Friday 30 January 2015

Ukip: basically... morons

486 pages of drivel

Ukip has released "100 reasons to vote Ukip" in which it says...

"55. Scrapping the arbitrary 50% target for university attendance"

Now you'll all remember that 2010 manifesto Nigel Farage disowned. He said "I didn't read it. It was drivel. It was 486 pages of drivel ... It was a nonsense. We have put that behind us and moved onto a professional footing." 

But in that manifesto it states:

"Scrap 50% target for young people going to university. Allow universities to choose on academic merit alone and change some back to skills and vocational college."

And on closer inspection, it turns out there was never any legally binding target or anything written in stone. It was merely a Blair aspiration. The 50 per cent target appeared in Labour's 2001 manifesto but by 2004 had been downgraded to progress 'towards' that mark by 2010.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Business Skills and Innovation in 2010 said: "The economy needs more - not less - highly skilled young people. "We have never suggested that 50% of the population should go directly from school to a conventional 3 year degree. Many of these people will already be in the workforce, which is why in Higher Ambitions we set out the need for more flexible modes of study."

I don't know if it could be spelled out any clearer that Ukip are total amateurs. Putting it diplomatically, they are lazy, stupid, pig-ignorant, policy illiterate morons who couldn't organise an orgy in a whorehouse.

Thursday 29 January 2015

Amateur hour

It is often the case that the longer and harder one works on a blog post, the fewer people will read it. Mediocrity rises to the top and if that mediocrity tells people what they already believe then it will punch through the glass ceiling (see Breitbart). But very occasionally it's possible to make a breakthrough. I spent some considerable effort examining Ukips most recent campaign material entitled "100 reasons to vote Ukip". I am pleased to report it is the highest scoring post on this blog ever and gave me my highest single day hit rate.

The reaction to it has been telling. If you read the post, you'll see I've been as fair minded as I possibly can. But this has not stopped Ukipists going into full denial mode calling it "laughable" and "riddled with errors". These obnoxious individuals are so tribal they cannot possibly conceive that it might be constructive criticism - or at least criticism from a source they would do well to pay attention to. It is not a leftist naysaying attack. It simply asks questions which have not been adequately answered, highlights the incoherence and inconsistency, and the lack of applied research.

But insomuch as it tells us what we already knew about Ukip's attitude to policy, that any Tom, Dick or Harry can produce it, it demonstrates a slovenly unprofessional back office operation. The clue is "policy" number 55. "Scrapping the arbitrary 50% target for university attendance." This was one of Blair's flagship policies and it was rescinded nearly five years ago. What this tells us is that this material has either been lifted word for word by someone who knows nothing about politics, or by someone so sloppy they have not at any time made the effort to re-evaluate their own political narrative.

The fact this material got through any vetting process tells you there probably isn't a vetting process and that no competent person is in charge. By rights, any kipper ought to be furious that Ukip still hasn't professionalised, still hasn't developed an effective communications strategy and still hasn't conducted any policy research. What we see here is an "it'll do" attitude, assuming nobody will notice how execrable it actually is. And that REALLY tells us something.

They know the media is watching and they know the critics will not let Ukip off the hook for this pathetic work. But they don't care. They are playing to the gallery and playing to a small core of voters who will lap it up without question. This suggests they take voters for idiots, which is extraordinarily arrogant. This is why I maintain Ukip will fail to broaden its appeal - thus all it can do is damage the eurosceptic cause.

Meanwhile, a Ukipist in a hurry to defend this material earnestly informs me that "It's not a manifesto. It is just a reflection of things that will be in the manifesto". That might be the case, but it is still primary viral campaign material, with less than one hundred days to go in a general election campaign - with no hint of a manifesto in sight.

They argue that no other party has yet released its manifesto, but when you have idiots as bad as Ukip idiots, it would have been strategically wise to release early to stop Ukipists making up garbage on the spot. The manifesto should have been ready to go months ago, but now we're in late January and sources hint it's nowhere close to finished.

Opinion formers will be looking at this material, not looking to see if they agree with the policies, but asking whether Ukip represents a credible and serious outfit capable of governing. On the basis of the above, what would you conclude?

It's not a culture war. It's cultural subordination

All this waffle about a "culture war" has been bugging me for some time. Particularly the debate around a "rape culture on campus" and "gamergate". I couldn't put my finger on it so I've hesitated to wade into the debate. Seemed like there was a component missing. Turns out it's not a culture war at all.

All this illiberal whinging seems like it comes from another planet because it's just so out of kilter with reality. So we ask if these people are even remotely sane. It actually doesn't come from another planet as it happens. But it is alien. To be more specific: American.

If you zoom out of the narrow culture war debate you'll find the same dynamics in play elsewhere. Look at the fracking debate. There is no more meme driven debate on my radar. All the toss about flames coming from the kitchen tap and earthquakes. Stop and ask what it's informed by. American peseudo-documentaries on Netflix and Youtube - from America.

It's listened to in America because, given the scale of the American shale industry, there probably are enough marker stories to build up a semi-convincing case based on selection bias. A number of faulty wells creating a number of incidents that makes it appear to be the norm. Shale is so massive in Texas it covers thousands of hectares of scrubland. So much so you can see it from Google Earth. Transpose that debate onto very small scale and tightly regulated UK operations and it sounds absolutely unhinged.

Now zoom back in to the culture war debate. This nonsense about rape culture on campus is something that exists only in the imaginations of loony feminists in the UK. But there's no smoke without fire. So what is this informed by? That's right! America, where there is indeed an emergent rape culture on *some* campuses. Particularly in the Jock frat house circle, with all its particularly American initiation rituals. If ever there was a deranged culture, it's America and it's one of its least attractive cultural traits.

And so what we see is popular public discourse dominated by received memes from an American debate that addresses American cultural issues which are entirely divorced from our own. What it points to is a complete inability to receive established wisdom and apply appropriately it in the domestic context.

It's because our own public conversation is so anaemic, dry and largely uninteresting that popular politics imports its discourse from elsewhere, to the point where there is a cultural subordination of the British national debate - which people are mostly not interested in. And it's no coincidence that the front line of this so-called culture war mainly exists on Twitter, which most sane people view as a madhouse.

These debates represent the very worst of popular tripe and unless we learn to distinguish, and identify imported American political discourse, we risk creating laws and measures for problems that simply don't exist. And that's dangerous because this discourse happens at the expense of addressing very real issues in the UK which go almost completely ignored.

I have often remarked that perhaps liberty would not be in such peril if my libertarian associates paid as much attention to their local councillors as they did the US presidential elections. It's European political activity that has a greater impact on our lives yet I doubt many who claim to be interested in politics could name more than a dozen MEPs or name more than a couple of EU commissioners, yet they could tell you the names of every US secretary of state. And it's mad because what the US does is very often inconsequential to us.

And not only are we importing US political discourse, unadapted for domestic use, the emergence of political leader debates is very much a US mechanism for the US electoral system. We don't elect Prime Ministers, we elect MPs and this whole process undermines our system of democracy and moves elections out of our neighbourhoods and on to the television where the media is the means politicians speak to us and the means by which politicians receive public sentiment. It is a distorting prism that makes politics increasingly alien across the board. Little wonder that disengagement is the order of the day. Looking at this Americanised political discourse as an outside casual observer and you start to think the entire political class and the chattering classes are completely away with the fairies. And that's not far off the truth.

There's nothing attractive about an angry mob

What the hell is this idiotic new trend of people complaining that they don't agree with *everything* in a party's manifesto? asks a Twitterer.

Admittedly, there is an aspect of of irrationality in peoples absolutist assessment of manifestos but what people are really looking for is whether a party has really satisfied their criteria - which is basically whether or not a party offers a solution.

There is a huge demand for change. There is a market for new ideas. But to cast even a glance at the Ukip shopping list, we see pretty much the usual tinkering one way or another, but nothing radical or revolutionary, or even controversial. Nothing brave and nothing principled - and definitely nothing coherent. After all the hype, and twenty years of effort, we look at what Ukip has to offer and think "Is this it? Is that all?"

Truth of it is, with a bit of persuasion and effort, we can get all of what Ukip offers one way or another from the existing established politics. But is any of it really the change we want?

I think all these upstart parties need to go back to the drawing board and work out what it is that really bothers them. I know what it is that bothers me. I'm even promoting our solution. But unless the likes of Ukip are prepared to do the same, they might as well be peasants sitting in the muck throwing balls of mud at the royal coach as it passes.

There's nothing attractive about an angry mob. There is nothing inspiring in it. All it offers is a shared identity for those with a sense of persecution. That's the only thing they can unite under. Passers by might listen to their objections and might even agree, but get a feint whiff of the loser from the mob - and walk by unpersuaded.

If you really want to capture people's imaginations, you're going to have to work out what's wrong, work up a solution - and then a plan to implement it. Then stop whining and get out there and sell it rather than pointing fingers. But the latter is pretty much all Ukip does. That is why it will fail.

Surge politics: it's not what it looks like

I could get mighty bored with this "rise of minority parties" narrative. We get the Rob Fords and Lord Ashcrofts talking about it as though it were a serious development in politics and while it was a view I broadly subscribed to (with some hesitation), as we get closer to the election we see the wheels falling off this emergent theory.

What is looks more and more like is that these minnow parties are the plaything of the politico-media establishment. They are aunt sallys, built up to be knocked down. There's almost a Rite of Spring dynamic to it.

The Daily Mail wasn't exactly sparing in its Ukip coverage, not least for its own entertainment - and the BBC got in on the act with some accusing it of having a pro-Ukip agenda. If there is anything at all conspiratorial going on I think it be the BBC figuring they should give Ukip enough rope to hang themselves with and in due course would happily oblige.

But when Ukips exposure finally peaked, somewhere around September, some started to wonder if indeed it could pose a threat - including one Douglas Carswell who later defected. How quickly the tables turned, with almost a daily barrage of negative campaigning against Ukip. Most of it was a smear campaign, orchestrated largely by the Times, and it was water off a ducks back. Teflon Ukip seemed invincible. Not any more.

It was only a matter of time before they finally cottoned on to Ukips inherent weaknesses, not least their members and lack of serious policy agenda. Since then the media has had no shortage of material. It doesn't even need to indulge in innuendo - all it need do is report what actually happens. No party was ever going to be able to withstand such a relentless barrage of negative press, all of which was inevitable - and while Ukip was repeatedly warned about its shortcomings and vulnerabilities, they chose not to listen. It now stands naked, with the whole media throwing rotten veg at it.

But there's a problem. While the media can indeed do a great deal of damage, there is still a core of Ukip who don't care that Ukip's policies are a joke or that Farage is a crook or even that the whole party machine is utterly incompetent. It's not about what Ukip is, but what it isn't - ie the "LibLabCon".

Unsure of how far this phenomena goes it's no surprise that the Tories started demanding equal exposure for the Greens, and the media obligingly followed. They had obligingly built up the useful idiot on the right, and now they need one on the left to restore their equilibrium.

It is for that reason this blog has maintained the election will revert to a classic two horse race, albeit with reduced vote shares - with each party having a loser fringe who simply cannot accept the centre-ground consensus - who will act as a pressure group for each respective party to steer policy.

These will be the market indicators that steer the main parties, and this might well be the new norm - but to think five party politics and coalitions are the future is a little overoptimistic. If anything it demonstrates why the first past the post system is the best model for our democracy in that it prevents any of these loser fringes getting anywhere near the levers of power. It would have to be a seismic popular surge to unseat the establishment - which even with their vote share combined, the emergent parties could not do - assuming they could stop bickering among themselves for long enough.

While some would have it that these parties represent a genuine grassroots insurgency against establishment consensus politics, there's an elephant in the room. Neither the Greens nor Ukip, or indeed a great many of these European upstarts would be anywhere at all without a generous dose of EU funding. There are jobs up for grabs for MEPs and their hanger-on entourage, who only need play their sycophantic game for a few years before being returned as an MEP on the basis of just a small vote. This in turn raises their public profile, and funds can be diverted to build all the accessories a modern political party needs. One might even go as far as saying the EU had an agenda of its own in funding these entities. I'll leave that open to speculation.

But with this dynamic in play, there are those who fully bought into the surge narrative and have failed to re-evaluate in light of recent developments. Some hardened Ukipists expect a number of MPs in double digits, while those in the media are being more cautious by saying between five and seven. Meanwhile, I'm detecting higher frequency low outliers in the polls that suggest Ukip might be tanking. I will be hugely surprised if Reckless keeps his seat. The only way he will scrape it is to remain absolutely silent between now and the election. Carswell will keep his seat, Farage will fail to take a seat and it will only be by accident of numbers that Ukip sees a breakthrough anywhere else.

If Ukip is competent, which it isn't, it may manage to batter the door down in one of their strongholds as the Greens did with Brighton - and that will be hailed as the new dawn of Ukip, but it will fail to capitalise on that and learn from the success, as indeed the Greens never really learned the lesson from Brighton.

After which we will see inter-Ukip bickering, with competing egos pushing Farage out the door. It is at this point Carswell will make his pitch. Some of the more astute individuals in the media have noted Carswell has been somewhat mealy mouthed in his support for Ukip's health policy and is cagey in endorsing the whole body of Ukip as it stands. One imagines he loathes the Ukipist ilk almost as much as I do. Assuming he hasn't gone native he will be planning on a great purge of Farage's gophers and reigniting the libertarian flame within the party.

The problem with that is he won't be able to sack all of them. He will have to concede on certain core beliefs because to impose his ideas will lead to an exodus of what some are calling red-Ukip. And in the other corner he will face Lunchtime O'Flynn who also thinks he has a natural entitlement to the crown.

What we will probably see is a very public, very bloody spat, possibly resulting in a split, with a new red-Ukip and Nu-Ukip. One will wither on the vine, the other will limp along. The crown will go to the faction first in the office to nick the party database and its backups. It won't be pretty. And while Ukip is fixated entirely on itself the public and the media will lose interest. The media will get bored and move onto the next plaything and Ukip will join the BNP in electoral zombieland.

That is one possible scenario. The other scenario is they will hang onto Farage as a caretaker leader, while drawing down his involvement, while the charisma-free Carswell (or some other placeholder) will help the party limp along while it quietly dies.

In any case, Carswell looks like a bloody fool having bought the hype that Ukip was going anywhere. He mistook it for a real party with real potential rather than a demented and disorganised cult. He thought he would be able to bring some direction and professionalism to the party, blissfully unaware that better men than him have tried and failed. That's because Farage will actively resist it. As we have remarked on this blog, if you look at Ukip as though it were a political party, expecting it to do things that political parties do, you will misread its behaviour and leap to erroneous conclusions.

If on the other hand you view it as a playground gang, with Farage as lead bully, you will see that any attempt to build a team of professional, intelligent people pushing an intelligent agenda is not only a threat to Farage but also to the small army of drongos in all the top positions. It would take a great deal of skill and diplomacy to get rid of them and it won't happen quickly, and that's assuming you could now get good people who would touch Ukip with a bargepole after being so widely discredited.

It would take a total u-turn on every single policy announcement, and then have to fight against the widely held belief that Ukip is a grubby, quasi-racist party full of belligerent idiots, morons and sycophants. It's a bit of a tall order to make that rabble respectable. I think it would take a batter man than Carswell to salvage it. It's a real pity, because it would really help to have a credible and respectable eurosceptic party in the game in the run up to a referendum. The cause needs well briefed, intelligent ambassadors, but instead we have Farage and Nuttall who simply can't win the argument when it comes to the crunch. They don't really understand the nature of the battle they will fight.

So really the best possible hope euroscepticism has is if Ukip dies sooner rather than later, so that when there is finally an EU referendum, the case for leaving can be made by adults who won't have to fight on the back foot, defending a ridiculous mob of amateurs.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

100 reasons to ignore Ukip

Back in May, and many times since, I have remarked that "Ukip has nothing of any great substance, and even though we are promised a manifesto, I expect it will be the same rag-bag of parish suggestions box entries picked out of a tombola with no unifying theme."

And as if on cue, we get 100 reasons to vote Ukip in the absence of actual policies. Mystic North strikes again! I'm not going to rubbish all of them since some of these random scattergun statements are desirable outcomes or policy instruments, but without context, they mean nothing. Let's have a look at them shall we?

1. Get Britain out of the European Union

On this we are agreed. But this isn't a policy. This is an ambition. As we have discovered, it ain't simple, it ain't quick and it will need an alternative. There are no magic wands and if you think it's a simple process, you simply don't understand what the EU is. Here I remind readers that Ukip does not have a Brexit policy.   

2. Get control of immigration with an Australian-style, points-based immigration system

State bureaucrats second guessing the human resources needs of UK plc. What could possibly go wrong? Never mind that quota based systems can result in a net increase in immigration and that there is no evidence it could work for Britain since we are an entirely unique nation with entirely different geography. Ukip has failed to explain why their idea, plucked out of the air, would work, when successive administrations have failed in light of the complexities, costs and international treaty obligations. And in any case, we already have a points based system - and have since 2008. 

3. £3bn more, annually, into our NHS which desperately needs it

From where exactly? And who says the NHS actually needs it? Could it just be that the pressure could be taken off the NHS by fixing the GP system and adult social care? Maybe, we don't know, because Ukip hasn't done any thinking on this. This link is where a Ukip policy should be looking.

4. Scrap tuition fees for students studying Science, Tech, Engineering, Maths, or Medical degrees

Sounds good in principle. But who is going to pay? Are we looking at tax funded university or are we looking at tax breaks for industry to finance them? Is it tied in with a broader industrial strategy? If so, what would that look like? And what about the creative arts? Multimedia technology might sound like a non-degree, but the games industry is not one we can afford to ignore.   

5. Pay greater attention to elderly care across the country

Is this a policy or a sneeze?

6. Cutting £9bn from our foreign aid budget

And what then do we fund overseas projects with, some of which are essential to slowing and managing immigration. It has been clear throughout that Ukip doesn't understand what aid is or what it is even for

7. Give the people the ability to “recall” their MPs, without parliamentary or MP approval

This is one of Dougie Carswell's ideas which failed to pass while he was a Tory and given the state of voter engagement there is actually very little evidence this would be used often, if at all. It's easy to fill a online petition with a few thousand signatures, but less easy to do it in a constituency. This really shows us just how shallow Ukip and Carswell are. We do have a big problem with our democratic deficit. It will require a range of integrated measures to tackle and this is just tinkering around the edges with bits of parliamentary procedure. Democratic reform ought to be a central pillar of a supposedly anti-establishment party - but it curiously is not. 

8. Stopping our endless, foreign wars

You mean the ones that recently ended? How about a democratic mechanism to stop us getting sucked into them? No?

9. Promoting a British identity, as opposed to failed multiculturalism

How? And what does this achieve? And what is a British identity? How are you defining it?

10. Allowing existing schools to become grammar schools

And what do we do with the schools that don't?

11. Ending PFI privatisation of the NHS, proliferated by Labour and the Tories

Ok, so we're ripping up contracts now. What do we replace it with? In some places, it works.

12. Ensuring our armed services are properly equipped for when we do need them

Every government and every party has said that. What matters is the detail. As we outline here, that's not so easy. 

13. Establishing a Veteran’s Administration to look after those who looked after us

Like the well funded and competent SAAFA?

14. Encouraging inward investment with growth markets, not JUST the failing Eurozone

How? This is a sentiment, not a policy.

15. Overcoming the unfairness of MPs from devolved nations voting on English laws

How? Got a policy?

16. Cutting bureaucracy, red tape, and wasteful spending from government departments

Which bureaucracy, which red tape, what wasteful spending? Easy to say, harder to do.

17. Cutting the same bureaucracy that hinders small businesses and entrepreneurs

What like?
18. Supporting our farmers with a Single Farm Payment Scheme

How would that differ from the one which already exists and is presently in use?

19. Ending the burdensome “green levies” that have added £000s to our energy bills

My energy bill doesn't exceed £1000. And some of those green levies go toward better insulation which means we don't have to build a new power station. So which "green levies" are we talking about?

20. Scrapping the poorly planned HS2 project, saving up to £50bn

How is NOT spending money a saving?  As in, I've decided not to buy a £250,000 Rolls Royce, so I've "saved" £250,000 ... ? But do what instead to ease pressure on existing transport infrastructure?

21. Opposing tolls on public roads – we’ve already paid for them

Oppose who? Presumably, you'd be in government, so who would you oppose? Who is suggesting road tolls? Why is a digital tolling scheme necessarily worse than the road tax scheme we presently have? Variable peak prices could reduce congestion.

22. Supporting bus passes for pensioners with the support of local authorities

This already happens. Presumably Ukip wants to expand that. How is that paid for?

23. Foreign vehicles to require Britdisc passes to contribute to our roads they use

Won't that make imported goods more expensive?

24. Ending the use of speed cameras as revenue raisers – they should be a deterrent

They are. Most of them are now switched off because they cost too much to run and administrate. The rest of them serve as part of active traffic management systems. This might have been a popular policy in 1992, but this is not 1992.  

25. Protecting our green belt

What with? A home defence force? Or are we talking abut planning? If so, what is Ukip's planning policy and how does it propose to solve the housing shortage and affordability gap? Y'need a policy!

26. A central list of brownfield sites for developers

Like the one that already exists? And why should it be central? I thought Ukip favoured localism?

27. Houses on brownfield sites to be Stamp Duty exempt on first sale

There's usually a good reason why brownfield sites remain inactive. Often ground contamination from previous use. It will take a lot more than stamp duty exemption. It will require a complete overhaul of the environmental impact assessment laws.

28. VAT relaxed for redevelopment of brownfield sites

See above. - and new build is already VAT exempt. Not forgetting that VAT is an EU tax and so we would be perfectly at liberty to abolish VAT if we wanted to.

29. Local referenda for large-scale development, if triggered by 5% of electorate

I am all in favour of more direct democracy, but this seems divorced from any context. It ought to be a part of a broader package of democratic reforms, but it's just hanging there, apropos of nothing. Where's the policy?

30. Introducing the ability for citizens to initiate national referenda

This is the closest Ukip gets to a big idea. But there needs to be safeguards against minority interest self-selection and mob rule. Referendums are not necessarily always an expression of public will. We will need to see details from Ukip. Which have not been forthcoming on this, or anything else.

31. Withdrawing from the European Court of Human Rights

And replace with what? Human rights are good. Fair trials and free speech and such.

32. Reversing the government’s opt-in to the European Arrest Warrant

What's the point if Ukip wants to scrap the EAW?

33. Negotiating bi-lateral agreements to replace EAW

Easier said than done, I find.

34. No votes for prisoners

So we deprive them of liberty of as a punishment, but deprive them of a voice? I guess this is a matter of personal taste.

35. Full prison sentences should be served, parole on case-by-case basis

That is actually a logical inversion. What is the point of case-by-case parole if full prison sentences are to be served?

36. Replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights

And what would be on that bill of rights? Who would write it?

37. Official documents to be published primarily in English

Like they are now? 

38. Cracking down on honour killings, female genital mutilation, and forced marriages

I wasn't aware the police were going easy on honour killings. They tend to be quick off the mark on murder. Does Ukip have evidence to the contrary? If so, that's a very serious allegation and ought to be a central campaign issue. As to forced marriages, that is largely something an aspect of immigration with Asians returning to their place of origin to get married. What is Ukip's immigration policy, beyond vague aspirations that is? 

39. Reviewing the BBC license fee with a view to reducing it

To what? Why is Ukip different fro the Tories on this?

40. Taking non-payment of the license fee out of the criminal sphere

You mean make it a civil debt so people then end up with a CCJ and unable to borrow, and have bailiffs banging at their door instead? Doesn't sound like progress to me. Have another think. 

41. Amend the smoking ban to promote choice for ventilated smoking rooms

Oh honestly, who cares anymore? Any pub that was going under because of the smoking ban has done already. Pubs are nicer without smoker. I say that as a smoker. It's not a big deal. 

42. Opposing plain packs for cigarettes, which has had no impact where trialled

Well, it took to number 42 before we got to any hint of sense, but it's hardly earth shattering.

43. Promoting the employment of young, British workers

How? That's a vague ambition, not a policy.

44. Repealing the Agency Workers Directive

And replace it with what? This is an interesting one. One must first examine why the directive exists. It is a regulatory response to a long standing problem of rolling six month contracts, largely as a product of previous labour market interventions. AWD is merely another hammer-blow in a game of regulatory whack-a-mole. Ukip clearly doesn't recognise this otherwise it would have offered a more substantial policy that gets to the root of the issue.

45. Encouraging councils to provide more free parking on High Streets

I'll let Jackart in his inimitable style address this one. It's a stupid policy by stupid people who aren't interested in policy. And it will take more than that to revive the high street.Does Ukip have a policy on that?

46. Simplifying planning regulations for long-term empty commercial properties

Why not just devolve planning policy to councils? You're all about localism, aren't you?

47. Extending the right of appeal for micro businesses against Revenue and Customs

In what circumstances? Apropos of what?

48. Negotiating bespoke trade agreements with EU member states and worldwide

Erm, see the thing about the EU is we can't negotiate with individual EU member states. The EU doesn't work like that. That's why eurosecptics want to leave it! That's where it would help to have a Brexit policy! But Ukipists told us they didn't need one! Doh! Here we have an anti-EU party that doesn't EVEN know how the EU works. What are we paying Ukip MEPs for?

49. Reoccupying our seat at the World Trade Organisation

Well that's kinda implied by way of leaving the EU. That's why eurosceptics want to leave.What do we do when we get there?

50. Abolishing inheritance tax

Fine fair enough. But that's £4bn you'll have to cut when you just said you'll spend 3bn extra on the NHS.

51. Introducing a 35p income tax rate between £42,285 and £55,000 – taking many public sector workers out of top rate of tax

Is this costed? That's going to mean some major cuts. What are you cutting? The foreign aid budget can only be spent once over.

52. Setting up a Treasury Commission to make sure big corporations pay their way in taxes

Here is some pretty typical Ukip ignorance. Many of these corporations are not based in the UK. They use freedom of capital rules to evade taxes. This is an international problem that requires an international solution, not least as part of a Brexit policy. Ukip doesn't have one.  

53. Abolishing the Dept of Energy and Climate Change and rolling retained functions into DEFRA

So we'd then have a mega-ministry that looks after power stations and cattle and rivers. Why? Where is the logic?

54. Introducing an Apprenticeship Qualification for students who don’t want to do non-core GCSEs

What does Ukip think core GCSEs are? And how will an apprentice fare without them?

55. Scrapping the arbitrary 50% target for university attendance

This is one of Tony Blair's most damaging policies. That's why the Tories got rid of it almost immediately. Which tells us this entire list of "policies" is a cut and paste from obsolete material. Did Ukip even read their 100 reasons before publishing them?

56. Students from the EU to pay the same as International Students

Who said they don't? And isn't itimplied that by leaving the EU, all students would be categorised as international students?

57. Introducing more power for parents: OFSTED to investigate schools on petition signed by 25% of parents or governors

Governors can already demand an inspection.Parents only need petition governors.

58. Guaranteeing a job in the police, prison, or border forces for anyone who has served 12 years in the Armed Forces

So if you've done 12 years in the logistic corps, you get to be a policeman? No thanks.

59. Priority social housing for ex-service men and women, and those returning from service

They already get a very generous resettlement grant and tuition fee subsidy.

60. Veterans to receives Veteran’s Card to ensure they’re supported in event of mental health care and more

In the event of mental health care? The biggest problem is veterans not seeking help. That is why they end up homeless.You need a comprehensive veteran care policy. Where is it?

61. All entitlements to be extended to servicemen and women recruited from overseas

Stupid and mega stupid.  The whole point of separate arrangements is to encourage serving officers to return to their nation of origin, with a service pension as a means of international development. There are clear developmental advantages to remittances, but a retired officer class is an export of an administrative class that can help build good governance - and is a means of exporting our values. This is precisely what the Gurkhas were for, and extending entitlements to all means we now have to allow them residence along their families as well. Not very sensible for a party that wants to control immigration.

62. Establishing a National Service Medal for all those who have served

So if you've done 12 years in the catering corps, you get a medal?This cheapens the very idea of medals. They are given out for distinguished service. What is the point of this policy?

63. Encouraging local authorities to buy out their PFI contracts where affordable

Paid for with what? You're massively cutting income tax, remember?

64. Ensuring GP’s surgeries are open at least one evening per week where demand permits

That's one of the few things I'm not inclined to argue with. But there are contractual problems that means the GP service requires a complete redesign. Where is Ukip's policy? Why does Ukip assume it can succeed in reforming it? Ukips health spokesperson, Louise Bours, admits "Honestly, I have no experience in health whatsoever".

65. Ensuring migrants have NHS-approved health insurance until they have paid into the system for 5 years

So the NHS will need a whole new bureaucracy to approve all international health insurance products and a recovery department to chase international debts. This presumably means more delays and checks at ports. I don't think they've thought this through.

66. Ending hospital car parking charges

Will likely result in less parking availability. It usually does.

67. Replacing bureaucratic watchdogs with locally elected health boards for more transparency

Can anybody honestly say that elected police commissioners have improved policing? Given the turnout at the recent PCC election in South Yorkshire, it is clear there is little public support for what are essentially overpaid press officers. Elections do not automatically equate with greater accountability or democracy.

68. Stopping the sale of patient data to big business

So Ukip opposes the sale of data from which extrapolations can be made which could improve drugs and patient care. They neglect to say why. There is a need to safeguard privacy, but we don't want to miss out on the possible benefits of big data insights. You can complain about the shoddy way the government set about it with automatic opt-ins but let's not throw the baby out with the bath water.

69. Ensuring a high standard of English speakers in the NHS

Who says they don't, apart from bigoted Ukipists?

70. Amend working time rules to give trainee doctors, surgeons, and medics better environments

Amend to what? Got a policy?

71. Encouraging and protecting whistle-blowing to get to the bottom of poor performance

This is not an unfair thing to say, but poor service delivery is a recurrent theme in British news with the same systemic common defects. Our corporate scale councils and local services are losing touch, are unaccountable and out of control. It will take more than whistle blowers to fix it. You'd need a comprehensive policy based on a detailed and evidence driven analysis. Something Ukip lacks the talent and mental architecture for.

72. Ensuring migrants have jobs and accommodation before they can come to the UK

Not unreasonable. But how will this be enforced? And what will it cost to enforce it? Got a policy?

73. Migrants will only be eligible for residency after 10 years’ working here

Migrants or asylum seekers? If migrants, what is the rationale for keeping them in limbo? Either they qualify for citizenship or they don't. Does Ukip even know the difference?

74. Reinstating the primary purpose rule, bringing an end to sham marriage migration

The primary purpose rule barred entry into the UK for thousands of people married to British citizens. It was dropped. The then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said it was being ended because "it is arbitrary, unfair and ineffective and has penalised genuine cases, divided families and unnecessarily increased the administrative burden on the immigration system." He was right then, and he's right now.

75. No amnesty for illegal immigrants, or those gaining UK passports via fraud

Amnesties are generally a bad thing. They encourage people to try their luck and disappear into the woodwork until there is one. But we do need a policy to deal specifically with illegal immigrants. Thus far, Ukip doesn't have one.

76. Protecting genuine refugees by returning to the UN Convention of Refugees principles

The UN Convention is the problem, creating asylum seekers who cannot be returned or ejected. I thought Ukip didn't want that? We need either to renegotiate the Convention or withdraw from it. You'd need a detailed policy.

77. British companies to be prioritised to deliver foreign aid contracts

I'd rather companies delivering best value for money were prioritised. I want value for money and transparency.

78. Repealing the Climate Change Act 2008 which costs the economy £18n per year

No arguments there. But a cut of £18bn doesn't pay for all Ukip's ring-fences and extra spending.  

79. Scrapping the Large Combustion Plant directive and redevelop UK power stations

We would do that by way of leaving the EU. It is an EU directive. This actually makes little difference since we have already closed, or have started to wind down LCPD affected plant which was due for renewal anyway. It's ancient. Does Ukip even have an up to date energy policy? 

80. Supporting the development of UK Shale Gas with proper safeguards

Rather a bland statement. As it happens, shale isn't the big deal anybody thought it was for the UK, not least with oil prices now collapsing. There is something new on the horizon that we have heard nothing about from Ukip.

81. No new taxpayer subsidy for wind farms

What about addressing the old ones?

82. Leaving the Common Agricultural Policy

This is actually a consequence of leaving the EU. CAP is part of the EU. And what do we do instead? The EU will continue to subsidise food producers, so to compete, we will have to subsidise ours. You have already said you would keep the Single Farm Payment, but what is the rest of the CAP replaced with? You'd need a Brexit policy. 

83. Allowing parliament to vote on GM foods

It can already do that. If it so chooses.

84. Reinstating British territorial waters

That is implied by leaving the EU. But what about management of those waters where British fleets have sold their quotas to foreign trawlers? You'd need a Brexit policy. And a fisheries management policy for that matter.

85. Food to be labelled with country of origin, method of production, method of slaughter and more

Like it does already? The problem is not labeling, but an epidemic of food fraud. You'd need international co-operation to deal with it, thus a comprehensive policy on trade.

86. Ban live animal exports for slaughter

Why? Is this just one of those feel-good populist policies?

87. Scrapping the Bedroom Tax

The "bedroom tax" is as much about reintegrating people from remote for industrial communities into the economy rather than warehousing them on benefits. It could use a little tweaking to make it fairer to the disabled, but it is a useful tool in the box to tack embedded and long term welfare dependency. It might be popular to say you'll scrap it, but you also have to state what you would do instead. 

88. Child benefit only for children permanently resident in the UK

Not unreasonable.

89. Future child benefit to be limited to first two children only

I wouldn't argue with that, but it would be just one measure in a full programme of welfare reform. That would require a policy. Where is it?

90. Ensuring an initial presumption of 50-50 parenting on child custody matters

The childrens' welfare is paramount. The presumption is that the birth mother is best suited - and usually is. But this is why we have a family court system. That needs an overhaul. So where is Ukip's policy?

91. Safeguarding visitation rights for grandparents

So the state is overriding parents judgement now?

92. Supporting a streamlined welfare system and a benefit cap

Like the Tories do already? What is Ukip's welfare policy?

93. Enrolling unemployed benefits claimants into workfare or community schemes

Like the Tories do already? What would Ukip do differently?

94. Placing revenues from shale gas into a Sovereign Wealth Fund to ensure future growth and security

How much will this generate? There isn't a big UK dash for shale gas. 

95. Emphasising the immediate need to utilise forgotten British infrastructure like Manston Airport

Why is there an immediate need if it has been forgotten? And it certainly doesn't look like Manson has been forgotten if you Google it. What on earth does this even mean?

96. No cuts to frontline policing

That ship has already sailed. The police have already been cut, but numbers is not the problem. It's policing policy. Does Ukip have a police policy?

97. Prioritising social housing for those whose parents and grandparents were born locally

So basically immigrants will be excluded from social housing?

98. Reaffirming British laws, rather than allowing dual-track legal systems for minorities in the UK

Will this mean abolishing Beth Din for Jews, or does this just apply to Muslims?

99. Promoting patriotism and the importance of British values in our schools

What are those British values? How will you promote them? Got a policy? 

100. Rebalancing Britain’s economy

To what? What does that even mean?


Last time I gave Ukip a good fisking I concluded as thus:
I've said it before and I'll say it again. This is a party that has no great vision. What we see above is ill thought out guesswork by Ukip, a patchwork with no unifying thread of thought, gaping holes, no applied expertise, no detail, no philosophy and not even a systematic approach to policy making. It is wholly superficial stuff, tinkering with the status quo on the basis of populist sentiment, which is no way to govern a country.

No doubt the Ukipist reaction to this post will be to say that the other party manifestos are equally amateurish and stupid. This is probably true. Were I so inclined I could have a field day driving a horse and cart through a Labor manifesto - and as for the Lib Dems, such would be beyond reasonable analysis and beyond satire. But the crucial distinction is this: Ukip professes to be something different. It isn't.

Party politics has degenerated into two bald men fighting over a comb, each chasing a marginal constituency of floating voters based on what carries over well in the media. So what if anything in the above makes Ukip distinctive apart from a vaguely defined ambition to leave the EU?

One thing that has plagued politics since 1997 is the steady stream of soundbite announcements dressed up as policy, keeping the churnalists and twitterers fed - and rather than pushing a vision, politics is all done on premise of "fly the flag and see who salutes".  Enter Ukip doing exactly the same with no real agenda for change, no real idea of what they want - and not the first idea how to get it done.

You don't have to be a policy analyst to see that no real thought has gone into Ukip's policy making. This is back of fag packet stuff. We're a matter of months from a general election and Ukip don't know what they stand for - but expect us to believe they are an alternative. We can only assume that Ukip takes us for fools too. 
The only thing I would add is that we were since promised that Ukip would get its act together and wunderkind Tim Aker would deliver the goods. If this is all Ukip has to offer, a mere 100 days from the election, then it becomes clearer that Aker was sacked after all. And rightly so. And since Suzanne Evans is responsible for releasing this garbage as current campaign material, she should resign. 

Ukip: a spent force in politics

Ukip headquarters will need to be downsized
Between our respective blogs, both Richard North and I are often asked why we keep writing about Ukip when we see it as a spent political force. Put simply, it's entertaining.

We've had our fair share of flack for pointing out what we think (with the benefit of insider knowledge) should be apparent to anyone with eyes to see, and now all these months later, after all the abuse, we're getting the pay off of watching it all unfold exactly as we said it would, in the way we always knew it would. At this point it's a humorous indulgence, and after all the hard work, you have to cut us a little slack on that.

We said Ukip was a personality cult, we said the immigration route would invite ridicule and accusations of racism, we said sacrificing sustainable growth for media attention would lead to an ungovernable party, we said the lack of policy and the lack of intellectual capital would be a liability. We also said Farage's failure to cultivate any talent within would leave them high and dry. We said they needed to get their website and party machine organised and professionalised, we said better vetting was needed, we said they needed a Brexit policy, we said they would fail to produce a coherent manifesto, we said they needed message discipline, and we said all of the above would result in few if any seats - and we said the behaviour of Ukipists would be their undoing, and they would tank in the polls. We also said Ukip would damage our chances of leaving the EU.

None of that was unfair criticism, none of it was conjecture, all of it was evidenced, all of it was predictable (and predicted). It could have been acted upon, but was not - and all we got for our trouble was accusations of "sour grapes". Now we get political hacks and journos suddenly cottoning on to what we have said all along, and still the only people who can't see it are Ukipists. And as tragic as that is, it's also absolutely hilarious.

We took the view a while back that Ukip was more of a problem than an ally and we have worked pretty hard, not to discredit Ukip, because Ukip did that, but to try and highlight to our readers why they would discredit themselves. The media no longer needs to "smear" Ukip. All it need do is report what it does.

Now we stand vindicated and can take a little pleasure and pride what we have done. We told you so. Many times. Ukip chose not to listen, now it reaps what it has sown. Insofar as our immediate strategic ends are concerned, we're happy it's going in the right direction (oblivion), as Ukip crawls back under its rock. Now we can crack on with getting and winning that referendum with or without Ukipist losers. Makes no odds to us. But we'll keep writing about Ukip, because this cavalcade of comedy is just to delicious to resist. We earned it.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

The Greens: the UKIP of the left

Greenies complaining that poor Natalie Bennet was set up to fall on a Andrew Neil programme. One can only ask, whose fault is that? Here you have a thick as pigshit bint, who, like Ukip, knows sod all about policy and governance, isn't interested in policy and governance, and doesn't even know her own party policy - confronted for the first time by someone who will actually challenge the, putting it politely, "intellectual inconsistency" of her product. 

This, added to the fact there are bins full of festering sanitary towels in the ladies loo with more innate magnetism and charisma, makes for an inevitable train-wreck. Pure television gold - especially if you're a Ukipist because finally someone looks even more cretinous than you do. But this is only to be expected from either party.

We're not dealing with real political parties or movements here. We're talking about the loser fringes forming rival gangs behind leaders. There's no intellectual capital behind it, no coherent big idea, no organisation or political soul - just people who think they have some god given right to be listened to just because their sizeable clans of losers peak over a certain decibel level.

Natalie Bennet is one of those. It's one thing to go wobbly when put on the spot, but a party leader shouldn't be on the spot. A leader knows the lines of attack, knows the answers, knows the policy, is well briefed, well rehearsed and in command of their subject. It's basic preparation. Something Caroline Lucas was fairly good at.

But Bennet is clearly intellectually out of her depth (a prerequisite for even being a Green party member), doesn't understand policy and how policy interrelates - and like all socialists is blissfully unaware there is no such thing as the Easter Bunny or magic money trees. It takes a certain skill, but I do believe she has out-clowned Ukip. 

Farage on the other hand, is an entirely different animal and must be measured by a different yardstick. He doesn't have the normal obstacles and barriers faced by the average person. He's a classic sociopath - dictatorial, high functioning alcoholic, nocturnal, with the inherent charisma that comes with it. It's how he has cultivated a personality cult. He doesn't need to be well briefed in policy, not least because Ukip doesn't have any policy, and his devotees will defend whatever he says, so is accountable to nobody but himself. This allows him to conveniently contradict himself because he's hugely creative with excuses. If he paid any attention to detail and had an attention span, he'd have made a seriously good lawyer.

But in both cases, you're dealing with rank amateurs representing dustbin protest movements who have no real aptitude or instinct for politics or policy. The real business of governance is full of compromises, takes ages and is mind-blowingly complex, often producing results nobody is happy with but represent the best of what can be achieved with the means available.

These people are children throwing a tantrum, who expect everything done now, done by somebody else, done well, and done for free, without sacrifice or compromise. They simply don't have the mental architecture to apply themselves to adult politics which requires maintaining a dialogue with people you fundamentally disagree with, hence why they resemble playground gangs and not political parties.

What they see as "simple common sense" is what policy makers call idle stupidity. And because mainstream adult politics is scornful of kneejerk and stupid inputs by these losers, the loser parties then cry "elitism of the establishment". These clowns actually think they know better then the armies of technicians, civil servants, policy authors, diplomats and very skilled people who produce articles of difficult regulation. And why? Because they feed themselves on a daily diet of EU bent banana stories and "metric dildos causing cancer" headlines.

It's true that when the bureaucrats get it wrong, they get it very wrong, but that is less to do with the people behind the decisions as the structures in which they are formed and the mechanisms for coping with anomalous circumstances. That is where you would need a thorough examination of oversight, structures of governance and the means of accountability.  ie Hard work.

In many respects, government is like a high spec laptop. Out of the factory it works fine, does what you want it to do but as it matures and the operating system becomes cluttered with registry entries and conflicting priorities, the best thing you can do is reset it to the factory default. Both the greens and Ukip would wipe the machine without first taking a backup, having made no decision on what operating system to replace it with, retaining none of the knowledge that necessitated the laptop in the first place.

These loser fringes are all very entertaining, and while frustration makes their nihilism attractive on occasion, we must keep in mind that this is the whining of petulant children and like petulant children, should not be afforded the attention they desperately seek. For all those tempted to vote Ukip, remember why Ukip was created. To get us out of the EU. Well here we are coming up to an election, there's a referendum on the table, so we have to take it and thank Ukip for helping us get this far. They have served their purpose, now they are in the way.

There are those who say any referendum will be a fudge and will be unfairly rigged, but that's just the reality. No EU referendum was ever going to be a fair fight, not now, not in the future, so if not now, then when? Rather than trying to salvage an irredeemably damaged cult, it's time to grow up and get ready for the fight to the death. Playtime is over.    

Farage: the man who failed at everything

Newly appointed to the media claque as political oracle is one Dr Rob Ford (yet another anointed pundit), who postulates that Ukip lacks an obvious figure of Farage's authority to hold the party together after he goes. "How do you keep people like Douglas Carswell, [donor] Stuart Wheeler, [deputy leader] Paul Nuttall and [economics spokesman] Patrick O'Flynn all on the same page? None of them are necessarily people who much like taking direction anyway," he said.

The simple answer to that is you don't. Shithead and crook though Farage might be, he's just enough of a bully to keep his gang of losers in line. As Bongo Bloom remarks "There is a whole mafioso at Brooks Mews [Ukip's HQ in Mayfair, London] who are personally beholden to Nigel for their salary as are most Ukip MEPs" - and that's how he keeps a lid on it. Without that, it would be a squirming bag of competing egos that would have fallen out years ago.

Ford continues. "Everyone in the party recognises Farage's authority and defers to it. It's not clear yet whether there's a another figure who could do that. Without Farage we'd likely see an awful lot more arguments out in the open." A master of understatement is he, but Ford has misunderstood Farage in saying "The Ukip leader has been trying to build up his top team, so one day, they may have the profile to fill the void."

Yes, I fell off my chair too. That would imply some kind of leadership ability. If anything Farage has tried his level best to do the exact opposite, expunging anybody who could challenge him. It's no coincidence that his band of MEPs are intellectually subnormal twits. That's how Farage likes 'em. As HuffPo avers, he is not comfortable being reminded what a loser he is. It's not by accident that the party has no heavyweights to speak of. If there are any thinkers in Ukip, they are seriously well hidden.

But once Farage is out of the picture, Ukip really has nowhere to go. There is no intellectual capital or message to fall behind that a leader can pick up and carry forward, thus any selection of a leader will simply be a squabble among the minions who will flock to the politics of their preferred leader, rather than the (non-existent) agenda of the party. On the left, Lunchtime O'Flynn and on the right, Dougie Carswell. Both so at odds that any kind of consistency and unity will be impossible. The expression "bald men fighting over a comb" springs to mind. There will be little worth leading when the dust settles.

Popular narrative has it that the success and crowning achievement of Farage has been to put Ukip on the map and grow the party out of obscurity. But if the end result of that is a hollow party with no core, no soul and no message - and cannot withstand the departure of a leader without a bloody and public civil war, how then can that be defined as a successful leadership? Farage has built a personality cult, but not a movement united by principles and ideals. He has abused his position and wrecked the party.

According to the HuffPo, one senior figure complains: "Since Nigel decided it'd be more electorally successful if we zeroed in on one subject, which is immigration, and so far that has been proved correct. He has majored on immigration, which a number of the founding members are uncomfortable with it. "Nigel has dumbed the party down. The professional classes are leaving. Immigration has brought a different sort of member, a different sort of activist, if you look at Facebook, you see the effects of the dumbing down of the membership, the language, the spelling. All these things on social media are a sign of it."

And that's precisely what this blog said would happen - and has taken little pleasure in reporting it day in, day out. Again, how is that a success? The party is now a national laughing stock, it has stopped growing, and in light of the underlying signals in the polls; the high frequency, low end outliers, the minions smell blood and are already setting out their stalls to win the crown.

Here we have Lunchtime O'Flynn warning that the party is troubled by "out of countrol egos", as if we didn't know that - while he attempts to put clear blue water between himself and Dougie, and Carswell, not to be outdone makes his pitch in the Times, while remembering to cover his own posterior.

Carswell is eager to point out that he would back a coalition but not join one. This is because he has probably done the same math as I have, and assuming Reckless keeps his seat, the thicky twins will be the only Ukip MPs and thus effectively would be rejoining the party they defected from in a coalition, making them look bigger fools than they already do. It's actually pretty funny.

What's worse is Ukipists will hail Carswell as the great saviour for having a few scraps of ideas, which failed to pass while he was a Tory. As I think it was Julie Burchill who said Stephen Fry is a stupid persons idea of what an intelligent person sounds like, Carswell is a Ukipists idea of what a policy man sounds like. The whole Times article deserves a thoroughly good fisking, but needless to say the timid tinkering about the recall bill and open primaries is hardly radicalism, nor does it address the more fundamental dysfunction of our democracy.

Since the injection of Carswell's intellectual capital was likely the only potential source of thinking in that strand, the Ukip manifesto will be exactly what I said it would be: Empty, unambitious, incoherent and shallow.

The foolishness of Ukipists (and Rob Ford) is to mistake Ukip as a political party and expect it to do things than political parties nominally do. It has no party machine, it has no founding ideas and it doesn't really know what it wants. Better to read it like a playground gang than a political party. Believing it will act like a political party with internal and political cooperation is the mistake which prompts people to believe it has a future. It doesn't. 

Charting Ukips demise on this blog is now merely a matter of journalistic obligation. The only goal that matters is to make sure Ukip is resolutely defeated so that euroscepticism can be reclaimed by a more credible organisation, so when the time comes we have grown ups making the case for leaving the EU, and not Farage's halfwit yes men.

Monday 26 January 2015

Health: what a Ukip policy ought to look like

Here on this blog there's been something of an ongoing argument that Ukip could never hope to fight a campaign on a platform of NHS privatisation and would be damaging to try. Not a view I subscribe to. The public are entirely capable of having a grown up debate about it, and more to the point, Ukip's pretence that it is wholly committed to a ring-fenced NHS has created more problems for them than if they'd simply formulated a measured policy around what Ukip has always believed - that the NHS in its current form is unsustainable. And that is a winnable argument.

It's not so much that people are necessarily against private involvement in the NHS, but they certainly don't like to be taken for fools. An intelligent policy would have been less of a liability than a Ukip fudge. But again, this is something Ukip lacks any capacity for.

Looking at the recent NHS crisis, one is minded to ask, when isn't there one? There is always an acute shortage of beds, and curiously it always happens in the run up to an election. It exists in a perpetual state of crisis. Notably A&E.

The Daily Mash has it that accident and emergency waiting times have worsened because Britain is so full of cretins, and like all good satire, there's an element of truth in that. But there's another more basic question. Where else does one go? With adult social care and elderly care apparently decimated, and GP's not operating at evenings and weekends, what do they expect?

So for starters, the low hanging fruit is a renegotiation of massively overpaid GP's and why not have private practices in the front lobby of a large Tesco? If those with money have the choice of popping in to chat to a GP for a fee, if they so choose, then not only does that take the pressure off the NHS, it means everybody gets quicker access to services, and more conveniently so. And why not have Tesco run it? They have proven adept at getting food down to affordable levels even in the midst of what we are told is a major recession. In fact I would go as far as handing over the entire procurement and logistics operation to Tesco. The success of Tesco is eliminating overheads from their planning and logistics - and that is something they do better than anybody else.

Moreover, we have had private practice in optometry for as long as I can remember. Once it was liberalised, we had the likes of Specsavers pop up offering for the first time ever, competitive prices and better products. How I dreaded my NHS thick rimmed specs! Why can't there be high-street MRI scanners? Why spend a whole day waiting to be seen in a hospital by a technician, who won't even be the one analysing the results - when  you could pop in as though it were a branch of Jessops to get your holiday snaps printed?

There are many ways in which day to day procedures could be normalised and kicked out into the mainstream market that would allow hospitals to focus on more serious matters. You don't have to sell off the whole NHS estate to bring competition and the vitality of markets to the process, nor does it necessarily mean that those without money get worse services since those who prefer to spend their own money would free up resources. We could even go as far as giving individuals optional health vouchers they may redeem at a venue of their choosing.

As is often the case, the consumer is the best regulator - and any system where the state is financier, provider and inspectorate is only ever self-serving and hostile to any complaints (so evidenced by the Staffordshire scandal). But were the tables turned, no private hospital or private care operation wants to risk the wrath of Twitter. That means fiscal catastrophe for them.

I would then look at why adult care services had been so badly affected by cuts. That's very much a council competence, which hooks in with welfare. I think any analysis would show a top-heavy local authority system that is utterly crippled by its own bureaucratic inertia, which could be immeasurably improved by breaking up councils, cancelling certain statutory obligations and giving them the freedom to innovate rather than working to satisfy Whitehall statisticians.

These are all perfectly reasonable suggestions, all of which have real world examples which have been a tremendous success. So long as the approach is to favour that which works rather than a dogmatic pursuit of privatisation for its owe sake, then the arguments become winnable. But only if you have well crafted, holistic policy with competent people who can convincingly argue the case (ie not Louise Bours). To assume that everyone in the UK is militantly anti-privatisation overlooks the fact that no Labour party that reverted to socialism could ever hope to be elected.

There seems to be a disconnect in what people pay, what they expect and what they receive. It shouldn't be too difficult to persuade the people they are being conned and ripped off, because all of us know that we are. They're not afraid of privatisation, but they are afraid of Tory privatisation or the Labour quasi-privatisation mess that is PFI - which in itself was a cack-handed way of privatising the NHS without the consent of the people, bringing no discernible benefits and the worst of all worlds for the taxpayer. It is because of the mealy-mouthed, back-handed manoeuvrings that we have arrived at such an under-performing health service and no party has had the courage to grasp the nettle.

A confident, up front and honest approach would have won some respect. The fork tongued posturing by Ukip is why it is not trusted, and rightly so. It says one thing and thinks another. And this is the party that presumes to be the antidote to establishment politics?

But of course it's too late in the game now. The cat is out of the bag, there has been no policy research and right now Suzanne Evans is busy cobbling together what she can, frantically cutting and pasting from whichever Ukip manuscript she can find. And it wouldn't even matter if they did have their house in order because there is not one single ambassador in the party with the talent to get out there and sell it. They are all talentless and discredited Farage yes-men.

The bottom line is the NHS was conceived as part of a post-war settlement, forged from an idea nearly a century old. Lifestyles have changed, we are immeasurably wealthier, technology has advanced and the world we now live in is unrecognisable from 1946. We are all agreed that we must have universal healthcare available for the poorest at point of need, but we are a society that has thrived on consumer choice and market diversity - and that's what the NHS most desperately needs.

The only people who have a problem with this are the far left and that is the fight that must be comprehensively and unyieldingly won, because while they continue to own this issue, they will own every issue - and whatever hopes Ukip might have of leaving the EU will be thwarted by those same forces. The pubic will listen to reason, but they won't tolerate deception.

Defence: tough questions and harsh realities

HMS Ocean

Policy is one of those things that seems easy in principle until you have a crack at it yourself. Knowing where to start is half the battle won, but that requires an intimate knowledge of the subject and the complications therein. The Green Party have now crashed into this wall in an absolute cavalcade of comedy. Notably on defence it's clear that the Greens just have no instinct for it. But it's also an area Ukip doesn't really dare wade into. Ukip have made no clear indication what their defence policy is on their "Policies for People" material.

No area of policy can be approached with a clean slate, and that especially applies to defence where decisions made ten years ago are pretty much what we're stuck with. For instance, the costs of scrapping F35 and the QE carriers at this stage in the game would have massive ramifications on inward investment and the national credit rating, not to mention pissing off just about every other customer of the F35. Were there no complications, I would not hesitate in scrapping both carriers and F35 and instead lease a couple of carriers from America. But that is wishful thinking. The damage is already done and the money is already spent.

We are now lumbered with what we have and even though I would happily cancel the Airbus A400M, there are massive ramifications in doing so for industry and foreign relations and so that isn't a realistic proposition either. Therefore, our defence policy needs to make best use of the remaining budget and deliver maximum value and capability.

In terms of what constitutes useful spending, we could very well say that Trident is not value for money, but it's the price we must pay for a seat at the top table, and if we want to be a leading voice in the world, punching above our weight and maintaining the global balance of power, then that is the entry fee. Whether or not we desire this as a nation comes down to a more basic matter of foreign policy. You can't really equip your forces if you don't have a well defined foreign policy.

Some would have it that we disarm and look to the EU for defence resource pooling, others take a more internationalist approach, in which Trident is part of the deal. I take the latter position. So with much of the defence budget already committed to vanity projects that doesn't leave us much to play with.

Where almost all parties are concerned, most are agreed that we must retain a high mobility response force for international interventions, some humanitarian, others under UN peacekeeping pretenses. As much as we hear a great deal of hyperventilation about defence cuts, mainly from special interest groups and lobbyists, things are not nearly as bad as they seem. We have HMS Ocean and a strong fleet of auxiliary ships which would be central to any expeditionary operation, where the helicopter is central to the operation. We have a fleet of Lynx helicopters which could be better but are adequate and British built, along with the EH101 Merlin and a hugely capable force of Royal Marines.

We still have the capability to mount sophisticated operations which will be augmented by the carriers. The missed opportunity was to have a carrier capable of multiple aircraft types such as the Super Tucano for close air support, but now that isn't going to happen, the focus must go onto a cost effective programme for carrier launched Close Air Support UAVs. The F35 will provide adequate strike capability (eventually) but there is still a capability gap for supporting ground troops which we have never really had an adequate aircraft for since before the Falklands War. Also, the lack of carrier launched airborne early warning lead to the loss of seven ships in the Falklands which ought to be considered an embarrassing loss.

We also suffer from a major capability gap in Maritime Reconnaissance in the absence of Nimrod. Clearly the answer is to procure a shared platform on a commercial airframe such as the P-8 Poseidon.

Meanwhile we're stuck with another legacy decision in that the MoD has chosen not to use the Super Tucano as a close air support aircraft, instead opting for the Texan 2, when we already have a fleet of Tucanos as advanced trainers which, built in the UK, should be replaced with more of the same - since we already posses the technical expertise and infrastructural support. This most basic value for money lesson has been missed entirely by the MoD - and that's the kind of thinking that needs to come first. It should never be about jobs and trade. It should be about having the right kit for the right job and prices we can afford, with costs we can maintain.

Instead we are locked into big ticket items because politicians are more concerned with which jobs will be lost where and foreign relations. The result is a mishmash of expensive toys that the military didn't ask or and can't make good use of. The worst offenders being the Royal Air Force.

If you'll excuse the pun, we need some blue sky thinking on the RAF. Does it still serve a purpose? If we are re-equipping for rapid expeditionary forces, does it still add value? I would argue not. There is no reason why a logistics and reconnaissance command (expanding on ISTAR capability) could not be broken off and given to the army while the Royal Navy operates F35 and UAVs. Insomuch as we need interceptors, and  air superiority fighters, the RAF, if it is to remain ought to be concerned only with domestic defence. We should by rights be using F16s since they are cheap, with readily available components and about as capable as Eurofighter at a third of the cost. But again, we're lumbered with that. So again we must swallow a bitter pill.

As to the army, the Greens once again right for the wrong reasons. The notion of a home defence force is not one out of keeping with modern ideas. Ironically, this is quite close to Tory policy of shrinking the army and augmenting with the Territorial Army. A standing army is an expensive thing. It's better to maintain a central military core that knows how to teach warfare than to have men standing idle. The result being modern soldiers with all the right civvy street skills to effectively administrate an occupation or peacekeeping force. A skill the modern army lacks.

So long as you have full time special forces and a highly mobile rapid reaction force like the Royal Marines, there's not much need for a standing army. After all, by the time D-Day came, most army regulars had been killed. D-Day, in the main was an army of civilians in uniform, trained to bayonet sandbags.

As to equipping our soldiers, we have finally settled on some procurements that are not entirely unsensible, but only after we tried everything else. At the forefront of any vehicle procurement must be troop safety. Because not losing soldiers needlessly is central to maintaining public support for military adventures. Not only that, troops are expensive things to replace.

It seems to me that the most cost effective solution is more often than not also the correct solution in terms of strategic need. In approaching any defence policy one would have to find ways to break the stranglehold of politics and lobbyists and the relationships between the arms industry and senior commanders. We must move beyond our obsession with high tech expensive toys and apply our procurement to the realities we face rather than the war that exists only in the imaginations of fantasists. Industrial policy must come second. Buying British is important, but not if it comes at three times the cost. Every job the industry creates is another killed elsewhere since the pound out of our pockets stops us creating jobs ourselves by way of spending it.

It's all very well for Ukip to come out with the usual motherhood and apple pie stuff about looking after veterans, but nothing thus far addresses the deep shortcomings of the MoD, nor the folly of our procurements not the spending we are already locked into. Any party that causally claims they would scrap F35 and A400M without mentioning the obvious repercussions is simply not one to be taken seriously. As to the Green Party, I would be surprised if the could tell a Spitfire from a B52 and should not in any circumstance be taken seriously. There is a huge gap in the market for an intelligent and well costed, pragmatic defence policy, but I suspect that gap in the market will stay vacant for a long time to come.

That said, there are first choices to be made about which direction the nation is going in. We have more existential questions to ask first before we can really address what our foreign policy is, and only then can we make informed decisions about which toys to buy. Any defence policy which does not speak to that is merely a shopping list - and should be ignored.