Sunday, 27 January 2008

Johnson - pleasure at Lib Dem Response

There but for the grace of god go I must the non atheist MPs be saying today over the supposed Alan Johnson "scandal".

As far as I can see Mr X didn't want to be associated directly with funding the campaign so he asked Brother Y to give the money instead. Y was a legitimate donor and campaign Z having checked him out made the formal declarations.

For the Mail on Sunday to cry sleaze is I have to say a bit over the top this wasn't a deliberate ploy by the campaign to hide donations it was an act of deception on the part of an individual against a member of parliament.

Of course the time is ripe for reform of the party funding system part one reform that I am sure will get cross party backing is the creation of a new offence of paying a proxy to make a declarable donation under the PPERA legistation to an individual party or campaign

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Between the Rock and a hard place

Yes its back to our old friend the Northern Rock and the complete dogs breakfast our government have made of the whole sordid business. I've said before that the government has many unanswered questions.

But the latest steps in this affair have left me decidedly underwhelmed. While I have never favoured nationalisation which puts me at odds with the party as a whole I do find myself agreeing with much of what Jonathon Wallace had to say earlier this week.

However what alarms me has been the wholesale demonisation of the shareholders during this affair. Sure some of the hedge funds are latecomers to the party and many have upped stakes as the price hit the trough it is now in and will have made a tidy profit this week however there are many of us who have held shares since demutualisation and we may yet get our revenge.

You see what people have tended to forget is that the three motions that failed at the recent EGM only did so because they needed a 75% vote all three motions secured over 65% of the vote showing a clear level of discomfort at what was planned.

So where are we now. Well despite all the Labour spin of the weekend Branson is not the only game in town , both Olivant and the new board are putting together packages and the shareholders will have the final say and with the Government finance on the table who is to say others wont appear.

And that is the rub the original Virgin offer was an insult to the intelligence of the existing shareholders. We were in effect told to double up or risk with no guarantee of returns for the foreseeable future or lose everything.

Since then the incompetent handling of the affair by our Chancellor has seen shares fall still further and the balance sheet get bleaker. So when we now see Gord and Dickie smiling at one an other in China there comes a temptation to to say sod you when it comes to a vote.

However there are more questions that now need to be aired.

Given the sensitive nature of his comments weren't Northern Rock shares suspended first thing on Monday morning until after the Chancellor had spoken in the Commons (or at the very least while he was speaking) ?

What exposure does the government have in the event of a failure and what exposure do shareholders have in the same circumstance?

And what are the government plans if the only solution they approve is Richard Branson and his plans are rejected by shareholders?

While a private sector solution looks possible nothing can be rules either in or out at this moment in time.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Plaids identity Crisis

Dear oh dear Plaid dont seem to have got the hang of this being in government bit do they.

No sooner is the change to the budget for local government announced than we have Dai Lloyd on the floor singing the praises of his party in securing the change.

Plaid Cymru AM Dai Lloyd welcomed the final budget, saying, “Today’s announcement comes after weeks of intense activity by Plaid Cymru AMs and ministers. Ever since we realised that this year’s settlement would be tight, we’ve argued the case for a floor system that would ensure more funding for the worst affected councils.”

No mention of course of the lobbys led by Powys AMs involving councillors from Powys CC and similar from other councils badly affected.

But perhaps more cynically no mention that it was Plaid Ministers who were quite prepared to allow their government to submit the draft budget in the first place.

Where were Elin, Rhodri Glyn and Ieuan on the day the draft came before cabinet?

Why was it they were happy to let this it pass then and then scream about it later?

Yet most important of all when will Plaid finally realise that they are in government too?

The draft budget was theirs as much as Labours, was it only when they went back to their constituencies that they realised the price of some of their pet policies was their own councillors being short changed.

However what are they celebrating now

The extra £4.7m consists of £2.2m from reserves and £2.5m from elsewhere in the Social Justice and Local Government budget.
according to the Western Mail

So that is over half that was in the local government arena in the first place and the rest from a resource that wont be available next year.

But why worry about the 09-10 local government settlement Dai the only scheduled elections that year are the Euros and Rhodris replacement. :-)

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

The sound of breaking glass

"I love the sound of breaking glass, Especially when I'm lonely"

Right now the Nick Lowe classic would be a good candidate for top of Peter Hains ilike listings if his facebook profile had one.

Not content with putting the boot in to George Osbourne it now appears that 80 Tory MPs have been reported to the Electoral Commission for using unincoprorated associatiosn to channel their own campaign funds.Increasingly the moderate approach of Nick Clegg and Lembit Opik seems to be the best approach to this whole sad afair that is doing our political system no end of damage.

However perhaps the major casualty of this round of the funding arms race is the PPERA environment itself. Far from resolving political party funding all it seems to have done is create an avoidance system that a tax lawyer would have dreams over, and a watchdog who has no punishment options between a slap on the wrist and a costly referral to PC Plod and the CPS.

Hopefully once all the point scoring is over an sense prevails there might be a realisation that there can be no sacred cows for Labour or conservative parties and we will see some genuine reform of this corrupt system

So to finish where I started with Nick Lowe

"Oh, change of mind, sound of breaking glass
All around, sound of breaking glass
Nothing new, sound of breaking glass
Breaking glass, sound of breaking glass"

That glass house that is party funding seems once again to have alot of people throwing stones around hopefully there will still be a couple of panes of glass left.

And for those that don't know what I am taking about on the lyrics

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Many questions for Northern Rock

First let me declare an interest, I am a demutualisation shareholder in Northern Rock. I had planned to sell my shares in June to finance a house move but the move fell though. Not long after the company issued a profit warning but the market advice was stay put.

"Analysts at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods said that Wednesday's announcement reflected "a period-specific strain in 2007 and does not indicate the business model is not working." Profits outlook hits Northern Rock

I left for holiday off the back of stable but not stunning results and a nice dividend announced and waiting for me in the autumn. In late Aug I though about selling again but with no threats on the table and no pressing need for the money I thought I would wait until the announced dividend was paid and take stock again.

The rest is history. On paper I am about £5000 poorer than I was 12 months ago.

So as we move into the end phase there are a few questions that still need to be answered and most of them relate to the governments handling and culpability in the affair.

Why was no stock exchange announcement made by the company about its financial position between the 14th August and the 14th September 2007 when clearly the company had already anticipated the financial crisis and had been in discussions with the Bank of England?
14th August : Bank of England governor Mervyn King is alerted to the potential impact of the global credit squeeze on Northern Rock's business in a phone call with officials at the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and the Treasury." Timeline:Northern Rock banking crisis


Why were declared shareholder dividends suspended when staff pay rises were still paid in full, and secret bonuses for 173 staff totalling up to £17m allowed to proceed?

"SENIOR staff at Northern Rock are receiving secret bonuses of up to £100,000 a year as part of an incentive scheme" Key Northern Rock staff receive secret bonuses

Why does the Chancellor continue to blame the bank for risky trading practices when those same trading practices were approved as sound by the oversight regulator?

"we recommend investors look through the near-term interest rate strain and at a business model that can clearly deliver superior returns at lower risk," they continued." Analysts at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Profits outlook hits Northern Rock (July 2007)

Why did the Bank of England and the Chancellor fail to use the time from the 14th Aug when knowledge that a government approved method of funding a bank was under pressure to the 13th Sept when it failed to put in place policy that would have protected savers the majority of savers and hence preempted the run on Northern Rock in the first place.

"Our system for dealing with the insolvency of banks and deposit insurance is markedly inferior to other countries." Professor Mervyn King.


Nationalisation now seems to be the only answer my remaining shares will quite likely become worthless and as a taxpayer I will have an hefty increase in national debt.

However even as late as the middle of August action could have been taken by Government and the Bank of England to reduce the severity of this crisis.

As a taxpayer I want my pound of flesh as shareholder in a highly regulated industry I want a pound of bones too.

Why MPs need to back their pay deal in full

I had lunch today with one of our MPs, a long term friend we specifically decided politics was off limits for the day. They did said they will be voting against the full pay rise because of all the work they were doing in support of the police claim and it would be hypocritical to do otherwise I told them I thought they were wrong and we left it at that ,but here I thought I might explain why.

Personally I think the best thing an MP can do for every nurse, policeman, teacher and everyone else whose pay is "set" by independant review is to back this increase in full.

Why? because to do otherwise is the leave Gordon Brown with the stick "MPs rejected their full increase so you should follow there example". Of course the there will be accusations of snouts in a trough so some care on presentation will need to be undertaken but there is a fundamental principle at stake in that vote.

IF you set pay by independent review then you must honour that review in full.

Of course I hope our MPs will propose at least one amendment the abolition of this crazy vote in the first place.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

The power decision

Well there it is, the die is cast the decision made and in the public domain all that is left is securing the funding and Wales will have two more power stations.

No don't get me wrong I don't mean nuclear stations I mean the plans of Mr Tomlinson of Holt and Mr Pugh of Churchstoke to turn their large supplies of cow dung into electricity. Neither scheme is very big in itself Mr Tomlinson only expecting to generate enough power to supply the 500 houses in the village from an initial setup cost of £1.2m. But think of the potential.

2002 figures point to there being about 2.5m dairy cattle in the UK based on Mr Tomlinson figures that seem to be backed up by work in the US this suggest that there is a potential for up to 250,000 houses to receive their power from this source equivalent to the domestic needs of Cardiff and Swansea combined.

Of course these are not the big single site schemes so loved by our government but as the Nepalesse experience suggest they have a significant role to play in tacking our emissions challenge.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Nick off to a safe start

Allthough technically based from home its rare that I am actually there so having the opportunity to see the leadership announcement and Nicks for PMQ is a bit if a shock to the system.

So how did it go?

Personally I thought rather well. Camerons digs about 4 leaders is not unexpected and the joke about Nick putting some distance between them by moving two seats down I think was helpful as it removed the option for Brown to comment on it in his reply. We then went into the Cameron/Brown knockabout that was pure theatre but set things up quite nicely for us to come across as responsible adults.

The choice of fuel poverty was an interesting one. This is a real bread and butter issue for many poor families and ones I suspect that if you dig deep enough are in the not regular voters category at one end of the scale and impoverished pensioner in the other.

While the latter got the full attention of Nick the former were the focus of the standard question from Steve Webb that came about five minutes later.

No knock out blows or stunning sound bite for the media but a lot for those of us on the ground to get our teeth into.

If the message that this sends out to people is that we are caring about poor families then it is one I look forward to hear more on in coming months

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Micro wind vs Micro water

Two very different environmental stories caught my eye today.

The first via Yahoo but published in The Register deals with a small study on the viability of micro turbines in your back garden, far from being the ideal way forward as David Cameron was suggesting it would appear that in many cases the turbines would not even light one bulb let alone boil the water to melt the chocolate Tory teacup.

The problem it appears has many facets ranging from not enough wind to too much turbulence and common or garden theft and vandalism. Overoptimism from contractors also appears to have a role to play.

In contrast Talybont on usk just (30miles) down the road from me are looking to expand their existing hydro electric scheme into a wider community led initiative to make the village carbon neutral.

Coming two days after I was down in Clydach where the Forge Fach community resource centre were looking to meet their energy needs by redeveloping an historic leat into a small scale hydro scheme it would seem that for many water power may be a better way forward.

Monday, 7 January 2008

At least I'm clearly a Democrat

Its a me too as well, it would appear these US Pres Front-runners just don't cut it with us UK liberals. Looks like I too fall into the Obama for pres camp.

73% Dennis Kucinich
72% Mike Gravel
68% Barack Obama
67% Chris Dodd
67% Joe Biden
65% John Edwards
64% Hillary Clinton
60% Bill Richardson
34% Rudy Giuliani
26% John McCain
25% Ron Paul
25% Mitt Romney
17% Mike Huckabee
15% Tom Tancredo
13% Fred Thompson

2008 Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz