Friday, May 30, 2008

Another 5 months like the last and we'll see 48:19:19.

Latest YouGov Poll gives the Conservatives a 24 point lead over Labour. The Weighted Moving Average gives 44:26:18 a lead of "only" 18 points. But YouGov tends to be ahead of the curve. At the start of the year the WMA was 40:33:17 so Labour have lost support faster than the Tories have gained. Another 5 months like the last and we'll see 48:19:19.

40% of Labour Voters thought that replacing Gordon would improve Labour's chances, 14% thought it would worsen them and 37% that it wouldn't make much difference. The real issue is not "will Labour win the next election without Gordon?" but "would Labour be beaten into 3rd place at the next election with Gordon?".

Only 15% of voters are satisfied with Brown as PM, 75% are dis-satisfied. This is after 10 months. It took John Major years to reach this level. In almost every way Brown is a far worse PM than Major - who never (AFAIK) told blatant lies and was always nice to people. Furthermore he left the public finances in good shape unlike Brown who has debauched them with off-balance-sheet PFI and Pensions liabilities that will take a decade to clear up.

Of course the Labour Party's finances are in a far worse mess - it is insolvent and, in theory, only weeks away from bankruptcy, being kept afloat entirely by the Trades Unions. The GMB has apparently indemnified their 2 NEC members against their liabilities - this means that creditors of the Labour Party could get their money from the GMB if they push hard enough. It would also solve the problem of how to get Brown to step down if he doesn't want to. Should some of the Labour Lenders do their Patriotic Duty, I wonder?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Churchill on no good leaders - and McNulty

Winston Churchill: "The loyalties which center upon number one are enormous. If he trips, he must be sustained. If he make mistakes, they must be covered. If he sleeps, he must not be wantonly disturbed. If he is no good, he must be pole-axed."

Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun agrees that Brown is finshed - the only question is how and when, which is the general consensus. Presumably the Cabinet can be pretty assertive - Brown can hardly sack anybody now - but the question is how, if at all, can we avoid 2 years of dreadful fag-end government. John Major was elected on 9 April 92 and called the 97 election on 17-Mar-97, which was held on 1-May. So we could be saddled with a fag-end Labour government until June 2010.

Tony McNulty - a NuLab Home Office Minister, calls for 'the "vultures" around Gordon Brown to stop raising questions about his future.' and claims that 'Nine, six months ago Gordon Brown could do no wrong - he was 20 points ahead'. Well the highest Lab leads shown at that time were 11 points (by YouGov on 25th and 28th  Sept) but you can hardly expect a NuLab minister to tell the truth about figures - what's a 90% exaggeration when you have Gordon to defend. He's a former lecturer at North London University who is responsible for Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing - so after all why should he care about facts or accuracy.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Paris - Gluck and Marie Aintoinette

A few blissful days in Paris. Stayed at the Royal Monceau which is about to be completely gutted and restored as a 6*. Arrived Sat evening and had dinner with some old friends - he is a self-styled "pagan" but considers Christianity the most logical religion. They had our wonderful late Fr David (whom the bride had met once) to preach at their Woodland Wedding and still think - as we do - that it made the day.

Sun we walked to church at the Madelene only to find that the 11:25 service was not on, so walked on to the Opera and bought 2 tickets (from a tout - I should have haggled) to Iphrigine en Tauride. This was conducted by Ivor Bolton (whom I'm sure we met years ago) and although it was a slightly strange production (with a comedienne playing a second Iphriginea as an old woman) it was a musical triumph. The cast was strong but Yann Beuron (the tenor) was truly outstanding: we met him afterwards and he's due to come back to Covent Garden in L'Heure Espangnol in Sept 2009 - we'll be there DV.

The evening mass in the Madeleine was not v well attended, but the priest began by saying that, although the congregation looked small compared to the enormous church, if we realise that God is inside each one of us, the church is far too small. He gave a good sermon about the "scandal" that we can eat the body of Christ and drink his blood, but communion was in one kind only which rather spoiled the effect. We walked back to a restaurant near our hotel, and then because it was raining took a taxi - the only time we hadn't walked all day.

Monday we walked everywhere - shopping (so glad I'm not a woman) and to the Marie Anoinette exhibition at the Grand Palais - an amazing building which I'd never seen. Really quite moving, but illustrates well the point that Tom Wright says Paul is making about allowing women to learn - if she had received a proper education, like Elizabeth I, much disaster might have been avoided. She was of course Gluck's patron, and we saw a score of Iphriginee with the dedication to the Queen. Her harp was also on display, and I naughtily touched a string. She was born 200 years before I was. Family tradition is that my great-great-grandfather the appalling General Sir John Slade danced with her when he was a young attache.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

When will Brown go?

I think Matthew Parris is right: from a political PoV Conservatives should want Brown to soldier on to the bitter end. But the misgovernment of the UK for the next 23 months that would ensue is depressing. Nothing is certain in politics but the idea that "the choice is between a defeat or a rout" for Labour looks spot-on.
  • The Mail quotes a minister as saying ‘I would be amazed if Gordon Brown leads the party into the next election. If he really cares for the Labour Party then he will do the decent thing. He’s not stupid. He can see the writing on the wall.’
  • The Guardian quotes a senior figure in the Labour Party: "Gordon does need to conduct a reshuffle. It would be quite a simple one because it would involve his removal from No 10."
  • Nick Robinson quotes two Cabinet Ministers:
    • One said: [Brown]'s got to stop talking about the need for "a five-year tractor plan".
    • Compared Brown with Michael Foot and expressed regret that the party had never had the courage to remove Foot.
According to the punters think there is a 70% chance that the Conservatives will win the next election (and 30% chance of Labour!) with a 55% chance of an overall majority. And they see a 43% chance of Brown going by Sept and a further 24% chance of him departing by June 09.

Went to the Peter Hall production of Pygmalion at the Old Vic with an old friend from the US - excellent. Though my favourite line: " he can learn a language in a fortnight, sure sign of a fool" wasn't there - it must be only in My Fair Lady.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Timpson & Parker

Well in the end the Conservatives got 49% of the vote in Crewe & Nantwich, with Labour 30% and LibDems 14%. In the local elections the figures were 45:29:19 although at the last General Election it was pretty well the other way around.

Probably even more significant is the appointment of Tim Parker as First Deputy Mayor to Boris Johnson - with a salary of £1 pa. If he can demonstrate the same success in cutting costs and achieving results that he did in business then the Conservatives really are motoring.

PS the lead story in the FT is: Personal donations to Labour plummet. You read it here first ;-)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Labour, Crew and the money vote

I wonder if Labour will be pushed into 3rd place in Crewe? The Guardian live blog says: "It's a Tory area and she's a Conservative. She hasn't seen any Labour or Lib Dem tellers. It would be nice to report how people are voting. But I'm told that, under section 66a of the Representation of the People Act 2000, it's an offence... It's a law to stop exit polls being published or broadcast while voting is still taking place, skewing the result. I'm not sure any exit polls could make much difference here, but there you go." Another article there calls for Brown to go.

Q1 08 donations to Labour were £3M vs £4.2M for the Conservatives. But of the £3M, £2.6M (88%) was from Trades Unions. Private donations have collapsed.

The next parliament will reduce the Abortion Limit DV

Tues was a black day for democracy with the abortion votes being lost. C and Elder D were at the pro-life lobby, shouted at and greatly outnumbered by the pro-abortion brigade. One deluded young woman aggressively told them that she thought a woman had the right to kill her unborn baby right up to the moment of birth. But although the vote was lost the arguments were won - Edward Leigh's comment that "in modern Britain, the most dangerous place to be is in your mother's womb. It should be a place of sanctity" is a classic. The roll of honour/shame of those who voted to keep the barbaric 24 week limit (twice what it is in most of the rest of the EU) is here.

A quick sample of the first 40 of each on the list shows that the pro-24 weeks are roughly 80% Labour, 13% C, 10% LD, and the anti-24 are 25% Labour, 53% C 18% LD (including, to his credit, Nick Clegg). This suggests that Labour MPs are roughly 75:25 pro-24 weeks and Conservatives 80:20 against (LD 60:40 against but it's a small sample). Assuming that roughly half the Labour MPs loose their seats at the next election and are replaced by Conservatives, this suggests that there'd be a 60:40 vote in favour of reducing the limit to 22 weeks in the next parliament. A similar analysis on the 20 weeks shows the same C:lab splits with the LibDems 50:50, and that the new house would narrowly (50.1%) vote for 20 weeks. Of course the science will have moved on by then: even more images of babies in the womb and better survival rates - that study of prems was deeply flawed because they are a very biased sample of babies at 24 week gestation, and the survival rates in regional hospitals are poor compared to best practice.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Labour backfiring, QoT progressing - a debate with Dawkins?

The appalling Labour campaign in Crewe is deservedly backfiring. The latest Crewe poll gives the conservatives a 13 point lead in a "safe" Labour seat. And the recriminations and backtracking from "Number 10" (ie probably Ed Balls) have already stated. Brown should have realised this disaster, and shouldn't have ordered all his crew to go up and campaign, thereby associating themselves with the nasty party tactics. Whilst staying clear himself.

Lots of work to do here - but I also managed to automate my Neuron experiments on Sunday so we are now getting a large stream of consistent data. Have arranged a working day with Hava in Harvard next month immediately before my next Nowak visit and I hope we'll be able to largely finish the paper. Nothing from my putative Computational Chemistry collaborator though. :-(

Good discussions with the publisher about the book. The idea is a US launch at the AAAS conference, and I wonder about a UK launch at the RS in March with a debate between John Polkinghorne and Richard Dawkins. If Dawkins would turn up?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Nowak and Siegelmann

Back from another really productive session at Harvard. It's great fun working with Martin and we made a lot of progress. Also a fascinating client meeting, and Martin is happy with the Appendix on Evolution and would like to read and endorse the whole of Questions of Truth. Friday was great - a run along the banks of the Charles, breakfast with my two Oxford colleagues, then a working session at PED - at lunchtime we had good news on a major client, and then a great session with John Campbell.

After that I had an excellent meeting with the brilliant Hava Siegelmann who is currently working at PED to discuss my results on the brain. She is very excited about them and has agreed to co-author the paper. I have given her my models and the draft and we have replicated some of my results. She too thinks these results are really important and beautiful and I'm sure with her active involvement we'll be able to make an outstanding paper.

Flew back overnight and swam - must sleep now we have various friends coming to dinner including Emma Darwin.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Labour really seem to be falling apart

Ed ("so what") Balls has decided to savage Frank Field for "not being honorable" and to take a swipe and Alastair Darling and Andy Burnham, during a Lobby Briefing that was supposed to be about Education. Astonishing.

Frank Field's intentions have always been honorable: it is to get a fair deal for people on low incomes who have been clobbered time and time again and for whom the abolition of the 10p rate by Brown and Balls was the last straw. Balls, by contrast, is known for saying and doing anything that will get him and Gordon & Yvette to the top, and for anonymous briefings against "colleagues". So an on-the-record attack is an improvement - though whether publicly criticising Darling and Burnham (who was Chief Sec at the time of the Pre-Budget Report) is necessarily wise is debatable to say the least.

But on the bright side: if Ed is His Master's Voice and they are planning not to satisfy Frank Field, then Labour MPs have a perfect opportunity to end their nightmare because Brown will have to resign if he is defeated on the budget. Frank Field would be a far better PM.

The FT today explains that the Govt is squeezing expenditure to save Brown's face on his 40% debt limit. "While economists are unanimous that this government’s fiscal rule has zero economic significance, Gordon Brown has staked his reputation on debt remaining below this level so the political cost of a breach cannot be overstated."

And the UK Shareholders Association has apparently offered to buy the Labour Party for £100, since it is bankrupt. Though I can find no mention of this on the UKSA website and it could be a hoax. And there may be more to the Brown/Levy row than people think. The Labour Party is currently trying to reschedule loans with 9 millionaires that are keeping it afloat. Aren't they mostly friends of Lord Levy? What if they made their rescheduling conditional on their being a proper leadership election? After all, unless Labour donations increase substantially there is no prospect of their loans being repaid.

Anthont Hilton in today's Evening Standard has a good go at The Myth of Gordon's Economic Competence. As Heseltine said long ago - that's not Brown's, it's Balls.

A great, birthday, weekend

A truly delightful weekend. Daughter-in-Law came on Fri with 2-yr-old Granddaughter for us to look after as she went to work. GD is small, sweet, very red-headed and very determined. DiL was back for supper and stayed the night but had to leave very early because she and Son were singing at the funeral of Mary Berry. On Sat night all Son's family came down, and Elder Daughter was coming for supper so a lovely occasion with all the family. I was preparing a Dragon Story for Elder Grandson's birthday the following day, so I told it to them in their bunk that evening.

Sunday was ED's birthday - he was up at 5am ("It's very difficult staying in bed in the morning when it's your birthday.") so we opened presents and then got to the 9am Mass. This gave time for cricket in the garden, a very nice lunch and then DiL and I walked Son, EG and EG's best London friend (Alex) to Chelsea where C had been able to secure 3 tickets for the Last Game of the Season. This could have been the FA Cup decider (but wasn't because ManU won and Chelsea drew). When they were back, chess, supper, clearing up and then a gentle run: I've been off running for a while so a slow 6 rather than a medium 10 which would be normal.

Further good progress on the neuroscience research, though it's a bit frustrating because I'm waiting for crucial input from collaborators. In addition I think I have a title for the paper.

Labour implosion continues: there is speculation that the reason Cherie Blair's book was rushed out earlier than Oct is that by Oct Brown will be gone. Frank Field is now saying openly that Brown will be gone by the next election. And even Labour Voters (well people who voted Labour in 2005) in Crewe & Nantwich think Cameron would be a better PM than Brown.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Fun on the water, and more gloom for Labour

Amazing day yesterday: the weather was so lovely I went for a sail in a (very) long lunch break. Sunny and force 3-4. I took out a Dart 16 X - my first sail of the season, and although it would have been much easier and better with Daughter as crew she was at school and I managed OK. I can't yet helm from the trapeze but I did use the trapeze to hike. At the end there were some gusts up to 29 mph so I got the capsize drill I thought I should have. Twice :-(. On the way passed Horton Churchyard where my grandparents are buried, and where we used to worship when we lived in Wraysbury.

The lead story in yesterday's FT was about the parlous financial state of the Labour Party - very much per my blog on Monday. How flattering :-). The news element was that they are negotiating with the 9 millionaires whose loans are supposed to be repaid this year to extend them for several more years. Hard to see how they'll be able to repay them then since their membership and morale is falling like a stone and they have no assets.

It's now obvious to everyone that Brown simply isn't up to the job of being PM. See eg Phillip Stevens in today's FT and Simon Carr in today's Independent, not to mention the cover story on The Economist. Labour morale has collapsed and the Party is also effectively bankrupt. World prices are hurting us more because of Brown's serious mismanagement of the economy - piling up Stealth Taxes and Stealth Liabilities (PFI and Pensions)so that the £ is very weak despite the highest interest rates in the EU. I'm NOT saying these things as partisan points - though I am a Conservative I'm beginning to be worried about the future of democracy in this country. Perhaps it would be OK if Labour became the 3rd party. In the last 2 months the movements in Weighted Moving Average of the polls have been +4:-6:+1 so 2 more months of this and we'll have a WMA of 47:21:20

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Two Nobel Laureates and the PRS!

A second Nobel Laureate has very kindly agreed to read, and hopefully endorse, the book. And Martin Rees has kindly agreed to review Appendix A on Anthropic Fine Tuning. So I have sent 2 copies off electronically to the two Nobleists and a copy of Appendix A to Martin. What a day!

Intense work on the collaboration with Nowak as well.

Polly Toynbee has realised that Labour has nothing to say and no territory of its own (to quote the headline). "Conservatives are no longer the stupid party. Watch them win the Crewe and Nantwich byelection, easy. It is Labour that has become the stupid party - dumb, directionless, depressing."

First Life Group since the Easter Break - wonderful to catch up with the people - great to be able to pray together.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Labour pains

It's blindingly obvious to everyone that Brown has to go. From a Conservative PoV of course it would be better if he stays until the next election, but this could be almost 2 years away and much damage to the country could be done in the meantime.

The only people in Labour who really want him to stay are his little circle of cronies (eg Douglas Alexander) who owe their positions entirely to him and would be out in seconds. The real attitude of the Cabinet is given in The Guardian: One cabinet member said: "We have been given an almighty yellow card with bright red lights flashing at the edges. It is entirely up to Gordon to decide whether it will turn fully red. He has until the end of the year to do it and he must show within the next three months that he is heading in the right direction....The problem with these young cabinet ministers is that they don't have teenage children who can tell them they're sounding or looking prats. They're at the stage with their children of just telling them to go to bed when they're awkward. You can't do that with the electorate". Thank you Jack. The mood on LabourHome is (understandably) one of despair.

I do worry about the financial state of the Labour Party. They haven't filed their 2007 accounts yet, but their 2006 accounts show:
  • Donations down 61% from £14M to £5M
  • Total income down 25% from £35M to £26M
  • Interest charges up 61% from £1.3M to £2.1M
  • Staff down 38% from 302 to 188
  • Net Liabilities excluding Pension fund up from £21M to £25M. In the accounts they have "reduced" their pension fund deficit from £6.3M to £400k but this depends on wholly unrealistic assumptions like a 5.1% discount rate for scheme liabilities (up from 4.7%) and a 7.5% long run equity return. (By contrast the Conservatives reduced their net liabilities from £18M to £9M, with donation income rising 42% from £14M to £20M.)
Now the Donations in the Electoral Commission returns don't match the Accounts very well, and the position seems to be better for Labour: Donations in 2006 were £12.4M and in 07 this was £20.8M with £5.9M coming in in Q4. But most of this was from Trades Unions and Lord Sainsbury (£2M) and they had to repay lots of loans. The Conservatives had £26M in donations up from £24M. Q1 08 figures are not yet released but I seriously wonder who will be donating to Brown now. And without a General Secretary how will Labour make the necessary cuts in their costs?

The chance of Labour becoming the 3rd party after the General Election are not high. But they may now be 15%.

PS: People compare Brown to Major but I don't think this is fair. Major never told blatant lies (AFAIK) and he also had a dry wit. The FT today quotes Major as having said: “I am walking over hot coals ­suspended over a deep pit at the bottom of which are a large number of vipers ­baring their fangs.”

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Minotaur

Back last night from The Minotaur at Covent Garden - the last performance of this first production. I've been a fan of Birtwhistle for many years - ever since I saw the first production of The Mask of Orpheus at the ENO and had to go back and see it again a few years later.

The great John Tomlinson was utterly superb in the title role, and we also had John Leggate as the Priest with his son directing. It was being filmed so my seat at the centre of the Grand Tier was pretty well next to the cameraman (not a fan, he'd seen it 3 times and "you can't exactly hum any of the tunes"). But the whole thing is a triumph, it is a tremendous exploration of a re-working of the myth. The fundamental idea is that the Minotaur can speak in his dreams but only roar while awake, and that his "beastly" behaviour is driven, in large part, by his aggressive rejection by the rest of society, who stand round and goad him to his murderous rampages as in a bull-ring. He only becomes able to speak awake when he is killed by Theseus. A very strong cast included a Garden Debut for Rebecca Bottone (Bonaventura's daughter) as the First Innocent. Massive ovation for the cast, conductor, composer, librettist and director - shown in my (v badly focused cameraphone) picture above.

Some echos of the present political situation, with Ken as the Minotaur, or indeed Gordon Brown. Which of course is very much the idea of the librettist - that we should not demonise our enemies.

Apart from anything else, the Boris Johnson victory in London is very good for democracy. It will be good to see on a large scale what a Conservative administration means in practice, albeit that Boris doesn't have remotely the PM's powers and is very much his own man. "I think this problem of kids growing up without boundaries and getting lost in tragic and self-destructive choices is the number one issue we face in this city," he said, which bodes very well. His wry comments about "shredding machines quietly puffing and panting away in various parts of the building, and quite right too," and "If there are any dogs in the manger, I will have those dogs humanely euthanased." are interesting and apposite. The profile by his sister is also interesting, and the message he sent her: “A lot of people knew they were taking a slight risk when they voted for me, but what I want them to know is that when Peter Oborne called me ‘chillingly efficient’, he was scratching the surface. If elected, I will exhibit a Prussian attention to detail.” I hope he doesn't overwork though - leaders need to see the big picture. We shall see.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Boris & Ken

Toasted Boris's victory at post-works drinks and then at dinner with friends. This morning saw Boris's victory speech and Ken's concession: both very impressive. A tremendous feeling of "grown up politics" here with Ken pledging to do all he could to help the new administration. In the City the past Master of a Livery company often becomes the Deputy Master - sadly it is not possible for Ken to become Deputy Mayor because this has to be a member of the London Assembly, but it'd be great to create a title and a job for him, and establish a tradition that the departing Mayor does stay around to help his or her successor. Vice-Mayor perhaps :-).

Friday, May 02, 2008

Has Boris Made It - and a pretty result

With 100/159 councils declared Labour have lost 163 seats and the Conservatives have gained 146. This suggests overall Labour losses of 259 and C gains of 232. It may not be quite as bad as this for Labour, but anything over 200 losses is PANIC territory from their terrible performance last time. This is worse that Michael Foot. It looks as though Boris has made it in London, although the final results won't be known until tonight.

Another really pretty result for the Paper last night - the effect in question really kicks in for highly-connected Neurons such as in the neocortex, whilst not being present (to the same extent) in less-connected neurons.

PS (13:37) 129 Councils have declared and Labour have lost 237 seats. Pro rata they are on course for a loss of 292. A loss of 300 was considered "unthinkable" and it may not be far off.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Book finalised, Mayoral Elections

Back from Cambridge where we had a book finishing day with John and Wang-Yen. Also met Michael Welker who is over in Cambridge. All went very well and we were finished by 15:30 - which annoyingly meant I had to go back to work and couldn't see the grandchildren. "Final" text should be at the publishers tomorrow although there will be some adjustments to the Appendices. Had to remove some of my choice phrases: we don't want to be over-polemical. But I think it reads well and the beginning and end (always tricky) seem in very good shape. Can then focus book-related efforts on Beale & al although this is coming along nicely - I have a simple simulator working well that confirms one of my hypotheses about how this all works. I'm largely waiting for my collaborators now.

Mayoral elections today - where we live, which used to be pretty safe Labour territory, Labour seem to have given up: they didn't even have a teller at our polling station. The Weighted Moving Average of the polls says 43:39:12 - we’ll see what happens tomorrow and this will be a good test of YouGov and the WMA approach. There are stories that Ken has privately conceded that he will have lost by 5% or so. Mary-Ann Seighart has a good go at Gordon Brown in The Times today - comparing him rather unfairly to John Major. Major was, and is, an honorable man and wouldn't have told blatant lies on the Today Program ("A million children out of poverty" when the true figure is 600,000 and claiming the tax burden is 37% when the OECD says it's 42% for example).