Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A piece by me over on LibDemVoice

I've had (another) piece published on LibDemVoice;

Opinion: Labour’s Living Wage really means the State taxes the poor more

If you want to see some of my previous LDV articles, you can find them through this archive link.

11 of 50

So Andrew Page has very kindly ranked me as the 11th most worthy LibDem to follow on Twitter. Thanks Andrew!

I thoroughly endorse the list, as I follow all but one member of it. If you don't follow many LibDems, you could do a lot worse than to check it out.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Labour's cynical calculation over HS2

Noises within the Labour Party over HS2 have rapidly become more negative recently.
Mere weeks ago, High-Speed Rail officials were speaking of Labour as being fully signed up to the project, and indeed some (notably Andrew Adonis) still are.
But an undercurrent of opposition has forced its way to the surface with statements today by Ed Balls, and I believe I know why.
A leaked internal report claims that Labour polling - especially among their core electorate - is solid, and in Labour circles this usually means only one thing; that Labour will feel free to take those votes for granted.
Labour have decided that to win the next general election, they have to make promises & offer giveaways to the swing constituencies that denied them last time.
But in order to offer sweeties on a scale to win the election, they would have to look financially profligate, which would lose them votes elsewhere.
Unless... they can suddenly generate £50bn of savings out of nowhere.
By cancelling - or even just talking about cancelling - HS2, Labour have found a £50bn magic money tree. The fact that abandoning HS2 will screw over WCML commuters is irrelevant (Tory constituencies & largely coalition voters; so Labour won't care).
The fact that Labour are prepared to sell the best interests of northern city dwellers down the river so easily though, should be of tremendous concern to everyone living there.
Labour have decided that their northern support is solid enough that they can abandon HS2, set the transport connections to the North of England back (another) decade and spend the HS2 cash on their own electoral success.
Every Liberal Democrat in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Nottingham & Chesterfield should take this message to the electorate;
Labour are selling the long-term prosperity of the north down the river - don't let them get away with it.
Edit: It's also financially illiterate, because the money for HS2 is capital expenditure which isn't treated the same way.
Edit2: It's also shockingly hypocritical for Labour, who have been calling for massive infrastructure spending to boost the recovery, to now be talking about killing the biggest infrastructure project available. But I'm long past being surprised by Labour hypocrisy.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The case for HS2

((Something I wrote for a discussion elsewhere on the merits of HS2 - with a few edits to make it flow as an article rather than the response to a thread that it was originally))

I am very much in support of HS2, although oddly my reasons are almost identical to many people who oppose the project. I suspect there are certain realities of rail infrastructure that don't impact on public perceptions. 

Firstly, let's tackle the name, and the speed issue. 
High Speed Two (phase one) is not being build to provide a 20 minute travel time reduction for people going from Birmingham to London or vice-versa. It is being built because peak passenger capacity on the West Coast Main Line (hereafter: WCML) in almost at maximum, as is the capacity of the existing line infrastructure to handle to number of Trains per Hour (hereafter: TPH). 

The only way to increase the number of TPH on the WCML is to completely synchronise the timing of all trains. This would either mean eliminating all of the fast trains that do Birmingham - London with only a few stops between, or it would mean eliminating all of the slow trains that serve most or all of the minor stops. 

This is basically down to the difficulty of overtaking on rails. 

Thus, in order to increase capacity extra lines are necessary. 

Having decided that extra lines are necessary, it's clear that the logical course of action is to build these new lines as High Speed Rail from the get go, with the alignment restrictions, grade separation and loading gauge specifications (in non-specialist speak: gentle curves & cant transition, no level crossings and crossovers and wider/taller clearances at platforms and bridges) that are required for a modern high speed railway. This in itself means that simply sticking new tracks alongside the existing WCML isn't an option - the WCML is a distinctly 19th Century railway, with all the alignment issues that implies. 

The second reason that adding new tracks parallel with the WCML is not an option is that to do so would cause massive disruption with all existing junctioning in order to accommodate the new lines (even if they were not built to High-Speed specifications). The recent 5 week blockade of Nottingham Station for track rebuild works and resignalling should give you an idea of how much work - and how much disruption - a rebuild of the entire WCML would cause. 

The third point is that in many places along the WCML the land simply isn't available to expand the trackbed for two more lines, and in places where it is there would inevitably be a NIMBY outcry of around equal proportion to the one that currently surrounds HS2. 

Thus, the decision to put a new line on a separate alignment, using the High-Speed rail loading gauge and track specifications, makes sense. 

Building HS2 will also have knock-on benefits for travel on the WCML. As the fast London<>Birmingham trains move onto HS2, the opportunity to synchronise the slow trains on the WCML becomes available without disrupting the fast trains. This will increase the number of TPH along the WCML (because the occasions where trains must be halted at signals while waiting for fast trains to cross the non-grade separated crossovers will be reduced or eliminated). And with TPH increased on the WCML, as well as station stops increasing on the intermediate stations along the route, passenger capacity will also increase between the commuter belt stops and London. 

It really isn't as simple as "let's just add to the WCML". Much less putting everyone into cars. 

I will also take issue with the methodology of the think-tanks who are claiming the cost will skyrocket. In all cases, they are using the cheap trick of converting costs into projected inflation-adjusted 2045 values. 

In any case - Yes to HS2. 

Friday, 30 August 2013

Smaller, Weaker, Lesser

This morning - after last nights disastrous vote, in which the Labour Party wrecked the UKs international reputation and influence for petty minded party political advantage, Ed Miliband is exhibiting buyers remorse.

The BBC is reporting that Miliband is now calling for the UK not to wash its hands of Syria - while towelling his dry.

A basic fact about military and diplomatic power is that they aren't separate things. When Labour wrecked UK international influence last night - despite having been given all the assurances they had asked for - they didn't only stop the possibility of military strikes, but pull the rug out from under the diplomatic efforts against the Assad regime, and gave both Assad and other dictators around the world the breathing space and knowledge that the UK cannot act against them.

Now our diplomatic efforts are backed up by nothing more than a strongly worded letter of complaint, and can (and will) be ignored by Assad and other dictators like him.

Ed Miliband - a man who would be PM - has weakened and ruined British influence in the world. By voting against the very principle of liberal interventionism, he has left the country and the office he seeks to hold a smaller and lesser thing, diminished upon the world stage.

For Miliband to now pull another u-turn is too late to save the process.

You won a vote, Ed Miliband. But you proved yourself unworthy to win an election.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The final result of Blair's lies over Iraq has come home to roost

The government have just lost the vote on the interim motion about Syria and the use of Chemical Weapons. Labour, as I detailed in the previous post, have managed to do so many u-turns that they voted against their own demands.

I am beyond angry at Labour's duplicity on tonights vote. They have played narrow party political games with an international humanitarian crisis and in doing so shot the UKs international influence and reputation in the foot.

They cannot be allowed to gain even a smidgen of electoral advantage from such an ill-thought, petty action that saw them be given everything they asked for in the government motion, only to then reject it simply to cause trouble for the government.

Well done, Ed Miliband. You won a vote. I hope you choke on it.

As a result of this vote, you've made the world an easier place for dictators, demagogues and tyrants to abuse their own people.

You've chosen - aided in part by Tony Blair's lies over Iraq a decade ago - to turn the UK away from a position of influence and power in the world, to retreat from being able to do anything to help innocents anywhere around the world, and to tell any Dictator paying attention that the UK won't act to stop them if they gas and maim their own citizens.

You've shown you are unfit to hold the office of Prime Minister. You don't have the stomach for taking the hard decisions necessary for the office, and would prefer a powerless little island to a Great, influential, Britain.

And for you, Mr Blair - your lies and illegal war over Iraq have finally come home to roost.

The illegal war in Iraq has now weakened the UKs influence, and pushed peace in the middle east further away than it has ever been.

The man who is now Middle East peace envoy is the biggest reason for the continuance of a war.

Labour: all in a spin over Syria

The last 24 hours have seen some horribly duplicitous double-dealing over the motion on Syria before the House of Commons. Labour are busily trying to concoct a narrative that they are taking a lead on the issue, while doing serious damage to the ability of the UK to seriously engage in overseas politics.

I shall lay my cards on the table here; I'm neither an untrammeled warhawk nor a complete dove - not in general and certainly not when it comes to Syria (or the middle-east in general). I don't believe that there is an easy solution for the whole situation (staying out is only easy for us, before someone comments), and the whole package must be handled with extreme care to keep things from deteriorating badly. Civil Wars, and the politics around them, are like unexploded bombs; just waiting to turn into a cloud of hot gas and flying shrapnel.

Nonetheless I've been utterly astounded by the sheer gall the Labour Party are displaying over the motion before the House of Commons. Everything started with the (inevitable) decision to recall parliament to debate the matter.

With Foreign Policy matters, unlike domestic issues, there's generally a more consensus driven approach to policy making (events like the Iraq war debate and Tony Blair misleading parliament into an illegal war notwithstanding). It was thus quite a surprise to hear Labour indicating that they would try to amend the motion before the commons, even more of a surprise to see them publish the amendment before the substantive text was released, and shocking to hear that if their amendment failed they would whip their MPs at the vote.

Whip them to abstain, that is.

The idea of whipping their parliamentary party to abstain on a war vote was clearly a nonsense. It was quickly called out on the bubble-watching media and twittersphere for the cowardice it was. A few people also noted that one or two Labour frontbenchers might defy the whip and vote against in any case (notably Dianne Abbott).

In any case, Labour swiftly pulled a u-turn and announced that they would vote against the substantive motion if their amendment was not adopted. Unusual, because of the aforementioned general consensus building approach to foreign policy, and rather damaging to Labour (and Milibands) own credibility on foreign affairs, but hardly the end of the world.

Consensus was then obviously rapidly sought by the government. Hague in particular shifted tone markedly, and the eventual motion, when the substantive text was released, contained the points Labour had pushed for (report back from the weapons inspectors, UN agreement and so on).

I was at this point quite glad. The motion as finalised satisfied my worries over legality and objectives, at least in the short term, and required a further commons majority before any escalation by UK forces could occur. Labour had played a bit of politics but come out with a bit of credit, the Liberal Democrats had a motion that wasn't gung-ho adventurism of the worst Tory school, it looked like the Tories were satisfied with the soft power benefits for now, and best of all Labour seemed to have learned from their illegal Iraq war.

And then Labour had to try and go one division too far.

Labour are now indicating that - despite assurances, despite the substantive motion containing the safeguards they wanted, the safeguards they would vote in favour of - they will now vote against come what may.

This doesn't merely shoot their own foreign policy credibility in the foot - although it's done that handily - it also shoots the UKs own foreign policy soft power in the foot too. A quote from an unnamed (for obvious reasons) government official says;

No 10 and the Foreign Office think Miliband is a f***ing c**t and a copper-bottomed sh*t. The French hate him now and he’s got no chance of building an alliance with the US Democratic party.

Not only is Ed Miliband now endangering the Labour Party's credibility - they are now committed to voting against a motion which contains the principles they previously wanted to vote for - he is undermining the credibility of the UK as an international power of western democracy.

Ed Miliband is showing that he is unfit to hold power, and in the process he is damaging the country. Unlike Nick, who treats the issue with the extreme seriousness it deserves - rightly drawing parallels with Kosovo - Ed is playing a petty game inside the Labour Party.

Is it really worth it just to keep Dianne Abbott on the front bench, Ed?