Category: Uncategorized

Jobs through Your Local Budget are 400% of GDP!

Is there anyone who didn’t predict that the Big Society would descend into shameless grantsmanship, chancerism, and possibly illegal party financing? Go read; the list of projects is unimprovable, The Thick of It meets Siobhan Sharpe meets the Alan Partridge pitch scene. Much of the money ended up with Tories or ex-Tories and some of that seems to have been donated back into the Tory campaign funds.

Some of this is pukka taxpayer’s money out of Cabinet Office funds, and the civil servants involved seem to have been put under the gun to hand it out. Accounting responsibility is utterly central to the structure of the civil service, however, seeing as the minister is Francis Maude and the permanent secretary and therefore accounting officer is Bob Kerslake you can probably whistle.

Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, meanwhile, is suing the Henry Jackson Society, the rather late UK branch of organised neo-conservatism, over some event she asked them to put on and went out rattling the tin for. Now there are a lot of unpaid bills, and missing money.

In the States, meanwhile, Krugman notices that top Murdoch executives’ employees look to them for revenge, as if they were gangsters or something. Ahem.

Hoare was furious with him one time when Hoare brought in a story about a famous actress only to find that Coulson, first, refused to publish it; second, took the famous actress on holiday; third, was clearly being rewarded in her bed; fourth, and worst of all, told the famous actress how Hoare had managed to get the story in the first place, with the result that the source was exposed and lost forever.

When Hoare discovered all this, he told Coulson direct and to his face that he was a “complete cunt”. Coulson replied with a line which became a regular catchphrase as he worked his way upwards: “I’ll make it up to you, mate.”

And although Brad DeLong’s Koka-Dancing Good-Time Snake-Handlin’ Thinkotheque offers grants, not one conservative bothered to apply. What links all this?

Well, perhaps, we could have a look at this parliamentary debate and specifically Esther McVey’s contributions.

While Labour was in office, it gradually wore away the financial strength of this country, eroding its savings and savings culture, and then it crashed the economy. Gas bills doubled, council tax doubled and fuel duty went up 12 times. The only things that grew under Labour were debt and overspending.

Apparently there was some huge pool of savings on deposit in 1997 that got spent by government. I remember a £28bn budget deficit. Funny! Also, I thought energy prices were all about the market now.

Let us not get away from how this started under Labour. What each and every one of us does is important. I have heard nothing from Opposition Members about the news that, because of our welfare-to-work programme, 30 million people are in jobs today. We know that under Labour, the number of households with nobody working doubled—[Interruption.]

There are 60-odd million people in the UK.

If one thing came out of the disastrous years that made our country more vulnerable because of the disastrous finances of the Labour Government it was the fact that not only are this Government doing more to get people into work—I will say it again, although I heard no positive sounds from the Labour Benches before: there are 30 million people in work—and that businesses have helped to support people and have taken them on, but that the community has come together to support one another

There are still 60-odd million people in the UK.

In the UK, it is right to say that more people are visiting food banks, as we would expect. [Hon. Members: “ Give way!”] No. Times are tough and we all have to pay back the £1.5 trillion of personal debt, which spiralled under Labour. We are all trying to live within our means, change the gear, and ensure we are paying back all the debt that we saw under Labour.

It is important to look at what is happening around the world. The UK has a population of 63 million and 60,000 people are visiting food banks according to the Trussell Trust. In Germany, however, with a population of 82 million, there are 1.5 million users of food banks. Canada has population of 35 million, and there are 830,000 monthly users of the Trussell Trust.

Who knew that the government was trying to reduce its deficit in order to pay down personal debt? What could that possibly even mean? Also, does the Trussell Trust operate in Canada?

We must put everything in context and look at what happened, whether that is the overspending and not being able to balance the books from 2002, or the financial crash of 2007. [Interruption.] We must look at how much we have done to balance and rebalance the economy, and get it on a stable footing.

Balance it! And then rebalance it! It sounds like something in the circus. You wonder what she actually thinks a chart of the public sector budget looks like over the last few years.

Let us be honest. One thing the Opposition do not understand is that disposable income is different from income. What have we done to support people with disposable income?

Several hon. Members rose—

I bet they did. I’m only surprised Esther McVey’s intern hadn’t provided talking points on what the coalition has done for people with disposable income. I imagine it wouldn’t be too difficult. The sting here is that the debate is about food banks and it’s not just the Labour MPs speaking; it’s the Tories. Story after hellish story of humiliation and despair pours in, and McVey responds in much the same way.

It’s a mixture, as above, of unbelievable lightness – the welfare to work programme is responsible for 30 million jobs, half the UK population – and hyper-extreme partisanship – Labour is making it all up, teh debt is really 400% of GDP, and if there are food banks which there aren’t then they’re Labour’s secret foodbanks. On the one hand, the chancer, on the other, the thug. Welcome to the emerging low-trust society, or did I say that before?

Who do we trust? Len McCluskey, Jerry Heywood, and SCIENCE!

It seems to be TYR Service! day, so I followed up on a discussion elsewhere about social trust in the UK by analysing Ipsos MORI’s polling series on trust by profession.

Having fiddled with various ways of filtering the data in an attempt to get a readable line chart, I decided to look at net trust – i.e. trust minus distrust – and concentrate on the change in each series, and to compare the average of the first 10 years (1983-1993) to the last 10 years in order to avoid either chasing outliers or throwing away too much data. Then, I remembered the First Canonical Principle of Data Visualisation: if your chart is not a horizontal, sorted bar chart, it probably should be.

The upshot is a bit of a surprise, although the strong increase in net trust (well over a 2 standard deviation result) for civil servants and trade unions stuck out literally whatever analysis I tried. Viva el blob, indeed. (The spreadsheet is here.)

Screenshot from 2014-07-21 14:24:29

And I really, really wasn’t expecting an increase in average trust, although I’m not sure that’s a sociologically meaningful measurement here, especially as “ordinary people” lost 9.83 percentage points of net trust, a 1.3 standard deviation result. The clergy has taken a real beating, for obvious reasons, while scientists did really well (another surprise). TV did poorly. Nothing whatsoever happened with regard to the police.

Business, which I was asked about, is a difficult one; the result here is that its net trust went up, but by so little (0.39 standard deviations) it might well not have changed at all. However, a lot depends on where you stick the pin in the donkey. The rating for 1983 was very low, -40, no surprise, rose from there to -25 in 1993, declined again and hit -37 in 2002. Not surprisingly, it hit -41 in 2009. Perhaps more surprisingly, it also hit -39 in 2005 and -25 in 2006. It’s now at -23, which could be considered a record high. However, it could also be described as fluctuating around an average of -31 since forever; fitting a linear regression through it gives you an R2 of 0.04, aka nobbut bugger all. Essentially all the change is accounted for by 1983, and as we have seen, it reverses to that level whenever there’s a recession and sometimes just for a laugh.

And if you ask specifically about bankers, well…that said, what have those pollsters been up to?

Spam, and the art of negative marketing

I remember reader Ajay wondering how those godawful “Aberdeen Steak House” things around the West End have a business. I can’t find the discussion now, but I recall I told him that their ideal customer was someone for whom paying over the odds for a really bad dinner was an important part of their night out. That’s how they knew they were having a good time, I speculated.

Now here’s a Microsoft Research paper that explains this more elegantly. It examines why 419 spammers are so obvious and their production values are so crappy. Basically, the problem is false positives – it’s very important to the spammer to target suckers and to avoid wasting effort on non-suckers, and because the pool of potential marks is big relative to the pool of suckers, anything that improves the targeting is a disproportionate boost to the spammer’s payoff.

Even though the cost of sending out spam is minimal, this is only the first step in the process – once a mark responds, the attacker starts to incur costs. Non-suckers who respond will get wise at some point, leaving the attacker with a loss. Because suckers are rare, it’s hard to find a way to predict who might be a sucker. So the optimal strategy is to broadcast as widely as possible, but to tailor the message. The reason why they look like only a real sucker wouldn’t spot them is that they’re specifically designed to be easy to spot, so as to put off the non-suckers. An upshot of this is that the people who get their kicks by stringing 419 spammers along may actually be doing useful work.

I suspect this phenomenon – essentially the opposite of advertising, a sort of negative marketing – is much more common than we may think, and that it explains much else beyond terrible restaurants. Boris Johnson comes to mind, as do quite a few other politicians. In a low-turnout context, it ought to work, especially if you can put off the non-suckers from voting at all.

Local rivalry

A bit more about RBS and HBOS. One thing that sticks out for me is that sense of two institutions with a bitter local rivalry, both with serious resources and ambitions, but perhaps not quite up to the standards they set for themselves, with an identity built on chippy bitterness. We’ve seen that somewhere before on this blog recently, and that was based on long-running class-based divisions too, and that ended up in utter degradation too.

I know, by the way, what you readers want. Going by the stats counter, you want more Jimmy Savile content. You love it. The data doesn’t lie. Here, a review of “Not the” Dan Davies‘s biography, and an interesting quote.

The wooden doors slid open, releasing a cloud of smoke and two large, unsmiling men in their 50s. “Frisk him,” barked Jimmy Savile, who had stepped out of the lift behind them and was wearing a blue shell suit with chevrons of red and white on the shoulders.

I was pinned to the wall and searched before Savile finally called the men off. He chuckled and extended his hand, introducing them as Mick Starkey, a West Yorkshire police inspector, and Jim “The Pill” Cardus, a retired pharmacist. “Meet the Friday Morning Club,” Savile trumpeted before ushering the men out of the front door to the flats.

So that’s a moonlighting copper…and a retired pharmacist. The Friday morning club was the coterie of cops he had breakfast with. Now I don’t think you usually look to pharmacists for private security services. Most of them seem rather retiring, mild-mannered sorts. You do, of course, look to them for the supply of drugs.

TYR Pub!

It’s been a while. How about a TYR Pub! meetup?

Update: OK, no point buggering about any further. Let’s say the 11th July. And let’s say 7.30pm at the Queen’s Hotel, Crouch End Broadway N8.


Sometimes you look around the Internet for just the right blog discussion and only then realise that it’s the one you will have to write.

Open newslist 6

OK, it’s time for one of these.

Books: I’ve recently read Mike Martin’s An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict, Ian Fraser’s Shredded: Inside RBS, the Bank That Broke Britain, Agata Pyzik’s Poor Sexy East, and Phil Lapsley’s Exploding the Phone.

I’ve also got the MOD Lessons Learned Compendium on Iraq hanging about. It’s more like a “Lessons Not Learned in the Slightest” report.

I’d also like to compare LGI/Jimmy’s, per Savile report, and RBOS/Bank of Scotland, per Fraser, but someone will have to hold the bucket while I heave.

We might have a chat about what the hell a “systems house” is and what it has to do with Eric Pickles.