Archive for November, 2010


Andy Cooke asks: What are the NUS demanding?

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010


Is the gap really quite narrow?

On the student fees issue – what exactly are the NUS demanding? Looking at their website their only real gripe seems to be that they want all courses at all universities whatever the duration to attract exactly the same price. So six years doing medicine at Bristol, or four years doing engineering at Cambridge has exactly the same effect on the graduate as a 3 year degree in basket weaving from Ex-Poly University.

Well, that’s the only explicit difference between their five requirements and the Coalition proposals:

The ‘five tests’:

1. End the market in course or university prices- it puts students off

There should be no ‘sticker price’ variation between institutions or courses, and direct price variation should be actively barred within the system. This ensures that students choose courses for the right reasons and ensures equality of opportunity at the point of use.

2. Ensure that graduates on low pay don’t pay; and set a maximum for high earners

There should be a lower threshold of earnings below which no payments are collected, balanced by an overall, single maximum amount that any person can pay in total. This ensures fair and proportionate treatment for both low and high earning graduates.

3. Only charge students a percentage of their earnings for a fixed period, it’s progressive

Payment should be made at a fixed percentage of earnings above a threshold for a fixed period. This ensures simplicity for users and also ensures that graduates with sustained high earnings pay the most overall, while those with sustained low earnings pay very little.

4. Don’t give the money to the state, ringfence it in a trust

Money collected should flow into a trust or other body that is controlled by the higher education sector, which is legally independent of government and accountable to Parliament.

The trust or other body should itself determine the rules for distributing its funds to institutions. This ensures hypothecation of resources to the higher education sector at a high level and ensures that overall control and shared responsibility lies within the sector.

5. Issue bonds to ensure that universities get the cash they need now

The trust or other body should be empowered to issue bonds on the market, or to other investors, set against future revenues.

It should be empowered to operate an ‘opt-out’ scheme whereby the graduate contribution is waived where a student agrees to pay the ‘maximum’ amount to the trust in advance.

These devices allow the money from graduate contributions to be ‘brought forward’, mitigating the risk of a gap in resources for institutions.

Issues 4 and 5 don’t really concern the students (I very much doubt any protestors will be chanting “Don’t give the money to the state, ringfence it in a trust”…), so of the three that do, Numbers 2 and 3 dictate a proportional payment over a given threshold (set so that the poorest don’t pay) for a fixed period, capped out at a maximum amount).

So, say: 9% of earnings above £21,000 for a maximum of 30 years, capped at however much you were nominally charged plus interest at about what the Government has to pay on debt? That would fit the bill perfectly, yes?

Hell, they’ve even got the ability to “pay in advance” for the richest students (or those where Bank of Mum and Dad can afford it).

All that the NUS are marching for is to insist that all graduates pay the same fees, regardless of where they studied, what they studied and for how long they studied. So why is it that they don’t make this explicit? Why did I have to go an look? Why isn’t it being shouted from the rooftops (of Millbank Towers)?

Of course, this isn’t to look at the implicit implications – if it’s a graduate tax (which their suggestions aren’t – they want it to be time-limited, capped and not go directly to the State, like – for example – repayment of fees), then all that would be needed to avoid paying it would be (as mentioned by so many others) to leave the country. No cash owing, so no problem. And, for EU students from outside the UK going home, a free education, courtesy of British students.

This is a comment that was posted on the earlier thread


The Patrick Perspective: “If the LDs sink then Dave is out”

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

A guest slot on the future of the coalition

The above chart shows the actual poll shares achieved at the general elections from 1979 onwards. The 2015 numbers are the current PAPA numbers (Mike’s polling average). It also shows the GE turnout % (green line) and the combined share of Labour plus the LibDems (dotted line).

What does it tell us?

Firstly, it shows that there is quite some truth in the notion that Labour and the LibDems have historically fed off each other’s vote. Their combined vote has traditionally been a little over 50%, but this went up to the high 50s during Labour’s time in power. The Labour view that the LibDems were ‘on our side’ is not entirely unjustified – and hence the bitter feelings of betrayal that many lefty voters now feel about the LibDem decision to get in bed with Dave. This is very dangerous for Dave. Labour’s vote translates disproportionately into seats as their vote gets towards 40%. When Labour and Tories are neck and neck in the polls that means, I’m afraid, that Labour are well ahead in seats. Equalising constituencies and sorting postal votes out will help Dave, but only so much. If the LibDems sink then Dave is out.

Secondly, current polling shows that the LibDems’ joining a coalition with Dave has not apparently broken the tradition. The Tory polling remains steady in the high 30s – to 40s range, and Labour is up wholly at the LibDems’ expense. This gives Clegg a sharp dilemma – it seems the lefty half of the party has drifted to the red camp and I don’t think they’re coming back. At 12.5% the LibDems are just not going to win many seats at a GE and the ones they do win will be due to big name local incumbents. The marginals (and Scotland?) will be gone. My own (FPTP based) model has the LibDems gaining just 22 seats at the current level in the polls and an enormous Labour majority. The LibDems would be dead (and Dave too) if current polls were actual GE vote shares.

This raises some serious questions about tactical voting. I think historically the vast majority of tactical voting has been Labour and LibDem voters supporting whoever would keep out the local Tory. We have never seen much tactical voting by Tories – if they are not happy they just stay at home, as the clear alignment of Tory and Turnout lines shows. But now that the LibDems are proving to be good partners in government, I think it is fair to expect there will in future be some Blue / Yellow tactical voting to keep Labour out of some marginals.

And that leaves the LibDems and Dave with some very clear messages:
1. They must do much, much more to boost the LibDem polling. This is as good for Dave as it is for Clegg. The LibDems are disappearing into the Tory noise. To keep Labour out the positive impact of Clegg and the LibDems on all aspects of coalition policy must be better advertised. We need to see much more of Clegg, Alexander, Cable, Huhne (and Laws) on the TV.
2. They must get the vote out for a higher turnout. Dave might then get a Tory majority , but without it Labour do instead – and the Yellows are wiped out. They need much more monstering of the Labour record and scare stories about financial doomsday if Labour get back in.
3. As might have been expected, a ‘sit on the fence’ party has been ripped in two by the realities of a hung parliament. I’m not convinced there is room for three real choices in an FPTP system. The coalition parties will need to work together electorally to keep Labour out, because the electoral advantages Labour’s vote distribution gives are just too big to tackle alone. Increasingly I see survival for both coalition parties will need to come from an electoral pact. They can win together or lose apart.

The LibDems’ future lies not in being the third party but in being the conscience of a permanent centre right alignment based on civil liberties and sound money.

Patrick has been a regular PB commenter for several years


Are non-voters driving Labour’s polling position?

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010
How the polling shares are made up (ComRes) Voted at the 2010 general election Didn’t vote at the 2010 election
Conservative supporters 91% 9%
Labour supporters 82% 18%
Lib Dem supporters 92% 8%

The above is taken from the latest ComRs data on its new poll and seeks to break down current supporters into those who said they did vote at the last election and those who, for whatever reason didn’t.

Whether you have voted in the past or not is, as was discussed at last week’s big polling conference, a good guide to future activity and, indeed, the leading pollster, ICM, now down-weights the responses of those who say they didn’t

ComRes doesn’t do that and presents it data in a way that make it possibly to determine precisely the proportion of non-last general election voters who feature as current supporters of each of the party.

As can be seen the Labour non-voting proportion is 18% which is considerably higher than the 9% for the Tories and 8% for the Lib Dems.

Mike Smithson


Labour touch 40 for the first time with ComRes

Monday, November 29th, 2010
Poll/publication Date CON % LAB % LD %
ComRes/Independent (Phone) 29/11/10 36 40 12
ComRes/Indy on Sunday (Online) 19/11/10 37 38 13
ComRes/Independent (Phone) 31/10/10 35 37 16
ComRes/Indy on Sunday (Online) 15/10/10 40 34 14
ComRes/Independent (Online) 01/10/10 39 36 15
ComRes/Indy on Sunday (Online) 16/09/10 37 35 15
ComRes/Independent (Phone) 05/09/10 38 34 18
ComRes/Mirror/GMTV (Phone) 15/08/10 39 33 15
ComRes/Independent (Phone) 08/08/10 39 33 16
ComRes/Independent (Phone) 27/06/10 40 31 18

And the yellows drop to 12 percent

A phone poll from ComRes for the Indy tomorrow is just out and places Labour at its highest level with the firm since the general election.

The firm now operates in two forms – as an online pollster and as a traditional phone firm and comparison should be made with the most recent one using the same approach. As can be seen the Lib Dems are down 4, the Tories are down up 1 while Labour move up three to 40%.

This is very good news for the red team and their new leader, Ed Miliband., who has been under some media pressure.

The Lib Dem tumble is in line with falls from other firms and has the party at just over half its general election share. There’s little doubt the they are taking a very big hit for the student fees pledge fiasco.

This was always a dumb thing for the party to have agreed to before the election. Given the polling from January 2010 onwards a hung parliament was always a real possibility and which ever of the two main parties came on top student fees were likely to rise. The main proposal, of course, came from the Browne review which was set up by Labour.

The latest YouGov daily poll is due at just about now and I’ll update this post when we have the figures.

UPDATE The YouGov shares are just out and have CON 40: LAB 40: LD 10. So YouGov is now the only pollster NOT showing a Labour lead.

The latest PAPA is CON 37.5: LAB 39.2: LD 12.5

Mike Smithson


What’ll the latest forecasts do to the political debate?

Monday, November 29th, 2010

There was a time when the autumn statement from the chancellor was a big economic event – almost as big as the budget itself. In Gordon Brown’s day it was called the “Pre Budget Report” and often saw big tax and other spending announcements.

Osborne is doing it differently and is using this afternoon’s statement to provide an update on the state of the economy.

Unlike the budget when the opposition leader responds the main opposition reaction will come from shadow chancellor, Alan Johnson.

Mike Smithson


Welcome to the “Guardian on Steroids”

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Do the actual leaks live up to their billing?

If you’ve ever wondered what a newspaper on steroids would look like then check out the Guardian this morning. The paper is claiming a big exclusive with its revelations from Wikileaks of US diplomatic messages and a large part of the paper is devoted to the coverage.

As well as the analysis there’s article after article stating why they are publishing the information as well as, on their website, an interactive map of the world so you can check their origin. There are also videos and a link where you can download all the information for yourself.

But what of the information revealed? Is it really earth-shattering and how much will it change our perceptions of US foreign policy? My view is not that much – the big story is that there have been leaks on this scale not the content.

I think that Ben Brogan in the Telegraph is correct when he writes:-

“..The Saudis would like someone to whack Iran? No kidding. Afghanistan is run by crooks? Really? Hillary Clinton would like to know a lot more about the diplomats she is negotiating against? You surprise me. The Russian government may have links to organised crime? Pass the smelling salts, Petunia. The Americans are secretly whacking al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen? What, you thought the Yemenis were doing it? Muammar Qaddafi has a full time, pneumatic Ukrainian ‘nurse’? Nice one. Diplomats are terrified of Pakistan’s nukes? Me too. And so on, ad infinite boredom. Perhaps something better will pop up, but nothing I’ve read since last night’s surprises..”

With last night’s Irish bail-out and this afternoon’s autumn statement by George Osborne it will be the economy that dominates the day’s headline.

Mike Smithson


Jonathan asks: Is government possible in the Internet Age?

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

The latest Sunday evening slot

After only six months, the Web is giving the Coalition headaches. In the US midterms, the Web helped the GOP punish Obama, despite the president’s reputation as a master of Web campaigning. In Ireland, the relentless scrutiny of the Web denied the government vital time and space to fix its financial problems. Berlosconi, Sarkozy and Merkel have all suffered damage from online rumours. Given the difficulties these administrations face, is Government possible in the Internet age?

Around 2004, half-way through Labour’s term, a phalanx of anti-government blogging websites emerged. Usually attacking from the right, they thrived on any tit-bit of information that damaged the government. Preceding the credit crunch, their arrival coincided with the fall in Labour’s popularity. Whilst there is no evidence that they alone caused Labour’s decline, the mainstream opposition certainly benefited from their attacks. Arguably, their constant stream of opposition dented Labour’s air of authority and contributed to the party’s defeat.

New Labour, invented before the Web went mainstream, certainly found it hard to react. Command and control media operations just didn’t work anymore. It was impossible to rebut every claim on the Web.

Labour didn’t appear to know what to do. Official online efforts either tanked or were counterproductive. Unofficial pro-Labour websites found it difficult to find their voice and compete with a vocal, angry opposition.

Six months into the Coalition, the Web is enjoying a fresh target. The boot is firmly on the other foot. We had a preview during the election campaign when the Tory posters were hijacked (see above). In the face of Web opposition, are the Tories and the Lib Dems faring any better than Labour?

It’s early days, but there are no signs that the Coalition has made any progress. The government has been outmaneuvered by the NUS tuition fees campaign. The demise of Lord Young owed much to the speed that his comments spread across the world. Like Labour, the Coalition is struggling with its online message. We are yet to see a government prosper in the Internet age. One wonders how Major or Thatcher would have got on. TV killed a certain style of politics, has the Web done the same?

One final point. Perhaps one day soon, somewhere, a government will work out how to use the Web to its advantage. When that happens, the fun really starts.

Jonathan is a Labour activist who contributes a regular slot on Sunday evenings


The week all the leaders took a ratings hit

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

David Cameron

David Cameron “doing well/badly” (YouGov) All (last week) CON voters LAB voters LD voters
Well 47 (-4) 96 13 69
Badly 45 (+6) 3 84 22

Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband “doing well/badly” (YouGov) All (last week) CON voters LAB voters LD voters
Well 28 (-6) 17 56 21
Badly 37 (+5) 52 17 46

Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg “doing well/badly” (YouGov) All (last week) CON voters LAB voters LD voters
Well 32 (-6) 66 6 69
Badly 56 (-5) 23 90 19