Wednesday, 28 November 2012

I told you so

Back in 2009, we were told that the 50p income tax rate would not drive people away or make them change their financial arrangements to avoid it.  I said it would.

Well, the numbers are in, and...
Almost two-thirds of the country’s million-pound earners disappeared from Britain after the introduction of the 50p top rate of tax, figures have disclosed.
What a surprise.
In the 2009-10 tax year, more than 16,000 people declared an annual income of more than £1 million to HM Revenue and Customs.  This number fell to just 6,000 after Gordon Brown introduced the new 50p top rate of income tax shortly before the last general election.
Just like Labour said it wouldn't. What's more:
increasing the highest rate of tax actually led to a loss in revenues for the Government.
Just like the Laffer curve said it would.

So, New Labour are idiots with no idea when it comes to finance and economics, and George Osborne (together with most other senior Tories) is a coward.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Bishops wearing frocks

So, is a Church be a place that has a core set of beliefs, to which tries to convert the society around it, or should it be a place that moves with the times to reflect the developing views of society?

If the latter, do we stop at women bishops or do we carry on willy-nilly*?  If we stop there, why?

Albert, Measured, and anyone else who wants to get involved, off you go...

*Yes, that was deliberate.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Two questions

1. Why isn't there a political party in this country with freedom as its core belief?

2. What can we do to change that?

A little too meta?

Let's say that a manufacturer created a product that was intended to develop a market in a different direction, to give back some of the enjoyment to a product that had become mundane and dull.  Let's say that the dullness had resulted from a plethora of rules and regulations that were intended to rein in manufacturers who had been making that product in the old way, and that the new product side-stepped all that - that it derived its fun in a different, more traditional manner that the manufacturer thought should be revived, that pre-dated the developments that led to the rules & regulations.

Let's say that the manufacturer concerned decided to advertise the product using imagery around someone trapped by the dullness of everyday life, who decides to stick it to the authorities and escape - using the product, of course.

If this were part of a dystopian fiction, then the authorities would of course step in and ban the advert.  But this is real life, in a rational Western democracy in which we are all treated like adults. The authorities would certainly allow a product like the Toyota GT86 to be advertised in a witty manner, and the Advertising Standards Authority would certainly not ban the advert just because it showed a sports car being driven in a sporty manner.

On, wait, I'm wrong.  They did ban it.  All we are left with is this:


Now, I saw the original un-cut advert.  It was fine.  Really.  This is just pathetic.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Raised Awareness

My awareness is heightened at the moment.  Having been made an offer I couldn't refuse*, I've been on a "Speed Awareness Course" run on behalf of the Thames Valley Constabulary.  It was illuminating, albeit I dare say not in the manner that the organisers expected.

(There are some safer driving tips at the bottom of this post.  Scroll down if you just want those.)

First, however, let's get the context over and done with. The miracles of modern technology detected me travelling at 42 mph on a major trunk road just before it splits into a dual carriageway (more on those, later).  The trunk road in question does however have an (ahem) slightly lower speed limit of 30 mph.  I won't beat about the bush; I had let my mind wander and was not properly concentrating on my driving at the time.  I relaxed my control of the car's speed.  The 30 limit on that road is actually justified, and I shouldn't have broken it.  My views on speed limits and speed enforcement are fairly well set out in this blog, but they should not be taken to mean that I think all speed limits are wrong or that excessive speed is anything other than irresponsible.

The letter from the rozzers did make me stop and think.  Actually, the flash from the nasty grey box was enough to make me stop and think.  So, while my driving on roads where I know it is clearly safe to make progress is just as legal as it always has been, I have been trying to focus better when driving and not think about other issues.

Now, with that dealt with, on to the Speed Awareness course.

As an aside, we can immediately note that I am a singularly lucky individual.  Why?  Because in a 30 limit, 42 mph is the upper limit for eligibility to attend a speed awareness course.  Had I been travelling at 43 instead, I could have expected points and a fine instead.  Douglas Adams was obviously quite prescient...

Our tutor for the day was a practising driver training instructor who clearly knew his stuff.  He was an effective tutor, too; he was faced with an extremely hostile and unwilling audience but managed to engage us and maintain a two-way flow of discourse.  Due credit should be given to him.

The ground rules included strict confidentiality; this extended to no use of phones or other recording devices, a shame as I had considered quietly recording the session in case it might be of interest.  The reasoning is (I think) valid, that others present might not appreciate their near-conviction being publicised.  However, it is quite convenient for the organisers to be able to prevent any reporting of the course content.

The economics are interesting.  There were about 25 drivers there, all of whom had paid £95, i.e. a total income of £2,375.  Take off a hundred pounds or so for hire of the room for the afternoon, and a bit to pay the two staff present, multiply by three courses per day, two days a week, times x venues, and there is a tidy income which goes back to the police force who so kindly invited us to attend.  Also note that (as they were at pains to explain) speeding fine income goes to central government, not to police forces, and the willingness of police forces to offer speed awareness courses is suddenly made clear.

The course was basically made up of two elements; question and answer sessions designed to remind us of elements of the Highway Code that we should not have forgotten, and expositions of past accidents to discuss and learn from their causative factors.  The former was certainly an eye-opener for me; the sheer level of ignorance displayed by virtually all the other drivers was staggering; asked (for example) what was the speed limit on a single-carriageway road in the countryside with no signage to indicate a specific limit, one girl answered "30?".  Maybe the problem was in the question; half the class could not identify the difference between a single carriageway and a dual carriageway.  Most did not know that a system of road lighting automatically indicates a 30 limit unless road signs state otherwise.  I don't want to boast, but there wasn't a single question I couldn't answer correctly.  I left the course feeling much better about my driving knowledge, content that I was in the top few of the 25 or so on the course.  If the aim of the course was to make me realise that my driving knowledge needed to be improved, it failed.

Which leaves the accident analysis.  Now, bear in mind that we were all present because we had breached a speed limit by a limited margin, and that there is a widespread feeling that only speed limits are enforced with any vigour - other driving offences being largely ignored until after the event.  You would expect, then, that the accidents would all exhibit the kind of consequences that flow from minor excursions over the limit, no?

Sadly, no.  There were three examples.  The only one that included a speeding offence was an example of grossly irresponsible speeding - 48ish on a narrow, poor-visibility, winding road through a village with no pavements and multiple visible and invisible hazards.  The driver concerned would not have been invited to attend a course, even if a teenager had not stepped out in front of him and been severely injured when the driver was unable to stop the car in the distance he could see to be clear.  So a speed camera would not have helped here - the driver would not have been invited to a speed awareness course to learn a better attitude, merely sent some points and a fine.

The second example was a case of excessive speed for the circumstances, but not speeding.  A driver crested the brow of a hill and crashed into the rear of a car waiting to turn right.  As with the first example, it was a sad event and an avoidable one, but not one that involved speeding or which a speed camera would have helped.  Had there been a camera in place, it would not have even fired.

The third example was the M4 crash in 1991, in which cars travelling at 70mph or so in thick fog became involved in a multiple pile-up after a van driver fell asleep at the wheel and came to a halt in lane 3 against the central barrier.  Again, no speeding involved, just grossly irresponsible and careless driving.  The kind of careless driving that speed cameras cannot catch and which police officers do not try to catch.

Overall, the course showed that some speed limits were necessary and justified and that some instances of speeding were dangerous and unwise.  In that regard, it succeeded.  However, the controversy around speed limits is that many (other) speed limits** are not reasonable or necessary and that many marginal breaches of these limits are not as bad as they are painted.  There is a logical fallacy in proving that some speed limits are good, and then concluding that (a) all speed limits are good and (b) all breaches of all speed limits are bad.

So, whereas before I attended the course I thought speed cameras were the wrong way to improve road safety, I'm now convinced of it.  If you're not convinced, think about the fact that in the last few years, speeding convictions have risen from about 200,000 annually to about 2 million annually, whereas casualty figures have remained static.

And now for the safer driving tips, of which there were a few sprinkled through the course.

First, on the motorway, take care on the hard shoulder.  If you have to stop, get out of the car and walk up the verge to stand behind the car (i.e. so that you can see the back of the car).  The average time before a car on the hard shoulder is involved in a collision is 26 minutes.  When that collision comes, if it is with a lorry then the remains of your car can be thrown to first-floor height.  Keep out of it, keep away from it, stay behind it.

Second, secure all luggage carefully.  The driver who crested the hill and rear-ended the driver waiting to turn right was killed in the accident.  An engineer, he had his toolbox in the boot of the car; in the accident it flew forward, punching its way through the rear seat and hitting him on the back of the head.

When waiting to turn right, keep the steering wheel pointing forwards - don't turn it in anticipation of making the turn.  Then, if you should see someone in your mirrors who is unable to stop, you can pull forwards to avoid or lessen the impact.  Keep the steering lock in place, and an attempt to pull forward will move you into the path of the oncoming traffic who are preventing you from turning.

If you're having difficulty keeping to a 30 limit, change down a gear.  3rd gear in most cars will naturally limit you to about 30, whereas in 4th you will likely creep up to 40 or so.  In powerful cars, I've found that 2nd is more effective.

In fog, SLOW DOWN.  If you can't understand that one, go to your nearest police station and hand in your driving licence.  Seriously.

Above all, keep asking yourself if you could stop in the distance you can see to be clear.  Maybe, one day when the road behind is completely empty, try it.

(*attend the course "voluntarily" or we will prosecute you)

(**not including the one where I was caught)

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

An apology to Steve Baker

This is my MP, Steve Baker:

His views are sound and he expresses them clearly.  So far as I have been able to tell, he is a proponent of free markets, sound money, small government, and reduced taxation and spending.  I therefore thought I couldn't approve of him more, but in the process of writing this post I discovered that he is a patron of the ABD as well.  So having just shredded my local Party subscription renewal notice, I do think an apology and explanation are due.

First the apology: Sorry Steve, it's not you, it's err, actually, it's not me, either.  It's him, and those around him.  I have been so thoroughly and comprehensively disappointed by Cameron that I simply cannot support an organisation that will keep him in power, even if the local representative of that organisation so wholeheartedly meets with my approval.

Why do I feel let down?  To be honest, I could go on and on, I think there are more instances of irritation with Cameron that I have forgotten than instances I can remember.  However, off the top of my head, where is our EU referendum?  Why was he resisting calls to cut EU spending?  Why is the UK public spending increasing?

Who thought it was a good idea to appoint Michael Heseltine to advise on economic policy?  Who could fail to foresee that his big idea would be to tax businesses, then give (politically-preferred ones of) them some of the money back and call it a growth fund?

Why are the Conservatives adopting and expanding Labour's database state?  Where did the Great Repeal Bill go?

Then there is the sheer political incompetence on display.  Why are they taking the flak for "austerity" and "cuts" when they're doing nothing of the sort?  Either accept the flak and take the chance to do some cutting, or stand up and point out that spending is not falling.  This is a massive political opportunity, missed.  The left are demonstrating their fiscal insanity - they cannot see the difference between a cut and a reduction in a rate of increase!  But Cameron is leaving them to make the argument.

There, in fact, lies the main complaint.  The arguments that characterise our public debate have continued to be of the type "How Socialist should we be?".  Cameron has not even tried to put forward a coherent statement of the politics of freedom, libertarianism, and fiscal rectitude.  Instead, he has allowed himself to be characterised as simply not quite as socialist as Labour; that will inevitably lead to 2015 being a vote for the Nice Party That Says Yes or the Nasty Party That Says No (or, of course, the Muddled Party That Changes Its Views All The Time).  It's easy to see which way that will go.

I know what the response would be from Cameron, it would be along the lines of "Ah, but my hands have been tied by the realities of Coalition politics".  Well Dave, you're in Coalition because you didn't beat this man in the election:

Not an argument you want to run, I think.  Of course, the reason you didn't win is that you didn't make the positive argument for Conservatism; you only argued that people shouldn't vote for Gordon and that you agreed with Nick.  I bet Clegg is grateful for that one.

So whilst I support Steve, I can't support Dave via Steve.  Sorry Steve.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Gadget makes my mind up

Well, I was quite sceptical about the Police & Crime Commissioner elections, until this morning when I noticed that Inspector Gadget believes that the PCC elections will lead to the slaughter of six million Jews.  No, seriously, he does:
For those of you who would like to do some further research in to what happens when political organisations get their hands on police forces during hard economic times, you might like to start with a look at Germany in the 1930′s.
Amazing. A Godwin's law moment and an apostrophe error, all in just one sentence.

They do say that you can judge the quality of an idea from the quality of the objection to it.  On that basis, the PCC elections are a fantastic idea.  So, that is me in favour of voting for someone... but who?

We have the usual range of political-party-appointed candidates.  I'll rule those out immediately, the post should not be a party-political one and I want the Commissioner to be their own person, not reliant on a (re)selection committee waiting behind the wings.  That leaves two independent candidates in my election (Thames Valley).

One is ardently against politicos being elected to the post; that would seem to be a big factor in her favour until you research her twitter feed and discover that she is a little coy about revealing that she is a failed Labour councillor.  Ooops.

Which leaves the other one.  He wouldn't be my first choice; although he doesn't mention it in his literature, he is an estate agent.  However, he is also an experienced Magistrate, and firmly believes that the role should be non-political.  He is a former councillor, but acknowledges this in his literature rather than hiding it and as he has previously served as a Labour, Conservative, and then UKIP councillor he could well be non-party political.

Yep, he'll do.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

What the State giveth,...

Just a quick link to Misanthrope Girl's post on the Living Wage... and the illuminating arithmetic showing that the only reason why there is a gap between the "Living Wage" and the National Minimum Wage is because of the tax that is taken.

So, obviously, the response of the caring  Left is to argue that the State should stop pushing the income of minimum-wage earners below what it regards as a living wage and take these people out of the tax system, lifting them from poverty at a stroke?  Errr, no, they want to force employers to increase wages so that the State gets even more money, employers are left with even less (in a time of economic difficulty...) and the employee is left with the same.

The Left has always been about stealing money from the productive in order to line their own pockets and create cosy jobs for their supporters, but it is a while since they have been this transparent about it.