Thursday, November 01, 2007

How can you have both points and a quota?

"Dave" Cameron has decided that he's going to have an immigration quota, but he won't say how big - probably because he knows that any actual decision will be unpopular with either the Daily Mail ("too high") or business ("too low"), or - more likely - both.

He's also decided that he's going to have a points system for economic migrants. The problem is that you can't have both. What happens if too many people get enough points?

I suppose you could have a system where you grant visas to the 75,000 people with the most points - effectively like a norm-referenced exam (like the pre-1987 A level). If that is your system, then your points has to be meaningful at all levels, rather than just at the pass-fail level, which makes the scoring much more difficult to set up.

Of course, knowing what you're talking about is not a job requirement of either politicians or interviewers, so no-one has asked Cameron the key question.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Who can vote in the leadership election?

A clarification:

In the Leadership election, anyone who is currently a member, or joins/rejoins by 16:00 (local time, ie GMT), 31 October 2007 will be entitled to vote. The deadline is for the membership form and fee to be at the Membership department in Cowley Street; if you want to join at the last minute, then do so online.

Confusion has arisen because elections conducted under the rules of the Liberal Democrats in England only grant eligibility to vote to members over the age of 10 who have been members for at least a year and who have renewed their membership at least once. This rule is an anti-packing measure, and applies to the elections of officers and executive committees of Local Parties, to elections of candidates for the House of Commons and the European Parliament, and to elections of Regional Conference representatives. It probably applies to elections of candidates for principal and parish councils and to elections for officers and committees of branches, but that has not been tested. It certainly does not apply to elections for Federal Conference representatives, or to the elections of Leader and President, both of which are conducted under rules established by the Federal Party, and not rules established by the State Parties.

Neither Scotland nor Wales have implemented such rules, so elections conducted under their regulations allow all members to vote, as do elections for officers and executive committees of the three non-GB local parties (Northern Ireland, Hong Kong and Brussels-and-Europe), which do not elect candidates for public elections for obvious reasons.

Finally, Associated Organisations (and Specified Associated Organisations) each have their own rules for eligibility to vote in their internal elections, but I'm not aware of any applying a minimum age limit or a requirement to be a member for a specific period; obviously LDYS has a maximum age limit.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Why Menzies had to go

I'm just watching "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and the guy on it - a firefighter and not an obvious idiot - didn't know that Ming was leader, and clearly had never heard of the name because he couldn't pronounce it.

Sorry Ming, but having that total a lack of impact on the popular conciousness: not good enough.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Inheritance Tax dodge

Darling's inheritance tax cut isn't much of a cut. By making it £600,000 for a couple instead of £300,000 each, all he has done is to hugely simplify financial arrangements for people.

Before today, your will could place all of your assets in a trust, with your spouse getting a life interest in those assets. When your widow died, the trust would end, passing on your assets to your children. In effect, this meant that the couple got two inheritance tax allowances, as long as they wrote their wills correctly.

Now, conventional "mirror wills" will have the same effect as the fancy trust wills. The losers here are the tax-avoidance lawyers who charged £1,000 a time for setting up a pair of fancy wills; you can now use a normal lawyer and pay only a hundred or two, or even draw up mirror wills yourself if you have fairly straighforward beneficiaries (eg split it equally between your children).

The winners are (the beneficiaries of) people who didn't expect to need fancy tax-avoiding wills, and therefore had straightforward ones (or no will at all), because they will get the double allowance of a couple without having to jump through hoops to get it.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry has started blogging. Amazingly, there is now a blogger who writes posts - well "blessays" (aawww, sweet) at even more length than Alex Wilcock

Friday, September 28, 2007

Guinness Advert: Is it just me?

Watching the England-Tonga game, there's a Guinness advert with black and white cartoon characters playing rugby. I might be being too sensitive here, but I read it as the good, white smaller team, against the bigger, black bad guys.

Is it just me, or is that a racist stereotype?

OK just seen the other advert, where the black team have the ball and score against big scary white players. Point withdrawn...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Why the European debate misses the point

For some reason, when British people debate the EU, we never seem to debate any of the important questions. For example, the entire debate on the European Reform Treaty is about whether we (ie Britain) should accept it or not - well, and whether we should have a referendum or not.

Strangely, those in favour of the referendum / against the ERT have not adopted the slogan I suggested for them: "Nice is nice". Yet, that is what their position amounts to: let's have the Treaty of Nice, not the ERT. Indeed, I find it utterly bizarre that there is no meaningful debate about the kind of EU that there should be. How can you criticise the European Commission for being unelected and unaccountable - and then not propose elections and accountability?

If you observe the last 56 years of the EU - going back to the Treaty of Paris, it has essentially been a battle between two groups - the functionalists (and their neofunctionalist allies) and the federalists. You can take this all the way back to the beginning - Jean Monnet was the founder of functionalism; Altiero Spinelli the founder of federalism.

You can follow the links to wikipedia on the meaning of functionalism and neofunctionalism, but in the present EU they are essentially anti-democratic pro-bureaucratic forces. Functionalists have quite profound concerns about democracy itself; they think that a government that is too responsive to the people can be overthrown by populists. Examples like Mussolini and Hitler were frequently cited in the forties and fifties; the popular front government that Franco overthrew in Spain might well be cited by more right-wing functionalists. Isolating the people who actually do things - the executive, in effect - from the democratic parts of the constitution is a profoundly functionalist act within the EU context. If anyone has wondered why the Commission is structured as it is, then here is your answer.

I am, as I'm sure it won't surprise anyone, a federalist. A real federal Europe, with a democratically elected legislature, an accountable and sackable executive, an independent ability to enforce federal legislation, and so on, would antagonise the "powers that be" in the EU far more than any of the intergovernmentalist proposals of the alleged eurosceptics - even leaving would be better than smashing the Commission. My God, someone who didn't graduate from ENA might get some power! There might be a public debate about a Directive before the vote! That would never do!

If we are going to have a political debate about Europe, then the debate needs to be what kind of Europe do we want?

I don't know how to achieve this, other than for different people within the UK to propose different kinds of European constitution, but if we never get that debate, then we get driven back to what Ming has acknowledged as the question that the Sceptics ultimately pose: "Europe, yes or no" - a question to which "yes" can be the only answer, of course.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Insane censorship

This is appalling. The Turkish Government needs to value freedom of speech much higher than it does, and protecting religious believers from hearing things they don't like a lot lower.

I hope that EU member states, including my own Government, will point out that this is the sort of behaviour that makes liberals like me very chary about admitting Turkey to the EU.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Trident and its problems

When Trident was introduced, I was in favour. Unlike some people, I hadn't appreciated the impact that Gorbachev was having on the Cold War, and nor had I properly understood the complete lack of independence that the British deterrent has.

There is precisely one country in the world that Britain might reasonably wish to deter. That's the one and only country that what we laughably call an independent deterrent absolutely cannot be targetted at. (for the hard of thinking: the USA).

Terrorists are not going to be deterred by nukes anyway, and anyone else is going to be far more comprehensively deterred by the 20-odd American Trident subs, and the USAFs' B-52s and then there are ICBMs and probably more nukes I've forgotten.

So why do people want to have a weapon that will neither be useful as a weapon, nor as a deterrent.

And as for the Security Council seat? I'd voluntarily surrender that too, making the Council have 14 member instead of 15.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On secrecy and surveillance

One point that is often made by those in favour of more surveillance is: "If you're innocent, what have you got to hide?"

I'm struggling to think of examples of things people would want to hide from the state qua state, but the state consists of people, and plenty of these are things that you'd want to hide from other people.

Businesses want to hide their marketing strategies and their business plans from competitors. In any negotiation, both sides - whether that's management and unions or one company and another, or a supplier and a purchaser, or whatever - are going to want to conceal their bottom line from the other side.

At the individal level, no-one wants their current employer to know when they are applying for a job elsewhere until they have an offer in hand.

There are also plenty of things that are morally dubious - not exactly "innocent" - but not criminal and not really of interest to the police, but which people are unlikely to want to be made public.

For instance, if you're having an affair, you probably don't want your wife to find out.

For instance, most customers of pornography don't want that to be made public, and even more so for customers of prostitutes.

For instance, lots of people and businesses make financial mistakes, and manage to pay them off eventually - generally they don't want to create a loss of confidence with their creditors until they are in a position to cover their losses.

You'll notice that the major secrets are financial and sexual - that's because money and sex are two of the most important things to most people - along with their own health and their opinions (political or religious, for example). Generally, a person's opinions are something they express publicly, so there's little to keep secret - though there are closet racists and the like - and your health is not in general something you can conceal, though there certainly are cases - for instance, would you tell your employer if you had been depressed in the past? Would you reveal it on a job application?

I'm trying to collect other examples of legitimate secrets; I think it's key to countering the authoritarian surveillance state that New Labour - especially John Reid - is trying to establish.