoming election promising ‘stability’ are the ones who created the wasteland. They do not deserve to stay in office a day longer.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Press Notice: Tory Hopeful Returns to Front Line

Cambridge’s former Conservative Parliamentary Candidate, who bowed out in October, is back to chair the recently formed Coleridge branch of the party.

Richard Normington said, “While I was sorry that I could not carry on as the candidate I am now delighted to succeed Andrew Bower as our ward chairman. He did a lot of campaigning and fundraising to get the Coleridge branch going. He will be difficult act to follow. Together, we will be working for a successful parliamentary and local election result here.”

Coleridge’s Conservative representative on the City Council is Cllr Chris Howell.

The Coleridge Team site is
Richard’s blog is

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Not for the Poor

Brown’s Labour Party is adrift from its supposed political moorings. For a party that is promising to look after the poor, it has lost sight of its basic founding principle. This year's Budget freezes personal tax allowances. It will hit the poorest, especially after the previous Glasgow kiss in his abolition of the 10% personal tax rate band.

Bullet Points, via CCHQ:

Alistair Darling failed to explain in his speech that all personal allowances were frozen at £6,475 in the Budget (Table A4, page 123)

But the latest RPI inflation figure is 3.7% (ONS)

According to the Treasury’s own ready reckoner, the revenue gain to the exchequer from not increasing all tax allowances in line with 3.7% inflation is £2.2 billion in 2010-11 and £2.8 billion in 2011-12;

This is the biggest single tax rise in the Budget;

A 3.7% increase would correspond to a £240 increase in the personal allowance;

At the 20% basic rate of tax this means that the Budget contains a £48 a year stealth tax on every basic rate taxpayer starting in April, or £96 a year for a two earner couple;

This is not usual practice – in previous years personal tax allowances have been increased by more than inflation.

Budget Day Panto

The first set-piece event of the 2010 election takes place today. Don't examine it in an economic context but how it places the parties in the run up to the May election and the real budget in May/June.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lobby Law?

The government will do a U-Turn to introduce a register of lobbyists. Is this is so Labour MPs can tell if they are selling their services to real firms?

Crowding Out the Makers of Prosperity

The news that 52% of the country’s spending is now done by the public sector is a milestone on the road to economic stagnation. When the Conservatives left office in 1997 the figure stood at 40%.
Have you noticed any public services that are 30% better than in 1997?
Where did the money all go?
And how long can the diminished profits taken as tax from the private sector continue to prop up this engorged government?

Tale of Two Festivals

Last year:

- A total of 32,500 ale lovers went to Jesus Green over the six days of the Cambridge Beer Festival, with some 15,000 customers on the Thursday and Friday. No arrests.

- About 20,000 revellers went to the Strawberry Fair weekend producing 400 prosecutions and 73 actual arrests.

Unless the Strawberry Fair is reformed radically, it will not be missed by me.
One cost the county £83,000 to police while the police presence at the other was summed by this old anecdote:

“The organisers of one of the early festivals enquired of the police as to whether there ought to be a police presence at the festival, they were politely informed that there was - the control room was contacting the Corn Exchange if they needed any CID officers, but they were trying not to interrupt their drinking.”

Saturday, March 20, 2010

May The Force Be With Us?

Cambridge has the fourth largest number of Jedi in the country according to the Office of National Statistics. There are at least 2,000 of you out there.

The reason for putting the religious question in the 2001 census and again for 2011 is to provide benchmarks so that employers and public authorities, for example, can fulfill their duties under the Race Relations Act.

However, race and religion are not the same thing. You can choose your religion but you can never change your race (ok, only you can define your racial group and there is nothing to stop you from declaring different racial classifications to different bodies should you feel like doing so, which is odd.).

Of course, the state may not always be as benign as it has been historically in the UK or it may be infiltrated by extremists who use the data for their own purposes. For your civil liberties, you may wish to be a Jedi next year...

Friday, March 19, 2010

An Iain Dale Gem...

"I kind of agree with all the points of view, which is why I'm a Lib Dem."(pauses as people laugh) "Give us a fence and we'll sit on it."

Martin Turner, Lib Dem PPC for Stratford upon Avon
17 March, Stratford upon Avon College.

See here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Published Today

Liberal Democrat Fence-watch:

Cambridge News
Letters to the Editor

The letter from the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Cambridge published in the News this week contained more sanctimonious humbug per-square-inch than is usual for his party.

We know that the next government will either be Labour or Tory-led. What we don’t know is if there is no overall majority which way will the Lib Dems go – left or right? It is a simple question for Julian. “If you are elected will you support David Cameron or Gordon Brown as Prime Minister?” If you say Nick Clegg, then we know you are in cloud cuckoo land.

The British people should know beforehand what your plans are. As someone who says they believe in openness and transparency you owe the public an answer to this question before they vote, not after.

This followed Nick Hillman's letter on the same page:

The Lib Dems need to clarify their position

Our Lib Dem candidate has a letter in the Cambridge News today which claims he favours ‘values’ rather than ‘backroom deals’. Good. I agree.

So I hope he will now tell us whether, in the event of the Lib Dems holding the balance of power in a hung parliament, they would prefer to deal with Tory values of social responsibility and economic growth or the values of Gordon Brown’s Labour Party.

Telling the voters where his party stands before the election would be much less of a ‘backroom deal’ than holding fire until after the electorate have delivered their verdict and only then jumping one way or the other. If that is what Lib Dems plan to do, as seems to be the case, then voters would be better off making the choice between David Cameron and Gordon Brown themselves.

Even if Nick Clegg does not feel able to tell us which way he would go, there is nothing to stop Cambridge Lib Dems from expressing a preference.

Come on Lib Dems, give us the answer.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


The attack on a Tory canvasser by a ketchup-wielding leftie loony is covered in Nick Hillman's blog and the Cambridge News.

I am ready to accept that political opponents disagree with me for honest reasons, but there is a marked intolerance on the Left - the nurturers of the 'no platform' schools of politics - to reciprocity on this assumption.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Detention Works

"A POLICE crackdown on suspected burglars led to raids on 50 homes.
And the blitz led to an unprecedented three-day lull in the crime in Cambridge. There were no burglaries in the city on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday this week thanks to a “concerted clampdown” by the new head of Cambridge police’s burglary squad."

So putting them in locked cells works? Yes, but the state can't keep people in prison just because it believes they're villians. Proof is needed.

Accounting Tricks

Try this blog for some interesting 'City' and financial stories. I also like the opening quote:

"The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance". Cicero, 55 BC

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Royal Anglians

The 14 of June will see the Royal Anglian Regiment's Freedom Parade through Cambridge. Achieving the Freedom of the City was one of my original parliamentary campaigns - achieved by others I hasten to add - but I am content.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

NHS Database

This letter from James Strachan says all you need:

34 Belvoir Road
CB4 1JJ12th.

March 2010

Dear Sir,

I, and presumably everybody else in Cambridgeshire, have just received a notice from our Health Authority that our medical records will be loaded onto a Summary Care Record computer database run by the NHS.The accompanying leaflet describes the benefits in great detail. If you happen to be in John O' Groats, and happen to stub your toe, the local hospital will be able to access your medical records.The leaflet totally omits three very large disadvantages :-

* The Summary Care Record is only the start. It is planned that all your medical details, however private, will be loaded into this database. The computer project will spy on all medical transactions within Great Britain;

* It is futile to imagine that this database will be secure. Details are bound to leak, as they have from all major Government computer projects;

* I have no plan to vist John O' Groats.
In very small print, the leaflet explains that you can opt out of this scheme. You can download a form from here if you have access to the Internet.

I would recommend all readers to opt out. The benefits are illusionary and the loss of privacy is real. My GP is of the same opinion and has already opted out herself. This is yet another way in which this Labour Government regards us as sheep to be shorn and not as people. We need change.

Yours sincerely,
James Strachan

Friday, March 12, 2010

Shiny New Website

Nick Hillman has revamped his site. Very good it is too... especially compared to Some of the clunkers out there, especially the one maintained by a 'professional' marketer.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Support Drains for Power 2010

The Power2010 coalition sent an email to me saying,

“Dear Friend, We've come a long way in the past few months - but there remain some people who stand in the way of a reforming Parliament. They're the MPs who have blocked reform. They voted for ID cards and other invasions of our privacy. They opposed an elected second chamber and rejected a fairer voting system. It's time for us to stand up to these dodgy MPs…”

Yes, but what about the power pledge number four: English MPs to decide English laws? It seems odd that the three subjects highlighted include two which are entirely aligned with the Lib Dems and one that is shared between them and the Conservatives. The fifth, unmentioned one, is also Lib Dem policy.

The problem with the Power2010 coalition is that the offerings to the public and the results of the self-selecting poll are not coherent. One possibility for a major reform of UK governance, which enhances Westminster’s responsibility, is repatriating powers from Brussels to London at the next EU Intergovernmental Conference. In the Maastricht Treaty this was called subsidiary, but it never happened. This was not on offer by the Power2010 group.

The final result is a mishmash of policies: Proportional Representation (putting government in the hands of the few, not the many; pushing an agenda of back-door coalitions in place of public manifesto and a straight choice of right or left), a written constitution (an unnecessary, lawyers’ playground) and an elected second chamber (putting the new ‘Lords’ on target for democratic clash of legitimacy with the Commons) are wrong-headed but beloved of Lib Dems. The ‘English votes for English laws’ is not something that excites me, perhaps because it just requires an English Grand Committee, but is also flies in the face of the ‘left’ agenda which puts a premium on the rights and privileges of the Celtic fringe administrations at the expense of the majority, English, population – stoking up resentment in the process. Curbs on the database state and its odious ID cards are necessary and welcome.

The Power2010 exercise illustrates the problem with rule by referendum. Policy by populism, as witnessed in California or even the Today Programme, is a recipe for incoherence and irresponsible government. I may not agree with the full slate of Tory policies, but I oppose most of those from Labour and their mini-me Lib Dems. That informs which way I vote at the next election. However, if you take away policy-making from the parties, you also take away the greatest tool the electorate has when dealing with politicians – holding them to account for their actions and being able to sling them out of office.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More Unwanted Latin

Perne Road has another addition to its collection of unwanted Latin words.


We also now know that it's a virus that's at work on the pharyngitis sufferer.

Fix the Mess, Don’t Refight the Past

If the contractors are making these mistakes for a bus way, imagine what they could have done with a rail connection?

I am sure Cast.Iron/Flat.Earth will join me in criticising the handling of the contract … but they really should stop going back a decade to refight the whole bus versus rail debate. Personally, I’d like to go back to 1997 to refight the General Election to see a Tory win, because the country would have been better off. Neither of things are possible. We lost the arguments then. Time to move on.

You can't change history by shouting at it. You can, however, work for a better future.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Getting the Notice in Time

Iain Dale has an interesting piece on how it is normal practice to give a month's notice of the budget date.

He points out that last year the budget date of April 22 was announced on 12 February and in 2008 the budget date of March 12 was announced on 1 February.

He says, “It's difficult to see how that will happen this year.” Is it a conspiracy to avoid an embarrassing occasion by hiding it in the General Election campaign? Maybe. Or it could just be incompetence by 'Chairman, Comrade' Gordon Brown and his useless deputy in getting the notice out in time…

Monday, March 8, 2010


is fun for all ages! This team was out in Coleridge yesterday with Nick Hillman (PPC for Cambridge, my successor, holding the 'tree' clipboard). Master Normington saw his sister was allowed to go to the candidates' hustings to support Nick's selection, so he's out in his own supporting role this time.

Mixed Messages

The city council turned down the Tesco in Mill Road's application to sell alcohol.

The city council approved of the Strawberry Fair and its drink, drugs and petty crime.

Perhaps Tesco staff should dress in old fatigues, grow their hair long and offer 'legal highs' to passing punters instead?

(I hope the new fish and chip shop in Mill Road gets the go-ahead to sell alcohol to the people eating in).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Iraq Votes Today…

... and if the allies had cut and run in 2005 as the Lib Dems and Greens demanded, not a single Iraqi citizen would be able to cast a free vote today.

Whatever your view of the invasion itself, abandoning Iraq to the insurgents - Mullahs, Iranian Revolutionary Guards and assorted Saddamists - would not have been the right thing to do.
The cause of Liberal Democracy in Iraq was betrayed by the Lib Dems of the UK.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Another 'itis' to add to the Perne Road collection...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Chesterton Station Scare

The Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for Cambridge (the rubber tree wannabe) says he, “has fought for years for the new station as an East Chesterton County Councillor and a member of the East of England Regional Assembly.”

Yes, we all have. It was even in the Tory local government election manifesto that I drafted years ago...

He adds: "'What I want to know, and what people in Cambridge want to know is: Why did the Tories decide to roll the funding for the station in with the doomed TIF bid? What will they do now? Have they completely wrecked our chances of getting a station built soon?"

Well, it is a government priority, as recommended by our euro-inspired layer of regional bureaucracy, the East of England Assembly:

The Assembly has recommended the schemes listed below for funding from the Regional Funding Allocation.

To start before 2013/14

Scheme Name
Chesterton Station

Scheme Description
New rail station in the northern part of Cambridge.

Scheme Promoter

Cambridgeshire County Council

Cost (£m)

Contribution from RFA (£m)

So even our current harebrained government accepts that this needs doing and is ready to come up with the cash. I wonder why the Lib Dems don't draw this to people's attention in their press release?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Lib Dem PFI Piffle

Papers reported claims by the Liberal Democrats that, "The UK NHS is facing a £63 billion bill for private finance initiative (PFI) hospitals whose capital value is only £11 billion."

What none of the sensational headlines pointed out was that the larger numbers referred to the full-life costs of the projects – including maintenance and facilities management payments over decades.

“It’s not just comparing apples with oranges,” reports Partnerships Bulletin’s Diary, “it’s more like comparing apples with frogs.”

Quite true.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Common Sense Defeats Compulsory Congestion Charge

This is a rare post in favour of a (belated) measure by the Labour government and a few notes of warning about the nonsense about to come out of the county council's transportation department.

The government is scrapping the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) and replacing it with a new initiative that is not dependant on congestion charging - something the Cambridge Conservatives have campaigned for and I made a personal priority during my time as the parliamentary candidate.

The new Urban Challenge Fund will be available to all councils that can demonstrate they are “tackling congestion” and attempting to cut carbon emissions, but will come with no strings attached - just as the Cambridge Conservatives demanded.

The Department of Transport is going out to consultation on the new fund, but the omens are good at this stage.

The Minister said the TIF’s ,“weaknesses lay in its too narrow a focus on the issue of congestion, the failure to win public acceptance for the more challenging proposals, and inability to transform governance at the same time as delivering radical change.”

Quite right. (Did I say that about a Labour minister?)

Now let's nail some myths before the county council transport officials get them going.

First, TIF was about always compulsory congestion charging and 'road pricing' rather than than the wider aim of helping councils deal with congestion. If it was for the latter then congestion charging would not have been compulsory.The only thing that was certain about TIF was that everyone living in Cambridge would be charged for moving their motors between certain hours, regardless of destination or distance. It was a poll tax on wheels.

Second, TIF was never a straight gift of £500 million. The county was to come up with £40-47 million pounds from its own resources (either cash from developers or, if everything went wrong, council taxpayers footing the bill).

Third, there was no guarantee that the congestion charge would actually make money to invest in local infrastructure. If it made a loss, that loss would be carried by the council taxpayers.

Fourth, you will not need to hit the centrally-set housing targets if the Tories win the next election.

Fifth, smile! You can bid for the Urban Challenge Fund without being seen as Prescott's Congestion Charge poodles. There is a good story to tell about traffic in Cambridgeshire -for example the park-and-rides - and you should tell it (and get back to sorting out the Guided Bus, that's your day job).

Lastly, there is a dire need for investment in the county that the government must recognise. But the ends do not justify the means.

Oh, and, "I told you so."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Thank you, Julie

Julie Spence took over the Cambridgeshire constabulary from the lamentable Tom Lloyd (I was at an event where he refused to help someone who fell, practically stepping over them, saying there are “other people” whose job it was to assist instead).

Like all good managers Julie can say that she is leaving the organisation in a better condition than she found it. As an outspoken chief constable campaigning for national reforms, especially fairer funding, she ran afoul of the current political establishment. That is probably more a mark of merit than a badge of shame – especially when you compare her with the witless, politically-correct Metropolitan police officers.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Economic Junk

Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker says, "We have to strengthen the primacy of politics. It must be able to stop the financial markets."

Er, no.

The Soviets tried that one. Robert Mugabe and the North Koreans are still trying. Fixed rates and price controls are the way to queues, corruption and economic stagnation.

Flat Taxes in Action

As the Brown experiment in complicating taxes and stifling enterprise continues in the UK, other countries are going in a different direction.

In 2005, the country of Georgia enacted a new Tax Code that introduced lower, flat tax rates. The total number of taxes was reduced from 22 to only 7. The number of taxes was further reduced in 2008, when new changes to the Tax Code of Georgia took effect that abolished the 20% social tax paid by businesses. The rate of personal income tax was raised instead, from 12% to a flat 25% rate.