Saturday, 22 April 2017

Tory election expenses

Just about everywhere on Facebook you see various claims about the scale of the Tory "election fraud". Now, I'm not suggesting improprieties did not take place, they probably did. But - as usual - the headlines out of the left are hyperbolic.

First off - the scale of the issue: "It emerged last year that some £38,000 of spending had not been declared to the watchdog, which the Conservatives put down to an "administrative error". A £20,000 fine could be imposed."

And how many in question? Sky News on the 15th reported "Files from 12 police forces relating to expenses during the 2015 general election are passed to the Crown Prosecution Service."

That's the issue. £38k of spending, 24 MPs. Fractionally over £1,500 per person. Relatively speaking, a drop in the bucket. However the claim is that the MPs are "about to be charged" - the reality is that the crown prosecution service is considering their course of action. The claim is that furthermore, supposedly, they are about to be charged, and due this, Theresa May would lose her majority.

According to the Independent, "an MP would be disqualified only if he or she were sentenced to jail", and furthermore continues "In the only recent case, Fiona Jones, Labour MP for Newark, was found guilty of fraud in 1999 for failing to declare her full election costs, but her conviction was overturned on appeal". In other words, no, May would not lose her majority unless the MPs in question were to head to jail.

Furthermore, "There is evidence that MPs of other parties might have overspent on their election campaigns too." - "The Scottish National Party’s helicopter, which visited many constituencies during the campaign, was charged as a national expense.". Predictably, nothing has happened in this regard.

Interestingly, so far the only party fined over 2015 election expenses is... Labour. BBC reported back in 2016 "The 8ft "Ed Stone", carved with ex-leader Ed Miliband's key pledges, was among £123,748 of payments missing from Labour's 2015 election return. A further 33 receipts, worth £34,392, were missing, the commission said.". The associated fine was £20,000.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

The only way is up

Had you asked me yesterday, I would probably have agreed that Corbyn's polling numbers had peaked to the downside. Well, it appears I was wrong. The Times/YouGov overnight release the latest in a string of poor performances by Corbyn's Labour, and it's frankly a shocker. The Tories now lead Labour by 24%, attracting almost a voter majority by themselves. 48% of voter intent currently goes Theresa May's direction. But more important is the vote composition of Labour, on the background of 2015 results. More of that in a second.

Were this the eventual result, this would be the largest election victory since 1959, where Harold MacMillan gained 49.4% of the vote on the back of a whopping turnout of 78.7%. I'm not sure we'll see anywhere close to this turnout, in fact, I'd be surprised to not see a large quantity of traditional Labour voters stay at home.

Whether this is the peak is anyone's guess at this point.

Digging into the data further enlightens this nightmare scenario, from the perspective of Labour. While the Tories retain practically their entire 2015 voter base (91%), they also see just below half of the UKIP support revert back (42%), and furthermore attract 20% of the 2015 LibDem vote, and even 13% of the Labour likewise.

From Labour's perspective, they stand to lose just below a third of their 2015 vote (32%), but more importantly, attract virtually no independent nor moderate, They gain only statistically insignificant amounts of voters from other parties - basically confirming the suspicion of many a political commentator.

The question now is whether Corbyn will willingly step down, post election loss.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Why did Theresa May just call for a snap election.

In addition to the number of conspiracy theories floating about, of which my favourite probably is election expenses, I can think of several reasons:

Economic downturn / Post-Brexit blues.

I personally supported Brexit, and have outlined reasons in several past posts, so I won't go into reasoning why. However, rather a lot of us acknowledge that we might see some interim fluctuation, perhaps even yielding a recession. Downturns, in general, lead to voter dissatisfaction with the current regime, regardless of whom that might be. So were they to believe there's a likelihood of an upcoming recession - even if it's not relevant to Brexit - calling for an election before this downturn would make a lot of sense.

Catastrophic Corbyn polling

I spot an increasing amount of dissatisfaction with Corbyn, even within his own ranks. And were you to look at his current polling figures, Corbyn's Labour is currently trailing the Tories by an absolutely ridiculous 17-21% in polls. This can't carry on for much longer before dissatisfaction turns to a desire for change, and I doubt Corbyn would survive yet another revolt - regardless of how fervently his hardcore supporters would fight.

At this stage, even Daffy Duck could produce better polls for Labour, and were a relative populist like Alan Johnson to grab the seat, the performance of Labour could suddenly become far more threatening from the perspective of the Tories.

And leaving only 7 weeks for the political parties to get their campaign machines in gear leaves way too little time for Labour to oust Corbyn in a renewed leadership contest. They have no option - they have to run with Corbyn. And following the predictable election disaster, I would be shocked to see Corbyn carry on.


Sturgeon has been a huge pain as of late, with her renewed calls for a second independence referendum. Regardless of how ludicrous it might seem on account of their abysmal economic performance during - what is essentially considered - good years, and regardless of this just might be a bluff (I doubt she makes these calls for anything but political experience, having no interest in a referendum at all) - the simple fact is that anything but a comprehensive Scottish victory would be considered a loss to Sturgeon. Ie, were non-SNP parties to win more than 2-3 seats, the loss would be Sturgeon's.

Finally, I just want to add a minor comment about the election spending issue. Some materials were incorrectly registered as state, rather than local spending. The totals we are talking about here are £38,000 - in 29 constituencies. That amounts to little over £1,300 per candidate, but we you to filter out the most significant (nearly £19,000 by a candidate in South Thanet), it would be less than £1,000 per constituent. Sure, if there is evidence of intent, it should be dealt with. But some of these suggestions I have seen in relation to this is sheer hyperbole. All things considered, the amounts are small fry compared to total spending by these 29 constituents.

There are also claims of other improprieties, but those are more speculative, and less thoroughly documented.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Comparing pan-European intelligence spending

We commonly hear about German net contribution to the EU, as they are without a doubt the largest. However, this is not considering the full picture, as other factors really should be considered.

We all know that German defence spending run afoul NATO guidelines (2% of GDP), however what is less commonly reported is the pan-European level of spending on intelligence.

I located this master's degree titled "A STUDY INTO THE SIZE OF THE WORLD’S INTELLIGENCE INDUSTRY", which dates back to 2009. No doubt numbers have grown significantly since then. (see below)

UK: $2.85bn
Italy: $2.23bn
France: $636m
Germany: $515m

Without the shadow of a doubt, when measuring relative to GDP, only Italy really challenge us.

Looking further into this, for FY 2013-14:

"The three security and intelligence agencies already get a combined budget that in 2013-14 amounted to £2.48bn, known as the Single Intelligence Account (SIA)."


"The government's new Joint Security Fund is to allocate an extra £1.5bn annually for military and intelligence agency spending across government."

That's anywhere in the range of £2.5-£4bn. The average GBP/USD FX rate in 2013 was 1.6, meaning we committed $4-6.5bn only 4 years later.

2015-16 numbers are £2.87bn, and £1.5bn = £4.37bn * 1.4 $/£ = $6.1bn

Here's Germany's outlay for 2017: €832.86 * 1.10 = $915m.

In simple terms - the UK spends more than $5bn more annually on intelligence than Germany, yet the Germans expect to benefit from this without increasing their own contribution. That sounds rather suspiciously like Germany shirking their responsibilities wrt intelligence spending, much as they do in regards to stated NATO spending policy.

Finally, as a member of Five Eyes, the UK cooperates closer to American intelligence, thereby accessing a substantially wider array of information.

The UK is not without options

Today, Theresa May called for a snap election. I'll get into why in a later post, but I want to first revisit something I commonly hear with regards to the EU Brexit negotiations themselves, that the UK are without options, that they should be grateful for whatever the EU grants. I want to conclusively hammer this narrative, because it is absolutely incorrect.

There are in fact several ways to play this hand, from the perspective of the UK. First off, we're a net importer relative to the EU, especially so wrt Germany, who under the assumption of WTO 10% tariffs would suffer twice the impact of that of the UK. so while we no doubt would suffer under worst-case scenarios WTO tariff introduction here, our retaliation strikes right at the heart of Europe.

Next - Ireland already appear in trouble wrt their function as, effectively, a corporate tax haven. However, there would be very little the EU could do to retaliate wrt the United Kingdom slashing corporate tax rates and capital gains - arguably, the EU has rather a difficult situation here, and even moreso as they move towards fiscal integration (it will happen!)

Third - the block in this particular regard (the EU) does not actually tend to work as one cohesive unit. That's why trade deals take such a long time to hammer out, for instance. Rumania want explicit language protecting their interests, Poland theirs, and Germany just the same. To solve this conundrum, Germany will need to drive through their effective leadership - but they're somewhat stuck in this regard, as pushing too hard and Europeans' opinion of this German leadership will plummet. They can't be too authoritarian in their approach.

Fourth - nothing has been resolved in terms of internal tension within the EU. The Euro still act entirely in German (/the North's) favour, and the South of Europe suffers as a result - South European monetary policy has historically been more dovish, compared to Northern. Furthermore, banking systems throughout the EU are in dire straits, the Italian especially, but the Greek isn't faring much better. and on top of it all, we have Deutsche Bank still in a very undesirable position. So, throw in a bit of playing the waiting game, because these stress points will need addressing sooner rather than later.

Additionally, wrt the EU:

"The tax would only impact financial transactions between financial institutions charging 0.1% against the exchange of shares and bonds and 0.01% across derivative contracts. According to the European Commission it could raise €57 billion every year"

Can you honestly see finance sit idly by, as the EU add €57bn of additional taxation?

"The proposal supported by the eleven EU member states, was approved in the European Parliament in December 2012,[84] and by the Council of the European Union in January 2013.[85][86][87][88] The formal agreement on the details of the EU FTT still need to be decided upon and approved by the European Parliament.[89][90]"

so no, it's not off the table at all.