Ricardo Hausmann on Greece
I haven't linked to this Article by Ricardo Hausmann about Greece on my blog. I have referred to it on twitter, but I wish to have a record on the blog.
With things getting much worse in Greece (unsurprisingly) the government there still seem to be unconcerned about reality.
If the Greeks vote no then many of their banks will probably be insolvent in Euros as they will hold Greek Government Debt which is clearly not worth its face value. I haven't looked at the balance sheets, but the greek banking system has a debt as a whole of about EUR 90bn to the ECB for ELA. On the credit side they have government debt. I don't know how much. It is unclear what the discount should be, but it does not look good.
I did make this point on Yanis Varoufakis' blog, but it has not got through the censors.
Not surprising really as the government are campaigning for a no vote.
Pop Clients and Windows 8
As a result of the assault by a Magpie on my laptop I have now obtained an updated laptop and am in the process of setting up everything to work on the new machine. I had avoided leaving the XP operating system because I had a large email archive. I also don't want to use IMAP as I want my database where I can see it.
I thought it would be a good opportunity to try out a number of different POP email clients and to write notes as to my experience of them.
The first one I tried was EM Client. This was quite good although the cursor had a tendency to disappear in some circumstances.
The next one I am trying is DreamMail. This is written by someone in China whose English is not particularly good, but their computer programming seems quite good (although it crashed in a strange way to start out - this may been linked to trying to get the pop and smtp parameters automatically.)
I particularly like the facility to import a *.dbx file. In fact you can load a number of dbx files for import and it will trundle through each of them. I have now, however, found a website for the writer (s?) of the software. I am not going to highlight any particular source for the software there do seem to be some dubious ones.
Dream mail does have some inbuilt spam filtering and blocking. This does not appear in EM Client. EM client states it can import from *.dbx files, but I have not tried that. Dream Mail does, however, seem to save the data in folders for each month. This means that the summary file only needs to be backed up and historic data which does not change does not. That seems useful for the backup process. I am a bit nervous about the encrypted storage, however. (from the perspective of how to get to the data if the client does not work).
Dream mail also stores some header information in one file (currently 1-2Gb on my system) and then the individual emails in folders for each month. This seems quite an efficient mechanism for incremental backup as the historic data would generally not change and therefore not need to be backed up. It appears EM client stores the data in one big file. That means a 15Gb copy every time there is a backup. Something I am not enthusiastic about.
posted by John Hemming
¶ 9:22 p.m.1 comments
Sunday, May 24, 2015
Greece and Spain
Elections are happening in Spain in which a party with a similar view to the Greek Syriza (Podemos - We can) is putting forward an "anti-austerity" platform.
The difficulty in government is that policies have to work. The Greeks appear to have put a major hold on payments to suppliers prioritising employees and other objectives. Inevitably suppliers have put a hold on supplying the Greek government with the consequent damage to public services. On a cash basis they may have a primary surplus, but with a purchase ledger of EUR 4.4bn and spending EUR 2bn less than budgeted something has to give.
Claiming that they have a primary surplus when it has mainly come from not paying suppliers is obviously misleading. None of the Eurozone finance ministries are stupid enough to believe what the Greeks are claiming.
Then again when you have this idiot as finance minister it is not surprising they have problems. Quoting from the linked article:
"Greece’s general government had, in 2013, a primary deficit of 12.7% of GDP if we add to it the cost of recapitalising the banks (again during 2013). Let’s accept that this cost should not count as part of the government’s outlays (even though it is not clear why it should not). "
It is obvious that a one-off cost should not be treated as a continuing revenue cost. If that is "not clear" then he should not be finance minister.
The fundamental problem is that a government has to manage its finances in a sustainable way. Additional government spending does increase the GDP, but not necessarily sufficiently to reduce the borrowing required to fund the additional GDP.
It does appear that the Greeks are now in the final stages of the process of default. It is insufficient to dislike the conclusions as to what policy changes are required. There has to be a clear plan for any alternative proposals to produce something that "works". In the case of governments any financial shortfall has to be borrowed from someone. People with money are not inclined to throw good money after bad. The people who are most likely to suffer from the government getting it wrong are the poorer people in society. Hence governments need to get it right.
FMOTL - Magna Carta 1215 and constitutional theories
It remains that some people (sometimes known as Freeman of the Land - aka FMOTL) continue arguing a case based upon a strange interpretation of the UK constitution. This ends up with a strange distinction between common law and statute law and an attempt to argue really quite unorthodox things.
I am not in itself opposed to things which are unorthodox, but if people do not follow the procedures defined in the UK constitution they should not expect anything to come of this. I know of a case where someone's mental capacity was removed for relying on this. I believe that decision to be wrong, but whatever it may be it does not help.
Every so often people try to rely on these theories. Can I emphasise:
I have never heard of anyone succeeding in the UK on the basis of FMOTL legal theory. I am quite happy to look in the comments at something.
The most important point to understand is that the UK constitution is based upon a popular revolution from 1688. The constitutional settlement that was achieved at that point and accepted at that point is the constitutional settlement mutatis mutandis that applies today. That settlement included Magna Carta 1297 not Magna Carta 1215.
Magna Carta 1215 did not even last for a year even though it was supposed to last for ever. It is a "dead parrot" in a legal sense.
Hence the foundations of the legal theory known as FMOTL are flawed and any edifice built on them has to fail.
You can find Magna Carta 1297 on the legislation website if you wish.
Parliamentary Elections and General Elections
People vote for all sorts of reasons. Some vote as to who they want to be the local MP. Others vote as to who they wish to see as the prime minister and there can be combinations in between.
The postal votes in Yardley which were cast about two weeks before polling day gave me 40%, but on the night I only got just over 25%. This has happened previously.
I had been for some time of the view that the attempt at equidistance from Labour and Conservative was likely to be problematic. Once we had gone into coalition with the Conservatives we would lose support from people who were unhappy with the government. Hence if we go into the general election saying we might put Labour in we run the risk of losing support the other way.
My personal view is that we should have campaigned for the continuation of the Lib Dem-Conservative coalition. That would at least have had some certainty about it. People tend to vote against risk. It would also have been easier to argue in that we were presenting a case that we did the right thing in 2010 and intended to continue doing something like this.
Politicians over think about politics. The voters in the end have to make relatively simple choices. Do they vote for one person or another. The "air war" and the debates on the TV about strategy have had strong impacts on the campaign in many elections. This was like 1992 where I also lost in Yardley with a swing against me in the last week or two.
Those people who concentrate on the national perspective will then vote against the national government in the way that they see as being most effective.
That, in itself, may not have been sufficient to re-elect me in Yardley as Labour would still have got about 17,000 votes (41% of the electorate). However, it would meant the many people swinging between me and the Tories or UKIP could have voted for me understanding that I was an anti-Labour candidate. Frankly I am of the view that Labour's proposals were such nonsense that it would have been impossible to get competent government out of the Labour leadership.
Such an approach, however, would not have seen us losing in so many seats nationally.
The party did consider what had happened in previous coalitions. Wrongly the assumption was made that as long as the party itself remained united there would not be a problem. Historically with a substantial deposit required it was difficult to put up alternative candidates. These days, however, (rightly so) it is much easier so although the party may not split itself it does split from its supporters.
Which is what happened.
I have had an interesting 10 years as MP for Yardley. I hope that my constituents believe that I have performed the function to an adequate standard.
Whatever electoral system is used parties have difficulties swapping their coalition preferences for exactly the reasons I have given above. Perhaps now that lesson will be learnt rather than the consequences ignored.
Statistics on Social Housing Builds
This is from Table 241 from DCLG. Social Housing is important. For example families with disabled children cannot get adaptations to private rented property.
Average number of completed properties.
registered social landlord
On average the coalition built over 5 times the number of council houses compared to Labour and over 5,000 more social houses in total per year.
Why Jess Phillips is wrong to encourage benefits Tourism
One of the threads of the General Election debate both in Yardley and nationally is what is happening to the more vulnerable people in society.
All the vaguely rational parties (and I include part of the Labour Party in this) accept that we need to get government finances under control. The government has income (from taxes and levies etc) and spends money on services (the NHS, police etc). As it stands when the expenditure exceeds the income we have a deficit that needs to be borrowed each year. The government sells fixed term bonds which pay interest each year and then after a number of years the government pays back the capital. Each year also the government has to reborrow some money to pay of the bonds that mature in each year. If the government has a surplus (after paying interest) it can reduce the amount of debt by issuing less debt than it pays off.
The government has been benefiting from being able to reissue debt at a lower interest rate. This has reduced the deficit an element without cutting spending or increasing tax. It is, however, important to note that it is the interest rate when issuing debt that matters and only the debt issued at that rate has interest at that rate. It is not like a mortgage where the interest on the debt can be changed by the creditor.
The interest rate for issuing debt is affected by a number of factors. These include perceptions of inflation, the interest rate available from other source (bank deposits, other bonds) and of course the estimate as to how likely it is that the debt will be repaid. As it appears less certain the debt will be repaid then the interest rate required by the creditor increases - not necessarily in an entirely rational manner, but it does.
Government debt is sometimes called sovereign debt and you can see the current rates on 10 year sovereign debt for a range of countries here. For the Eurozone countries it is particularly interesting as the factors other than risk of non-payment are otherwise essentially the same. At the time of writing the Germans have a rate of 0.2% and the Greeks 11.91%.
"The Markets" can be harsh on governments as what this really means is a lot of people who understand finance making estimates as to whether the government is competent and truthful. A government that intends to pay its debt, but has policies that mean it is unlikely to be able to do so (eg the Greeks) therefore gets punished by "the markets". It is worth noting, however, that a lot of Greeks who have money are taking it out of their country because they don't trust their own government. (Including Greek MPs with large sums of cash in Euros) It is, therefore, not surprising that other people don't necesarily trust the Greek government.
According to Wikipedia The UK as of Q4 2014 had a total debt amount of £1,510,000,000,000 and it costs £43,000,000,000 each year in interest. That is an interest rate of 2.85% and with an estimated population of 64.1 million it is a debt of £24,000 per person (including babies) and interest of £670 per year. Unlike student finance this has to be paid back. It is real debt. (student finance is only paid if people earn enough). The current UK 10 year rate is 1.59% so there is a bit of room for reducing the interest.
If there is a perception that the UK is less certain to pay back the debt (note that anyone who refers to "pay back the deficit" does not understand what a deficit is) then higher interest rates will be charged. If, for example, we were paying 10% interest it would be £151bn per annum. (once it had worked through). Very quickly a country in that position (with interest rates that are much higher) finds itself unable to cope and needs someone else to underwrite the debt (bail it out). The IMF is one of the bodies that does this. The IMF generally comes across as unpopular because it requires countries that borrow money from it to do unpopular things, but if the money was not available from the IMF then the countries would run out of money (as Greece may now do although the arrangements with the Eurozone are more complex).
It is, however, far better for a country to control its own finances and not require a bail-out rather than to fail to control its finances and then have a bail out. That way it has a good reputation with "the markets" and can borrow money at a lower rate.
Hence it is ludicrous to not be worried about balancing the government books. If governments have to pay more interest to the markets then they either can do less for their populations or have to raise more tax. There is no benefit to the government or the people more generally to mess up government finances.
The underlying problem is that government policies need to be looked at from two perspectives. One is from the impact on people. The other is the total cost. We cannot just spend money as if it grows on trees. Many parties and policians ignore the total cost issue or try to solve it by waving their hands around and claiming that something will turn up. There is some truth (but not enough for it to generally be worthwhile), for example, in the argument that government spending increases economic activity and that increase in economic activity itself reduces the deficit. However, you cannot pull yourself up by your boot straps and the reduction in the deficit from the effect of the spending is rarely as much as the increase as a result of the spending. (The exception is a question of avoiding economic disruption where temporary support can help.)
Welfare, whether it be pensions, means tested benefits, in work benefits, disability benefits or other benefits is important to the people who receive it. However, the total cost has to be controlled in some way. Although we have the AME Welfare Cap, much welfare is not cash limited per se. We do need to respond when people encounter difficult situations and when there is a downturn we should not see people starve because a cash limit has been encountered and there is no more money available. The IPPR have proposed changes that Labour appear to support of cash limiting Housing Benefit. This is dangerous for the tenants who depend upon it as they could end up a lot worse off.
The Labour Party's campaign in Yardley is based upon criticising me because I am a successful businessman. They argue that my concern about balancing the books conflicts with caring for the vulnerable. I disagree. If we do not balance the books we end up not having the money to care for the vulnerable.
One area of policy that is relevant to this is the Habitual Residency Rule. As it stands someone who comes to the UK does not immediately qualify for means tested benefits. This is because previously people used to wander around Europe funded by means tested benefits. (known as Benefits Tourism) I do not think it is helpful to have people moving from place to place because they can get more benefits. Moving because you can get a job is one thing, but moving because you can get more benefits means that pressure is put on public spending where people move to.
Jess Phillips has explained on a video how she was encouraging people to move from Sandwell to Birmingham to get more benefits. She has also made it clear that there should be a number of formal exemptions from the Habitual Residency Rule. It may sound harsh, but if there is someone in France who has a problem my view is that the French should resolve that problem. We should not change our benefits system so they can come to Birmingham for us to solve the problem and cause us a financial problem. France is a big country and we should not be trying to resolve their problems. Cllr Phillips is wrong to wish to increase the amount of Benefit Tourism.
It is true if we have a Habitual Residency Rule then some people who come to the UK find that they are destitute. They then end up potentially going to a foodbank. However, if we abolish the habitual residency rule then we lose control of the costs - and as I said earlier the government loses control of the finance or has to make other cuts. We should not be trying to solve all the problems all around the world. We should make sure that we concentrate on solving the problems in the UK.
There are similar problems with Tax Credits. I have I think now persuaded the government to act on this, but I saw no benefit in encouraging people to come to this country to sell "The Big Issue". This has been happening so that people can get tax credits and get around the rules on freedom of movement by qualifying as self employed. The same thing has happened with a number of scrap metal businesses. Again this does not benefit wider society and should not happen.
I support the foodbanks. I have been working with the Trussell Trust to try to fix the problems where people who should be supported by the state end up at a foodbank. However, we cannot change the law to enable everyone who turns up to have benefits and thereby stop destitution as that would break our own finances. There are problems with a number of sanctions that have been wrongly imposed, but the Habitual Residency Rule should stay.
Videos of Candidates
I had hoped that there would be a video recording of the Hustings at South Yardley Library, but sadly although there were people who said they wanted to do it. It did not happen. However, there was a video recording of the short presentation of the four candidates who went to the Birmingham Mail Twitter Hustings.
I have extracted those comments for the four candidates.
The background behind Labour's leaflets in Yardley
The thing that most irritates me about Labour's leaflets is the rubbish about subsistence. As I made clear on this blog earlier I stopped claiming subsistence in April 2009 - as my contribution to reducing the deficit. However, the local Labour MPs did not stop claiming subsistence. Furthermore Jess Phillips has not been obvious in her absence from the annual council dinner. So we are paying for her dinner, we are paying for Roger Godsiff and Liam Byrne's dinner, but I am paying for my dinner myself.
Her second main attack is on me being a successful businessman. For some reason she believes that 67,000 is an ordinary wage that keeps people in touch. I think Eamonn Flynn understands this issue better with his Dave Nellist style approach. A 67,000 income is not an ordinary income. Jess Phillips, in any event, declares three jobs from which she earns money, the Sandwell Job, The Job as Longbridge Councillor and the Job with Jack Dromey. She has not yet explained what that job is.
I am not just more cost effective than any other Birmingham MP. I also subsidise my office from my own resources. For example I pay for a specialist benefits advisor and have taken legal action to force the council to clean up the streets.
There are interesting other questions as to how misleading her leaflets are.
There is a very nice picture of Kingstanding resident Avril Child on the Labour newspaper. The newspaper is headed "People need someone who will deliver here". The question, of course, is where "here" is. Avril Child clearly appears to be indirectly criticising her Local MP in the quote which says "do everything you can when others can't or won't. However, her local MP was Jack Dromey. I wonder if this was something that Jess Phillips was doing as part of her third job for Jack Dromey.
Here is the page in the leaflet.
The same confusion as to where Yardley actually is appears in another of Jess's leaflets.
This is a nice photo of a street party in Westfield Road.
There is a Westfield Road in Acocks Green and the leaflet does not make it clear where Westfield Road is. It happens to be, however, that this is Westfield Road in Kings Heath.
Still it looks a nice street party from 2010. (Update 4/4/15) - additional image The same approach is used in the newspaper. Note the phrases "working for you where you live" (used twice) (Its in Kings Heath), "Working hard to improve the local area" (ie Kings Heath), "I know that improving our local area matters as much." (The photo is of a party in Kings Heath).
(update 7/4/15)Presented with that argument Labour Cllr John O Shea tried to claim that the leaflet specifically stated that not all of the photos were in Yardley. Sadly for Labour he was wrong as well.
(update 6/4/15) Interestingly the street party was funded by a grant of £530 from the Lib Dem Controlled ward committee in Moseley and Kings Heath. Labour have now scrapped the budget so such events could not be funded in the future (end of update). Still it looks a nice street party from 2010.
Talking about 2010. Here is a photograph of some gates that were erected in 2010. Jess Phillips, of course, was not on the scene in Yardley in 2010.
Here is a photograph of Cllr Phillips in front of some gates.
The caption is "sorting out gates to keep people safe." Interestingly it is in front of a plot of land which belongs to a local resident who is unhappy that she is trying to get gates erected on the other end of his land that he does not want. It was also the site of some damage done to plants on the land again without his permission which may have damaged hedgehog habitats. Labour have claimed in their leaflets to have been doing this sort of thing. The police are currently trying to find out who was responsible. I believe Labour have denied attacking the hedgehogs.
Otherwise Labour's leaflets are ordinarily misleading in the way that is normally seen. For example they campaign against "privatising the NHS" when they actually started outsourcing/privatisation and they are not proposing to stop it.
Similarly they complain about cuts when they plan on making more cuts. It is unclear whether Jess Phillips wants to align herself with the Syriza style faction of the Labour party who wish to oppose all cuts. To be fair Eamonn Flynn or the Greens fall into that category.
Additionally as is made clear here tax (including indirect tax) has gone up on the top decile by expenditure, but down in other deciles. More tax on the wealthy not less tax.
On the question of "spending power per dwelling" in Birmingham for 15-16 that is £2,549.03 and in Solihull it is £1,862.08. Birmingham has 37% more per dwelling than Solihull. Birmingham gets £1,850.40 from central government and £608.63 from council tax. Solihull gets £929.22 from central government and £932.86 from council tax. Although central funding has gone down by around £250 for Birmingham and £100 for solihull, the funding for health and social care, council tax freeze and new homes has gone up. That leaves a net movement of -141.15 and 5.48. There is an issue where I have agreed common ground with the council leadership which is that authorities which are more dependent on central government finance are affected moreso by austerity. The LGA, however, needs to agree a common position on this. Div.
I must admit, however, that I am surprised that the Labour party now believe that Kings Heath and Kingstanding are in Yardley. Or perhaps they don't and are intentionally trying to mislead the voters in Yardley.
posted by John Hemming
¶ 6:50 p.m.0 comments
Discretionary Housing Payments and Article 14 ECHRThis story in today's Birmingham Mail is proof that there is a justiciable right under ECHR Article 14 for Discretionary Housing Payments.
I have said for some time that the law would require this. It is good to have the confirmation.
posted by John Hemming
¶ 2:03 p.m.0 comments
Firefighters Pensions letter from Penny Mordaunt
It is crucial that the government stick by the commitment given during the debate earlier this year. I will work to ensure this happens.
posted by John Hemming
¶ 1:52 p.m.0 comments
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
The Government Tax and the Wealthy
Another of Labour's misleading comments about tax relates to the government and tax cuts for the rich. It is true that the government cut the top rate of tax to 45% from 50%. It is worth noting, however, that it was only at 50% for one month of the Labour Government from 1997-2010. However, if you want to look at how fair policies are then you need to take into account more than just income tax.
Unusually this government has done "distributional analyses" for policies. There is a distributional analysis that relates to the 2015 budget. That can be found:
This chart from it looks at the effects from June 2010 through to March 2015 by expenditure decile.
I prefer the expenditure analysis to look at the spending power of households which in many ways is a better indication of economic power than the formal income. You should note from this that the top 10% (the richer households) are paying a lot more in terms of tax than those lower down the expenditure analysis. Chart 2D in the document (which I have not extracted) does the same calculation by income decile and comes with the same conclusion (the rich are paying more tax as a percentage of income - notwithstanding the change in headline rate).
posted by John Hemming
¶ 9:39 a.m.0 comments
Monday, March 30, 2015
Parliamentary Expenses 2005-2010
Labour seem to be concentrating on issues relating to parliamentary expenses from 2005-2010. I am not really surprised that they are trying to mislead constituents about what happened. At the moment Jess Phillips is avoiding questions as to what she is alleging. It remains that an inquiry was done into those expenses for all MPs. I copy the response letter from the enquiry below:
I have been working with Mike Thornton on the issue of ensuring that the government's commitment to firefighters in terms of their pension (in the case of natural unfitness) is adhered to.
He has put a statement on his website (see above for link) which confirms that we continue to press for a letter of comfort for firefighters.
posted by John Hemming
¶ 8:45 a.m.0 comments
Sunday, March 29, 2015
Nailing the Labour Lie
Labour have just started delivering a dishonest newspaper in the Yardley Constituency.
There are a number of false and misleading items in that newspaper, but one is so spectacularly false that it warrants an immediate response.
The claim is that "while people here are forced to foodbanks". I made an expenses claim for subsistance or food. They then say "Why were you paying for his dinner."
The facts are easy to find. Firstly there are two foodbanks that serve people living in Yardley. The only one actually in Yardley is in Stechford and opened on Friday February 28th 2014. The other one is in Sparkhill and was I believe created some time in 2011.
It is slightly more complicated finding out what I have claimed for dinner. The new rules came in at the start of the 2010 financial year (just before the new parliament).
So to conclude. In this parliament I have not claimed once for dinner on the taxpayer. In theory Labour's leaflet only covers since 2011 when the foodbank in Sparkhill Started, but in fact I have not claimed for dinner at all in the 2010-2015 parliament. On the other hand two neighbouring Labour MPs have claimed for dinner "while local people are forced to foodbanks".
The rules changed in 2010. It is possible to see my claims before 2010. I took a decision in April 2009 to stop claiming second home and subsistance expenses (it was not lumped in with travel then).
The 2009-10/11 figures can be found here. You will find a single claim for 651.43 which is the half yearly service charge. I could, in that year, have claimed £4,800 for subsistance (food) as well as an additional over £15,000 for other second home expenses. However, I decided as my contribution to the cuts necessary to resolve the country's financial problems to stop claiming the second home expenses. I could have claimed £4,800 just for dinner and did not claim a penny of that - although obviously I still had heavy costs. (The budget was an annual one not a monthly one) Prior to that I had claimed second home expenses (including subsistance) In May 2009 I did an analysis of the second home (including subsistance/food) costs of all the Birmingham MPs and the figures were as follows:
John Hemming 59601
Lynne Jones 60163
Steve McCabe 61803
Gisela Stuart 73079
Clare Short 74500
Liam Byrne 84978
Richard Burden 86324
Roger Godsiff 90956
Andrew Mitchell 92822
Sion Simon 103259
Khalid Mahmood 104676
Hence not only am I the most cost effective MP in Birmingham in the 2010-15 parliament, but also I was the most cost effective MP in Birmingham in the 2005-2010 parliament. I have not claimed for dinner/food/subsistance in this parliament even once - notwithstanding Labour's clearly dishonest allegation that I have. Therefore I have obviously not claimed for dinner "while people here are forced to foodbanks" (which can only be from 2011 because there were no foodbanks dealing with Yardley before then). In fact I did not even claim for subsistance in the 2009-10 financial year. The situation before the financial crisis is, of course, different, but even then I was the most cost effective MP in Birmingham for second home costs.
Birmingham St Patrick's Parade Tipperary Association 2015
So many people take photographs of the parade these days that I don't take a lot of my own and concentrate on playing the guitar instead. Here is the Tipperary County Association's end of parade rendition of "a long way to tipperary". posted by John Hemming
¶ 2:53 p.m.0 comments
Monday, March 09, 2015
Attending today's e-conference
Today's e-conference is about Parents Want a Say. That is about the issues of policy on term time absence at the request of parents and the new rules.
If someone wants to watch the e-conference it will be on Youtube. When the conference starts (or re-starts) the link will appear on my twitter feed. Others may copy it elsewhere. If you wish to watch then simply click on that link.
I am likely to stop and re-start the conference one or more times (depending in part on how hot the central processor on my laptop gets).
If you wish to ask questions then you need to have skype working on your computer.
Someone will act as chair's aide. This person will handle requests to ask questions. I will update this blog post with the skype account name of the person dealing with this. If you want to ask a question you will need to send a skype text message to the chair's aide. At the right time the chair's aide will give you a skype account number to contact.
Please don't try to contact the e-conference skype accounts unless you have been asked to. This interrupts the computer system and warms up the central processor. It is likely that people who try to contact the e-conference out of sequence will be blocked to stop the computer overheating.
Greece and AusterityThis is an interesting article that looks at the question as to what extent Greece was inherently a financial disaster waiting to happen.
It summarises as: "Greece never had the productive structure to be as rich as it was: its income was inflated by borrowings that weren’t used to upgrade its productive capacity."
There is a difficulty with macroeconomic theories that ignore the nature of the economy and the extent to which it is shored up by unsustainable public spending.
Once you take out that which is unsustainable you then see that which left is far less substantial. Another useful extract is: "Until 2014, the country did not pay, in net terms, a single euro in interest: it borrowed enough from official sources at subsidized rates to pay 100% of its interest bill and then some. "
It is, however, only a question as to how big the problem has become by the time that the nature of the new clothes of the emperor has been finally determined
What I find sad is how little use is made of quantitative models when debating potential economic approaches. The models may not be perfect, but they at least give some indication of potential consequences.
Affordable Housing and Housing Benefit
There was a debate in Parliament yesterday which was interesting because Labour admitted that the Labour government was planning to bring in a flat rate housing benefit payment in the Social Housing Sector. In Labour's current Phraseology "Labour planned a Bedroom Tax for Social Housing".
More importantly, however, I asked a question of the Shadow Minister:
John Hemming: I am aware of the proposal to transfer housing benefit money to local authorities with a view to building more properties. Let me ask this: what pays the rent of the people who are already in tenanted accommodation while the new properties are being built with that money?
Helen Goodman: That, of course, is the great conundrum. [... where she does not answer this question ...]
The Shadow minister did not answer this. If Labour bring in such a policy it will only work by top-slicing the housing benefit in some way from tenants. Hence tenants on means tested benefits would have to pay towards their rent, not only those who have spare rooms. In Labour's parlance a "whole home tax" rather than a "(spare) bedroom tax".
If Housing Benefit is cash limited that creates a similar problem. Alternatively some tenants would not be able to get Housing Benefit. However, somehow there is a cash problem.
Some other highlights:
John Hemming: I refer the hon. Lady to the answer that the then housing Minister, the late Malcolm Wicks, gave to a question from the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) in Hansard in 2004:
“We hope to implement a flat rate housing benefit system in the social sector, similar to that anticipated in the private rented sector to enable people in that sector to benefit from the choice and flexibility that the reforms can provide.”—[Official Report, 19 January 2004; Vol. 416, c. 1075W.]
If he said that then, why is it now such a bad idea?
Sheila Gilmore: It is interesting that the flat-rate housing allowance for the private rented sector should be raised. What the hon. Gentleman mentions was discussed as a possibility during the Labour Government.
John Hemming: I tried to intervene on the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) to ask her whether Labour would reduce under-occupation by adopting a policy that involved evicting people living in under-occupied accommodation. Does the Minister accept that if we do not remove the spare room subsidy, the only alternative open to Labour if it wanted to reduce under-occupation would be to go round evicting people from under-occupied properties, which does happen in certain tenancies?
Mr Harper: The Opposition clearly do not have a sensible policy.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. It contains an entry for JHC, which stands for John Hemming & Co., a company I founded in 1983. It currently employs about 260 staff and has a turnover of £20 million. I have declared in the register an income of around £180,000 from that company. I attend a meeting once a month and chair the board meeting. I am a full-time Member of Parliament. I spend five full days during the week and two half days at the weekend on political business. Oddly enough, the motion is so badly drafted that it would not affect me, because the £180,000 I receive is from a partnership, and the motion does not refer to partnerships. Obviously, there is a lot of confusion about equity interest and payment per hour. I spend under four hours a month on the work set out in my declaration of interests.
What do I do? Well, today I met the Latvian Justice Minister, who is concerned about what is happening in the family courts in England as it affects Latvian citizens. I have attended two Select Committee meetings today. I actually sit on five Select Committees, and I probably attend more Delegated Legislation Committees than any other Member of Parliament. Therefore, when it comes to parliamentary activity, I can claim to be as busy in Parliament as one can be. Indeed, one of my colleagues said that he did not think that I had a second job because he always sees me here, and I am here a lot.
Fiona O'Donnell: May I ask why the hon. Gentleman decided to donate to charity his income from taking part in ComRes consultations but not to donate income from his other employment?
John Hemming: The problem with that question is that the hon. Lady has made an assumption that I do not make other donations to charity. I do make other donations, but they are not set out in my entry in the register. I am sorry, but that claim is basically wrong.
I do a vast amount of casework. I have my advice bureau on Saturdays, and the maximum number I have dealt with is 38 groups of people. Admittedly, that took a little longer than normal, but I see everybody who turns up at my office on a Saturday without an appointment—many colleagues who claim to be full-time Members of Parliament require appointments, but I do not. I have been a full-time politician since 2004, when I was deputy leader of Birmingham city council, which is also a full-time job. From a casework point of view, having dealt with about 30,000 cases of varying complexity since then, I am a full-time MP. I run campaigns about secret imprisonment, term-time absence, parents being prosecuted because their children are ill and dealing with people who leave this country because they are persecuted by the state. That is part of my job as a full-time MP.
I am also a pianist, as is well known. I play the piano at the party conference and later in March I have a gig in my constituency in Birmingham for Macmillan Cancer Support, which is sold out. Admittedly, that will all go to charity. As the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) knows, I play jazz music in various places for charitable purposes. This year we are not raising money jointly for Macmillan at the Palace of Varieties show, but these things still go on.
I have additional business costs because I am an MP, but where is the conflict of interest? There is a conflict of interest for Ministers, because if they vote against the Government they are fined by losing their ministerial salary. That is why Ministers are called the payroll—they are paid extra money by the Government in order to back the Government and vote with the Government, whether they agree with them or not. So it is very clear, with our system of failed separation of powers, that a conflict of interest arises from the second job of being a Minister.
How do my constituents benefit from me? I have a little bit more money, that is true, so I pay beyond parliamentary expenses for a benefits adviser who comes to my office to give specialist benefits advice. I was able to take legal action against the city council to try to get it to clean up the streets, which was good in that it got the council to clean up the streets, but bad in that I was ordered to pay costs against the council. That is being appealed through the courts.
Since 2009 I have claimed no second home expenses and I am the most cost-effective Member of Parliament in Birmingham. I use saver return tickets to get to the House of Commons. That keeps my travel costs low so, although I go between London and Birmingham every week because I live in Birmingham, I am by a long way the cheapest MP in Birmingham in terms of personal expenses.
I deliver for my constituents. I deliver more widely on campaign issues. What is the problem with me spending four hours a month continuing to have an interest in the business that I founded more than 30 years ago, which pays a large amount of tax and provides jobs for 260-plus people?
Software and Grexit
It appears that the Greeks have decided that they are unwilling to compromise and the rest of the Eurogroup have decided that they won't throw good money after bad.
There then comes the technical question of how to establish an economy based upon the "new drachma". When changes are planned to financial software such as benefits and taxation quite a long period of planning is needed before the systems are in place to cope with this. It is really not practical to establish the software and systems for a completely new currency overnight. That would imply the greek government trying to cope with making payments in a situation where those banks holding a lot of greek debt are unable to operate.
I am not quite sure how this actually works.
It does seem, however, that after today the ball is in the Greek government court. They can come back to the EuroGroup suggesting that they agree to something akin to the deal. However, the timescale to avoid chaos is this week.
This creates quite a considerable element of uncertainty. My feeling is that with QE and other tools that the ECB has that things will settle down reasonably quickly outside Greece. However, I would expect some turbulance in the mean time.
Some of you may
be aware that Central England Co-op have sadly resigned as agents of the branch
which is situated at The Poolway. The last day of service will be in January
The Post Office
maintain that they are committed to continue a Post Office service in the
vicinity and are currently advertising the business opportunity on their
website. They have already been approached by existing retailers in the Poolway
Shopping Precinct, who may be suitable new operators.
Democrat team will work to ensure that you do not lose your Post Office service
as we have successfully done so recently with the Post Office at the Wheatsheaf
We will keep you
updated with regards to any further developments with regards to this matter.
Yardley Hustings Agreed
Having not had hustings in 2010, the candidates (or at least the Lib Dem, Labour and Conservative) candidates have arranged a hustings event between 2 and 4 pm at South Yardley Library on 21st March 2015.
The Respect and UKIP candidates have been told of the event, but neither have confirmed attendance.
Greece and the EU
It is not that easy to predict what will happen with Greece. The arguments of the Greek government are absurd. They cannot revisit the Second World War when the country agreed a settlement many years ago. The argument about profits on Greek bonds is a nonsense given the amount that has already been written off. Now we have, "if we go it falls apart".
If they renege on their contractual commitments "if falls apart". Which is why the other EU countries won't just let them off their treaty obligations.
My personal view is that the elected representatives for Syriza are not going to compromise enough and will push it to the limits. That is likely to lead to Greece being in default and short of cash. In the end this is actually enough to drive them out of the EU. They are unlikely to agree to enforce any ECJ judgments in respect of paying debt. Hence I think they are on the way out of the EU itself - not just the Eurozone.
The fact that they have started with arguments that hold no water at all does lead to the conclusion that Grexit is the end game. However, nothing is certain. The difficulty with Grexit is that no-one would be enthusiastic about "new drachmas" with Syriza in charge.
Fracking and the Infrastructure Bill
I was surprised given the Green Party's opposition to Fracking that Caroline Lucas did not vote against the Infrastructure Bill on Monday evening.
The point about the infrastructure bill is that although there was no specific vote as to whether or not to change the laws on trespass for Geothermal Energy and Fracking, there was an opportunity to oppose the bill as a whole.
The Bill did include good things like a cycling and walking strategy, but there were also things that one would have expected the Green's to oppose in addition to Fracking.
The rates are particularly low in the Eurozone apart from Greece at the moment. The UK is also particularly low.
I will extract the current figures for future reference:
Ten year government bond spreads
Spread vs bund
Spread vs T-bonds
The end result of these, however, is essentially that Greece is no longer in a position where it can borrow money from people generally (aka the Markets) at a low interest rate. If someone was willing to lend Greece some money at a lower rate then it becomes possible.
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