"The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it"
Aneurin Bevan

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Arse From Elbow?

The Conservative website today says

"The first debate was in Bristol and focused on domestic issues, the second debate was in Manchester and focused on foreign policy issues"

No. The first debate was in Manchester and the second was in Bristol. And the guy wants to run the country. Arse from Elbow.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

LibDem Tories

Well, we already know that the LibDem strategy is "Vote Clegg, Get Cameron", because Clegg has said that he will not work with Brown, but that does not make Clegg a Tory, does it?

Well, look at his opinions about the NHS in 2005:

"One very, very important point - I think breaking up the NHS is exactly what you do need to do to make it a more responsive service." Then he goes further, even refusing to rule out the insurance-based models used in mainland Europe and Canada.

"I don't think anything should be ruled out. I think it would be really, really daft to rule out any other model from Europe or elsewhere. I do think they deserve to be looked out because frankly the faults of the British health service compared to others still leave much to be desired."

This is Cameron's "Big Society". Don't think that a vote for Clegg will protect your local NHS hospital, it won't. Clegg wants to break up the NHS as much as Cameron does. They are just slightly different shades of Tory.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

What's Happening to the Polls?

Yes, the polls are volatile. All sides are making claims about daily polls, but that is simply optimism. Polls are best viewed over time as trends. The best place I have found that shows the trends is the UK Election Trends blog, This site takes the daily polls and draws a trend line that is calculated as a running average. Here's their description:

Trend graphing will be generated from a moving average taken across the last 100 polls, eliminating polls from the same pollster taken in swift succession down to the latest poll. (ie, when two YouGov polls are issued within 24 hours, the latest one will be taken.) The trends will be taken as exponentials, and the moving average is an area of six polls. Trending data will then also be generated against the vote lead, and an additional short term lead trend will be taken against the last twenty polls.

The first point to make is that this uses a running average rather than a simple mean average. The reason for using a running average is to smooth out the noise and give an indication about the underlying trends. Running averages are not perfect, a big peak or dip within the sample can still have an effect, and potentially a value for today could be affected by a peak or dip 100 days ago, which is nonsense. I would prefer something equivalent to a low bandpass filter used in audio processing, that is, the higher frequency noise is filtered out to show the much lower frequency trend. (I have spent 6 years in spectroscopy so I am used to seeing trends in noisy data, and in my experience a bandpass filter is always better than a running average. After the election I will develop my own model and see if I can more accurately extract the trends.)

The polls have tightened considerably in the last few months, but the election trends help us to see what form this tightening takes and identify the potential cause. First, have a look at the polls for Labour and Conservatives for the last seven months:

There is a clear decline in Conservative support and a clear increase in labour support, The Conservative decline appears to be three-fold, identified by three green lines: Oct-Nov, Dec-Mar and April. The first appears to be a party conference decline, that is, as the public digested the policies that were announced at the Conservative Party Conference their support declined. There is a hiatus for two weeks in December and then from mid-December to the end of March there is a decline. This last decline I call the "policy decline" because it corresponds to the publishing of more details of the Conservative policies, in particular the "draft manifesto" from the beginning of the year. For two weeks from the last week of March to the first week of April there is an increase, then something happens. There is a clear decline from the end of the first week and that decline is continuing right now. This last decline I call the "manifesto-debate" decline.

For Labour there is a clear increase until the beginning of March, the gradient of this increase is equivalent to the Conservative "policy decline" so it could be attributed to a switch from Conservative to Labour due to Conservative policies. Then the Labour rise stops and turns into a decline for a month. The start of this decline corresponds to Brown's appearance at the Chilcott Enquiry. I call this the "Chilcott decline". There is an increase in support for the first week of April and then a debate decline. There is no Labour manifesto decline.

The following shows the last three months month in more detail.

The Chilcott Enquiry is marked with a C, and there is a clear decline in Labour support after this date. From the beginning of April until the first leaders' debate (#1) Labour supports starts to increase. This increase is due to the hype for the manifesto, but it continues after the Labour manifesto launch. The leaders' debate is clearly the cause of Labour's decline in the latter half of April ("debate decline").

The Conservative support shows the "policy decline" until the last week of March and then there is a rise to the end of the first week of April, again this is hype for the manifesto launch. In fact, the peak in support occurs at the end of the first week which appears to coincide with the National Youth Service announcement (BS = Big Society) and the announcement of the celebrity endorsement from Sir Michael Caine. After the BS point there is a decline (the "manifesto decline") until the leaders' debate when the Conservatives support declines further ("debate decline").

It is interesting that for the first  week or so of the "debate decline" the rate is the same for Conservatives and Labour.

My conclusion is that the Conservatives are losing on policies and that the "Big Society" is a massive turn-off for candidates and the public alike. Labour's support has increased in line with the Conservative decline in general, most likely because the public is neutral to their policies and are switching support from the Conservatives. If it had not been for the leader's debate then the Labour support would be steadily increasing and the Conservative support steadily declining. The leaders' debate caused declines in both party's support equally. This means that for over a week the gap between Labour and Conservatives have remained the same at about 5%.

However, I think more worryingly for Labour is the "Chilcott-decline". This is entirely self inflicted. Brown did not have to have the enquiry before the election and he did not have to give evidence before the election. If this month of decline had not happened then Labour's support would now be much stronger and even with the debate decline, the gap between Conservatives and Labour would be less (perhaps down to 3%) than they are now. If the Conservatives get a majority then I think it will be due to the "Chilcott decline". That enquiry was a tactical mistake.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Tories misuse statistics again.

I went to a hustings last week and the Conservative candidate said that the NHS was being mismanaged under Labour because numbers of managers were rising at a rate 5 times higher than nurses. This is a typical ignorant (well he's a Tory) misuse of statistics. The figures come from the NHS Information Centre.

In one year (2009) the number of managers in the NHS rose by 11.9% and the number of nurses rose by 2.2%, so yes for that one year, the rise in managers was approximately 5 times more. But note that was one year. Let's take another year, 2005. In this year the number of managers dropped by 7% and the number of nurses rose by 1%. What about the following year, 2006? The number of managers dropped by 0.7%, but the number of nurses rose by 0.3%. Can you see what I am talking about? Taking just one year's figures is dishonest, and typically Tory. The employment figures in the NHS changes every year, but the number of managers goes up and down at a more erratic rate than the numbers of nurses (or doctors).

In fact if we look at two Tory years 1995 and 1996, the number of managers rose by 2% and 4% respectively, and the numbers of nurses rose by 0.7% and fell by 0.1% respectively.

So if a Tory candidate quotes the "in 2009 the number of managers rose 5 times faster than the number of nurses" you should say that in the last year the Tories were in control of the NHS, 1996, the number of managers rose by 4%, and the number of nurses fell by 0.1%, so the rise in managers was 40 times more than the fall in nurses.

Yes, this is also misusing statistics, so only use this after they have misused statistics in the same way to their benefit.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Disobey on the 6th of May

The latest from the excellent Beau Bo D'Or. The caption says it all. Just have a think before you place the X on the ballot paper.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

What is in store for us

Paul Mason (@paulmasonnews) has an excellent blog, it is well worth reading. In the latest one he talks about the changes between the last election year, 2005, and now. But more interesting is his description of the future.

Actually, and one of my City bond-analyst contacts said what's really worrying the finance guys is a "chaotic" hung parliament where there's maybe one Green, two Respect and one or two BNP members of the Commons, with strong showing from Plaid and the SNP. Right now the political class is thinking Cleggmania might go away, or recede, leaving the old two-party slugging match to get back into business. Even some Libdems fear this will happen. What they have not even begun to plan for is if Cleggmania begins to give the electorate "permission" to just break away from the whole mainstream party circus. I don't predict this, but you would have to say it becomes more possible.

Read this and then read what Ken Clarke said yesterday about how the IMF will be running the country if there is a hung parliament. Mason's contact does not say that a hung parliament is not the problem, it is one where the usual suspects are not in the prime positions. It is interesting that Plaid and SNP are mentioned as being part of the problem.

Mason's phrase if Cleggmania begins to give the electorate "permission" to just break away from the whole mainstream party circus is interesting because it is already here and it has nothing to do with Clegg. The Social Attitudes Survey earlier this year gave the following graphic:

Some people (ahem, Conservative Home) claim that this shows that the country has moved right-wards. This is simply naive and ignorant. There is a small blip in the line for people identifying with the Conservatives over 2008/09. One swallow does not a summer make. It is a blip. The important point is the trends over a longer period. Excluding the blips, since the mid 1990s support for all three major parties have dropped. Yes, there is a bigger fall in Labour than Conservative, but that is to be expected for the party in power. The interesting lines are Others and None, particularly the latter. The fact is that the trends show that the proportion of people identifying with the big two has now fallen to the same level as the proportion of people who have no political identification. People are simply turned off politics.

The next point that Mason makes is more apocalyptic:

When I meet top bankers in private, the words "social unrest" are always on their lips. They fear the electorate, having not been told the full extent of the cuts necessary, will simply reject them once they are unleashed. It is not a question of trade unionism - though the PCS union now looks like the strongest and most militant of all the unions, and has no ties to Labour. What they fear is something more like the fuel protest, with themselves as the target.

We are British, we knuckle under. I saw this at Charles de Gaulle airport just before Christmas. We had a few days, as a family, in Paris and at the airport we found that the plane had been cancelled due to snow. The BA staff just told us that we were on our own and to turn up at 6 the following morning. I knew that the EU regulations meant that BA had the responsibility to provide a hotel room and meals, and I asked the BA staff. They said that all hotels were full and then they left. Did we, a hundred or so tired travellers demand that BA treated us correctly and according to regulations? No, we are British, we just dispersed: some to hotels at the airport, some back to Paris and some opted to sleep on the departure lounge floor (it gets very cold at about 3am).

That is how we are now. We have knuckled under, we are accepting how things are. I think that this is actually a result of the stability of the Brown government that is preventing unrest. What I fear the most about a Cameron government is that it will cause unrest, and I have said this many times on various blogs. My feeling is that Osborne's emergency budget (note the description) will be the second "emergency measure" of Cameron's government. His first action will be to ban public service strikes. Given the effect of the BA and Network Rail strikes on the economy, Cameron may even apply a blanket strike ban.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The Nasty Party Returns

We knew what they were like, we knew that the mask would fall away before election day, but did we imagine that they would use shiny Dave? So here is their first nasty poster. It will be one of many.

...and no, I did not make up the message, they really are promising to cut benefits.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Britain is Brilliant

Cameron says "Vote for me because Britain is shit. Elect me and I will sell the country cut price to the corporations".

Eddie Izzard says "Britain is Brilliant". Guess who I believe?

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Tory Manifesto Launch

Let's see, the four main officers of state are: Prime Minister, Chancellor, Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary.

So Cameron spoke, Osborne spoke, Hague spoke, and ...where is Grayling? Oops.

Not really a vote of confidence in his home affairs spokes man, eh?

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Look After Our NHS

Yesterday I went on the Protect Our Public Services march in central London. Here are some photos from the march and rally.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

National Service

The Labour party pledges apprenticeship places for all 16 and 17 year olds who want it, and a guarantee of a job, training or work experience for every young person aged 18-24.

What do the Tories pledge? The return of National Service. Now they want to take us back to the 50s!

John Rentoul spells out very well the problem with this plan.

It is not just the £800m price tag; there is something dated and illiberal about the idea that the entire nation's cohort of 16-year-olds should be told what to do by the post-bureaucratic bureaucracy for three weeks of their summer holidays.

If you are a 16 year old which party would you want to win: a party who is pledging to give 16-year-olds the vote, or a party who is pledging to force you to do three weeks of National service during your summer holidays? Or, more pertinent to this election, if you are a sympathetic 18-year-old who would you vote for?

I think we can assign cameron's National Service to the bin of "unworkable policies".

NHS Privatisation

George Osborne thinks that the Conservatives' policy on National Insurance will win the the election. It won't. The public know that there has to be tax rises and they see the Conservatives' plan to be exempting employers, while raising other taxes (eg VAT) on the rest of us. The issue that will lose the election for the Conservatives is their plan to start the privatisation of the NHS.

As his justification for their National Insurance policy David Cameron quotes one of his advisers: Sir Peter Gershon. Sir Peter, he says, has identified £12bn efficiency savings which can be used to pay for the NI policy. Many people point out, of course, that if £6bn or so of those "efficiency savings" are used to pay for the services that the NI rise would have paid, then that £6bn will not be used to cut the deficit. Cameron is showing that the Conservative party are the party of tax cuts, not the party of deficit cuts.

However, more concerning is Sir Peter Gershon's place in business: he is the chairman of General Healthcare Group, the largest private sector health firm in the UK. This is not a worry in itself, but it does become a worry when Cameron accepts his advice on the NHS. In a strategy paper, General Healthcare Group says:

the NHS may face a "very severe contraction in its finance with an £8bn-£10bn cut in real terms likely in the three years from 2011".  It continues: "Given this lack of funding growth, there will be an increasing role for the private sector, even if NHS efficiencies can offset some of the budget pressure."

As I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, it is Cameron's plan that the private sector will have a much larger role in providing NHS services, in fact Andrew Lansley intends to force the NHS to hand services over to the private sector under the direction of his super quango, the NHS Board.

Further, the Guardian reports:

The company has also just commissioned a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit that calls for "new thinking on funding and a growing role for the private sector".

 When will David Cameron come clean about his plans to privatise the NHS?

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Thursday, 1 April 2010

The end of public services

This election is all about public services. Who will reform and preserve our public services in the new world of smaller public spending. The answer is quite simple. If the Conservatives win then there will be no public services. Take for example this excerpt from Cameron's "Big Society" speech:

Opening up public services to new providers and saying to charities and private companies - 'if you've got the ideas and the people to tackle our most deep-rooted social problems, come and play a role in our public services.'

Let no one misunderstand what this means. Under Cameron there will be no public services, they will all be privatised. No private company will 'come and play a role' unless it can make a profit. By company law, it cannot. Company law says that private companies must be run for the benefit of the shareholders.

Yet Cameron is trying to make it seem like, out of the goodness of their hearts, they will provide services for our benefit. If a private company makes a profit, then by definition that is less money that goes into providing the service, which either means a poorer service, or poorer wages and conditions for the workers.

Oliver Letwin, Cameron’s policy chief and known as the "ideas man" of the Conservative party said this in a Wall Street Journal interview:

We will implement a very systematic and powerful change agenda where hospitals compete for patients, schools compete for pupils, welfare providers compete for results in getting people out of welfare and into work.

Do you really think that public services should  be competing with itself? The competition will not be between publicly owned services but between private companies.

Unless the public snap out of the current silly "maybe we should give the other lot a chance" attitude, then 2010 will be the year that public services disappeared from this country. Wouldn't that be ironic, the year that the United States finally got universal healthcare the United Kingdom lost its.

Just a reminder for everyone. If you oppose the privatisation of public services then come on the march and rally in Trafalgar square in ten days time. www.10410demo.co.uk. I'll be there.