Monday, 18 May 2015

Hero or criminal or both, you decide

Able Seaman William McNeilly, late of Her Majesty's Royal Navy, the Continuously At Sea Nuclear Deterrent (CASD) specifically, has blown the lid on our nuclear secrets. In an 18 page document which can be read here he has listed an awfully long litany of problems with our ballistic submarine fleet.

It seems there are unreported accidents, subs leaving for patrol with more people on board than expected, dissemination of Top Secret information to all and sundry including leaving classified books open on your bunk and not bothering to clear the room of unvetted people before having a classified briefing. There are fires, chemical leaks and inflammable waste propped up against electrical wiring. Water pours continuously out of light fittings and it is shrugged off. The fresh water makers don't work, and subs run out of food while at sea.

On a number of occasions the Navy base at Faslane has come close to launching nuclear missiles into the surrounding Scottish countryside. (The SNP are going to have a field day with this. They don't like nukes at the best of times. Now they know how close they have come to actually being nuked they are likely to go ballistic themselves.)

Waving any green piece of card will get you on board a nuclear sub in the first place, especially if it's raining because guards don't want to come out of their huts.

Morale is low, and equipment is mainly broken. Often the sub at sea cannot open its missile hatches, let alone actually launch any sort of weapon. When the Captain inspects, the crew concentrate on making things shiny, not functional. When a politician comes on board junior ratings are told to make themselves scarce so they won't tell the VIP what is actually go on.

McNeilly seems to have made it his business to discover all the security flaws in the system and to have worked extra hard to get onto a nuclear sub just so he could discover more and better instances of shoddy practice. Now he thinks the Prime Minister will personally thank him for putting the world to rights. That won't happen. The PM will avoid him like the plague, and the Navy will probably court martial him.

As McNeilly first tried to report his concerns up the chain of command he qualifies, morally at least, as a genuine whistle-blower. He should not be disciplined, he has performed a public service, but he will be prosecuted. Officialdom can never resist the urge to use official secrecy to conceal their mistakes.

Two dates for your diary

The first date is the 27th of this month, ie Wednesday next week, when we will have the Queen's Speech. Government departments are beavering away, each writing their contribution to the Speech. The Speech will translate election promises into Acts of Parliament. This is when we see what our new Tory government actually plans to do.

The second date is the 8th of July. This is when George Osborne will present yet another Budget to parliament. Given the two month delay it looks this is more of a challenge than the Queen's Speech. Of course GO has already had one bite out of this cherry because he presented a budget back in March. But it seems that wasn't a "for real" budget, just a showpiece to get some votes in. Back in March this blog noted we are now doomed to have one of these faux budgets every five years. Any new government would certainly want a new budget, and it seems the loss of the Lib Dems is enough to invalidate previous plans.

That said, the most significant date on the horizon is Autumn 2017, precise date not yet decided, when we will vote on whether to remain in the EU. We can expect major drama in the run up to that date.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Economic numbers at the start of the new government

Just for the record let us look at some economic numbers, and compare with the same numbers in May 2010 just as the Tory-led coalition was taking power.

                              May 2010      May 2015

National debt:                £915bn        £1,560bn
Budget deficit:               £168bn        £76bn
Base rate:                    0.5%          0.5%
FTSE 100:                     5350          6885
Quantitative easing:          £200bn        £375bn
VAT:                          17.5%         20%
CPI inflation:                3.4%          0.0%
Consumer price index:         114.6         127.6
One pound is worth:           €1.1683       €1.3486
                              $1.4496       $1.5214
                              CHF 1.64      CHF 1.40
                              NOK 9.00      NOK 11.27
One barrel brent crude oil:   $75.95        $67.26
One litre petrol at pump:     £1.219        £1.120
One pint organic milk costs:  £0.53         £0.60
Price of gold (1 troy oz)     £804          £782
Nationwide house price index: £167,802      £189,454
Halifax house price index:    £168,202      £192,970
Unemployment:                 1.43m         1.86m
Average earnings:             £23,348       £25,220

How would we think about these numbers had we known them five years ago?  Well the national debt would be a horror, and the deficit was supposed to be zero by now. No-one really expected the lowest ever base rate of 0.5% to stick for so long, and not surprisingly house prices have run out of control.

But the fall in the oil price would be a pleasant surprise, as would the increase in sterling against various foreign currencies. The Swiss franc is notable here for its value retaining properties. Gold would have been a bad investment (although it has peaked much higher in the intervening years) but equities were good, amounting a 5% approx gain per year. The inflation number would have seemed like an amazing achievement, but it's just a blip and has been higher during the course of the five years.

The numbers can be summarised as "feel good" but actually bad. Most of the gain has been bought at the cost of an enormous increase in the national debt. On the down side unemployment is up and salary growth is subdued at best, an 8% increase of over the five years compared with an 11% increase in the cost of living (CPI).

In other news, this time five years ago we were troubled by volcanic ash clouds from Iceland, a BP oil leak in the gulf of Mexico and Greece failing to pay its debts. Of these only Greece remains topical and we are exercised by ISIS in Iraq, a Saudi vs Yemen war and blacks rioting in Ferguson Missouri and Baltimore.

To sum up the government of the last five years - they didn't really fix anything.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Tomorrow vote UKIP

The promises are all in and we are now in a position to decide who to vote for in tomorrow's general election.

The Tories have pledged to freeze income tax, national insurance and VAT and to reduce the deficit to zero over the next five years. They will also raise the inheritance tax threashold to one million pounds and the tax free personal allowance to £12,500.   They have also promised a referendum on EU membership by 2017. Also a vote-swayer is their plan to allow housing association tenants to have the same rights to buy as council house tenants. There are more than a million HA tenants - that's got to be an attractive policy for them.

Both the Tories and the Lib Dems have promised £8bn more for the NHS - without saying quite where that money will come from.

The Lib Dems would put a "mansion tax" on houses worth more than two million pounds.

Labour have made a similar promise on tax freezes but not on IHT or the personal allowance and will raise the minimum wage to £8 per hour. The Greens would make it £10 per hour. Labour would cut University fees to £6,000 per years; the Greens would make Universities free.

Miliband has pledged no deal with the SNP. The SNP has pledged no deal with the Tories. The Lib Dems will deal with anyone.

In 2010 this blog endorsed the British National Party. However the BNP has effectively imploded after the expulsion of former leader Nick Griffin. They are only standing 8 candidates nationally, compared to 339 back in 2010. So as a force they are now spent. UKIP is now occupying their ground and Nigel Farrage is on record as saying that UKIP is the "same as the BNP only without the racism." (The BNP is not actually racist though.) So, for being sound on what matters - not the ephemera of taxing and spending, but the existential matters of Europe and immigration - this blog recommends its readers to vote UKIP.

That said, it's quite likely UKIP will get ten to fifteen percent of the vote but only return two or three MPs to Westminster, while the SNP will get 4% and return 50 MPs. But even if there is no chance of UKIP winning in your area you should still vote UKIP because 1) it encourages the candidates when they get support and makes them likely to stand again in the future, and 2) a large percentage of the overall vote gives UKIP moral authority and affects how other parties will behave in government.

And you never know, UKIP may wildly exceed expectation and get a landslide of MPs.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Tories promise not to raise taxes

All parties are bleeding out election promises at the moment, trying to control the news agenda and maintain momentum until the general election next week. Perhaps it's desperation, but suddenly some rather serious promises are being made. The Tories have just pledged not to raise income tax, national insurance or VAT for the life of the next parliament, and to enact a law which ties their own hands so they cannot break their promise.

This is quite a generous promise. Of course they can still raise taxes on banks and oil companies but with that pledge in place its gets quite difficult to scalp the ordinary citizen harder. They would be reduced to inflating the minor taxes such as duty on cigarettes, and alcohol and car tax.

Ironically, they have to promise to enact this promise in law because otherwise everyone will assume they'll just break it in office; let's not forget five years ago they promised to abolish national insurance and it's still there. Which leaves the wanna-be Tory MPs telling interviewers that this a special promise they are not going to break while at the same not admitting they've ever broken any promise.

Still, it's a pretty good promise. Over to you Labour, let's see you raise that!

Friday, 24 April 2015

Hound of Hounslow and legal domain

Navinder Singh Sarao is thought by the Americans to have triggered the 2010 "flash crash" in the US stock markets wiping more than half a trillion dollars off share prices, albeit only for a few minutes. The Americans previously investigated the flash crash and claimed it was just a glitch in the system. Now though, they have fingered "Nav" and want to extradite him.

There is an issue here of legal domain. If Nav broke the law did he break UK law or US law. If he broke US law then that is not an issue because US law does not apply in the UK. If he broke UK law then he should be charged and tried in the UK. Either way there is no substance to a request for extradition to America.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Tower Hamlets mayor deposed

This chancer....

...mayor of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, has had his election declared void by the High Court. The court found he used corrupt and illegal practices to seize power. The post has been declared vacant and Rahman has been hit with £250,000 costs, although seemingly no actual punishment.

Rahman played the Islam card and the Black card but all to no avail. The judge said, "Even in the multicultural society which is 21st century Britain, the law must be applied fairly and equally to everyone. Otherwise we are lost."

Sadly the Bangladesh-born Rahman will probably not be deported.