There has been speculation that Balls, who has been a powerhouse at the top of Labour politics since he started working for Gordon Brown in 1994, could seek an early return to the Commons through a byelection, but Balls told the BBC he was not planning a return to parliament and that “outside of politics is where I am going next”.
He went on: “You never say never about anything, because who knows what’s going to happen, but the reality for me now is that I want to make a difference to the world outside of politics. That’s how I’m thinking about things. I’m not going to be dashing back.
“I’ve been thinking about and writing about economics for 20 years and there’s really big issues out there … is the financial system sound, the development challenge which is pushing migrants into Europe. These are things where, for the first time, there’s real time to stand back and think and write a bit. That’s what I’ll do.”
I wonder how much it will actually change?
Amazon has become the first technology company to abandon controversial corporate structures that divert sales and profits away from UK in the face of a clampdown imposed by George Osborne.
From the start of this month the online retailer has started booking its sales through the UK, meaning resulting profits will be taxed by HMRC. The group made $8.3bn (£5.3bn) of worldwide sales from British online shoppers but for 11 years all these internet transactions have been booked in Luxembourg.
A spokesman said Amazon was “now recording retail sales made to customers in the UK through the UK branch. Previously, these sales were recorded in Luxembourg”.
Being the cynic that I am I can’t see it increasing their tax bill very much. On the grounds that if it had they wouldn’t be doing it.
The company said: “We regularly review our business structure to ensure that we are able to best serve our customers and provide additional product and services. More than two years ago we began the process of establishing local country branches of Amazon EU Sarl, our primary retail operating company in Europe.”
Sales are still being recorded by Amazon EU Sarl, a Luxembourg-registered company, but – crucially for tax purposes – will be booked in a UK branch of that company, for which a tax return must be filed with HMRC.
Yesd, but there will still be an entirely righteous royalty payment to be made from the UK company to the main, or Luxembourg or wherever, for the platform, the brand and so on. Something which, as long as it goes intra-EU, is not taxable in the UK.
5, 7%, wouldn’t seem out of order there. And I doubt their net margins are that high. I can imagine (but obviously don’t know) that this will make sod all difference. Which will be interesting in a year or two when we see their accounts and tax bill. Because if it doesn’t make much difference then Margaret and Ritchie and all will be shown to have been blowing smoke all these years.
A tecnial question: does bnooking the sales through a branch really have the same effects as the sales being by a UK co? Or is there some wriggle room there on things like royalties etc?
Britain’s broadcast regulator should vet programmes for extremist content before they are shown on television, David Cameron has indicated.
The Prime Minister appeared to back Theresa May over her Cabinet colleague Sajid Javid after a private row over anti-terror proposals became public.
And don’t forget, at some point the other bastards will be in and we’ll have to put up with whatever their definition of “extremist” is.
You know, homophobic, cisgendered extremism and the like. Zionism would certainly be regarded sa extremism by some.
Bad, bad idea
Straight after defeat is not the best time to elect a new leader
Michael Howard did the Conservatives two great favours as leader: the manner of his arrival and the manner of his departure. After the hapless two years under Duncan Smith, he (and David Davis, by standing aside), created a much-needed sense of unity and with it, the first signs of the determination and hunger necessary to regain office. Perhaps even more importantly, after he led his party to a relatively honourable defeat in 2005, he didn’t resign straight away but allowed the Tories time to relax, think and reassess the previous four years before starting the election to succeed him. Had he not done so, it is far less likely that David Cameron would have become leader.
Not that having thinking space guarantees it will be used wisely – Labour waited until 1980 before picking Michael Foot, for example – but to pitch battle-tired MPs and activists alike into an internal contest within weeks or even days of a general election is asking a lot of their judgement.
It’s also asking a lot of the candidates and such a short timescale inevitably favours front-runners: politicians already at the top or with powerful connections. This matters particularly for Labour where there’s a very high threshold for nominations but applies to all parties simply because name recognition matters even for MPs (how many of those new to Labour’s benches hadn’t even met Burnham or Cooper before this week?). As such, there’s a stronger chance of a continuity candidate, particularly following a defeat. Hague and IDS’s pro-Thatcherite credentials were crucial in winning, as, in a not dissimilar way, was Ed Miliband’s union backing. It is a hard task for any candidate to immediately and credibly disassociate him- or herself from the policies they’ve just fought under. By contrast, some of the clearest turns to the centre, such as the elections of Major, Blair or Clegg, happened mid-term.
It’s even less necessary to pick quickly now with the FTPA in place. Labour could be forgiven for wanting a new leader installed by September 2010 when there was no guarantee the first peacetime coalition government since the 1930s would last the winter never mind five years. There is no such pressure this time. Cameron has a working majority will almost certainly see him through until the EU referendum: there’ll be no general election before October 2017 at the very earliest, and then only if there’s a massive Tory revolt.
So why do it? In some ways, that’s the wrong question. Clearly much depends on whether the sitting leader being willing to stay on or whether it’s possible for a deputy to lead an extended interregnum. Both scenarios depend on the mood of the party in question, both in the House and in the country.
The problem lies in the dual nature of the job, particularly for parties in opposition, which is where most changes occur. It’s all very well picking someone to lead through the next parliament and hold the government to account; that has to be done now. On the other hand, to select someone to fight the next election nearly five years before it happens might be considered a bit previous. If all goes according to the three parties’ respective plans, the Conservatives will select their next PM-candidate more than four years after Labour and the Lib Dems. That carries its own risks but will allow people to make their way through during the parliament. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next Tory leader isn’t currently in the cabinet.
The real question is more about goings than comings. If parties have to have leaders all the way through, which they do, then it’s essential that there’s an effective ejection method. That doesn’t have to be a formal mechanism – the Lib Dems replaced Kennedy and Campbell without any such need – but it’s certainly better if it is, not least because such a means stands as a credible threat to an underperforming leader, to be utilized if they refuse to jump. Getting it right, however, is a tricky balance; you want something usable that’s not destabilizing.
But that’s about more than just systems. The Conservatives didn’t materially change their leadership election process between 1975 and 1999 and yet the two halves of that period could not have been more dissimilar: until 1987, not only was Margaret Thatcher not challenged but there was practically no talk of it; by contrast, from thereon, whoever was Tory leader was almost always under threat. What changed was not the process but the mentality of the party (and, it has to be said, its electoral success – or not – at the polls). And getting the right cultural attitude towards leader replacement is as fine a balance as the powers in the rules: too passive and you drift to a foreseeable and perhaps preventable defeat; too aggressive and you become a discredited unruly mob.
Of course, it’s best not to need to change leader at all but if events do plunge a party into an early leadership contest before candidates or electorate are ready, the last thing you want is to be stuck with the wrong person for five years with no effective way out.
Over the page, the draft preface for my book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons
I got some great comments first time round, but I can see it would be easier if I presented my drafts in a more orderly fashion, though not necessarily sequential. So, I’ll begin at the beginning. Comments, both critical and favorable, much appreciated.
As the name implies, this book is a response to Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, a defence of free-market economics first published in 1946. But why respond to a 70-year old book when new books on economics are published every day? And why two lessons instead of one?
The first question was one that naturally occurred to me when Seth Ditchik, my publisher at Princeton University Press suggested this project. It turns out that Economics in One Lesson has been in print continuously since its first publication and has now sold more than a million copies.
Both where he was right, and where he was wrong, Hazlitt’s arguments remain relevant today, and have not been substantially improved on by today’s advocates of the free market. Indeed, precisely because he was writing at a time when support for free markets was at a particularly low ebb, Hazlitt gave a simpler and sharper presentation of the case then many of his successors.
Hazlitt, as he makes clear, was simply reworking the classic defence of free markets by the French writer Frédéric Bastiat, whose 1850 pamphlets ‘The Law’ and ‘What is Seen and What is Unseen’ form the basis of much of Economics in One Lesson. However, Hazlitt extends Bastiat by including a critique of the Keynesian economic model developed in response to the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Hazlitt presented the core of the free-market case in simple terms that have not been improved upon by any subsequent writer. And despite impressive advances in mathematical sophistication and the advent of powerful computer models, the basic questions in economics have not changed much since Hazlitt wrote, nor have the key debates been resolved. So, he may be read just if he was writing today.
Some of the key questions addressed by Hazlitt are:
- Will Keynesian fiscal policies secure full employment?
- Should the government invest more in infrastructure ?
- Do minimum wages benefit workers?
- Can price controls stop inflation ?
Hazlitt answers ’No’ to all these questions. His One Lesson is:
The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.
As Hazlitt develops the argument, his meaning becomes clear. The direct benefits of more jobs and public works, higher wages and lower prices are obvious. But these benefits do not come without costs, often borne by groups far removed from the beneficiaries. The true measure of cost is not a money value, but the alternative use to which resources could have been put. In Hazlitt’s words:
Everything … is produced at the expense of foregoing something else.
Economists call this foregone value ‘opportunity cost’. The decision to provide some particular good or service makes us better off if, and only if, its value to us is greater than the opportunity cost involved in its production.
But how does Hazlitt get from the idea of opportunity cost, accepted by nearly all economists, to the conclusion that government intervention in the economy is hardly ever justified? The answer is simple.
Hazlitt assumes that the opportunity cost of any good or service is its market price. So, he infers, any government interference with markets , such as the provision of ‘free’ services, must involve hidden costs that outweigh the immediate benefits.
So we can restate Hazlitt’s Lesson as:
Assuming that market prices are equal to opportunity costs, government interventions that change the market allocation must have opportunity costs that exceed their benefits.The simplicity of Hazlitt’s argument is his great strength. By tying many complex issues to a single principle, Hazlitt is able to ignore secondary details and go straight to the heart of the free market case against government action. His answer in every case flows from his ‘One Lesson’.
But Hazlitt’s strength is also his weakness. He never spells out the relationship between prices and opportunity costs. As a result, he implicitly assumes that there is a unique market allocation, in which prices equal opportunity costs, and that the two can only differ as a result of government interference. Although he does not say so explicitly, he implies that the existing distribution of income (or rather, the one that would emerge after the policies he dislikes are scrapped) is the only one that is consistent with his One Lesson.
While markets are exceptionally powerful social institutions, they cannot work unless governments establish the necessary framework in which they can operate. The core of the economic framework in a market economy, and a central role of government, is the allocation and legal enforcement of property rights.
The market outcome depends on the system of property rights from which it is derived. In fact (as we will see later) when markets work in the way Hazlitt assumes, any distribution of goods and resources where prices equal opportunity costs can be derived from some system of property rights. So Hazlitt’s Lesson tells us nothing useful about the distribution of income or about government policies that may change that distribution.
An equally important problem is that, despite the then-recent experience of the Great Depression, Hazlitt implicitly assumed that the economy is always at full employment, or would be if not for government and trade union interference. Experience shows that the economy frequently remains in a depression or recession state for years on end. In such a situation, markets don’t properly match supply and demand. This means that prices, and particularly wages, do not, in general, determine opportunity costs.
Finally, there is what economists call ‘market failure’. Even within a market system, and disregarding equity, a variety of possible problems that mean either that markets fail to emerge or that market prices do not reflect all the relevant opportunity costs for society as a whole.
To understand the central issues in economic policy debates, we need not one lesson, but two. The first lesson, implicit in Hazlitt’s One Lesson is:
Lesson 1: Market prices reflect and determine opportunity costs faced by consumers and producers.
The second lesson is the product of more than two centuries of study of the way markets work, and the reasons that they often fail to work as they should:
Lesson 2: Market prices don’t reflect all the opportunity costs we face as a society.
Two lessons are harder than one. And thinking in terms of two lessons comes at a cost: we can sustain neither the dogmatic certainty of Hazlitt’s free-market policies nor the reflexive assumption that any economic problem can be solved by government action. In many cases, the right answer will remain elusive, involving a complex mixture of market forces and government policy.
The problem of how markets work and why they fail is at the core of most of the economic policy issues that drive political and social debate. I hope this book, and the two lessons it contains will help to clarify these issues.
Yes, I know you can find recipes on the internet, but I find collations that I can read in bed so much more satisfying. Also, having to hunt down individual recipes one by one gets annoying; what I'm hoping for are reliable cookbooks where I know the majority of the recipes will be good.
- Preferably for not-too-hard/not-too-time-consuming recipes. I don't mind some prep work if there's also unattended cooking time. I am a middling cook and my schedule is starting to get busy again.
- We have basic cooking equipment (including the ridiculous potato masher my mom gave me in college, of all things, when the woman has never made mashed potatoes in her life--Joe had to tell me what it was--I thought it was maybe an advanced cattle brand) but not a food processor. I'm starting to question whether we should save for one if it would open up fooding options, but I honestly don't know if I'd use it enough to make it worth it. We do have a small rice cooker and a slow cooker.
- We're trying to save on groceries, so fancy ingredients are probably out. It's also a pain to get to the Korean grocery in town, and Asian/ethnic ingredients are hard to find sometimes because of (I'm guessing) location. I couldn't even find those instant miso soup packets, which I adore for quick snacking, at the local supermarket. :(
- We are not vegetarians, but we're open to vegetarian food. We have two Moosewood cookbooks that I haul out from time to time.
- That being said, finding good produce is hard--I feel actively uneasy about buying a lot of stuff from the local supermarket (flies buzzing all around the onions) and the selection at the farmers' market is limited. I keep seeing things for, like, fennel, and I swear to God I have never seen fennel for blood or money anywhere.
- Joe does not eat eggy foods (omelettes, frittatas, egg drop soup), although the lizard and I do. (He will eat eggs as components of a food so long as the resultant food is not noticeably eggy--e.g. egg as a binder in meatballs.)
- The lizard does not eat spicy food, but generally we deal with this by omitting the spice.
- Foods/cuisines liked: pasta/Italian, Indian (although the only thing I've tried to make is dal), Mexican, Vietnamese, generalized American, Korean (I MISS GIMBAP), Japanese (I would gladly live off Japanese convenience store food if I could afford to and I were, you know, there--onigiri!), various other Asian. I'm sure there are many others, but lack of experience etc.
GOD I HATE FOOD PLANNING FOR PICKY PEOPLE INCLUDING MYSELF
About four weeks from election day it became clear that The Fear was hurting us. We tried everything we could to counter it: fear of a Tory minority government in hock to its own right wing, Ukip and the DUP; fear of Tory cuts to welfare, schools and other unprotected departments; ruling out participation in any government that relied on SNP support; offering ourselves as the only guarantors of a stable coalition. All of it was trumped by The Fear, and on a scale we didn’t see coming.Yes, we tried every other form of fear we could think of. But we didn't try hope.
We made a coherent, liberal case to the voters...No we bloody didn't because you told us not to. We were the rizla trying to slip between the tories and labour, and those who wanted the "tory" value of strong economy voted tory, and those who wanted the "labour" value of fair society voted labour.
...offering both a strong economy and a fair society.SEFS is and always was a total bag of arse. It fails the standard test (who would campaign for a weaker economy and a less fair society?) and it's meaningless bollocks. Ask the average voter what they thought of it and they'll shrug and go "it's all right". It's not distinctively liberal. It's Rizla-slipping in slogan form.
My tentative conclusion is that it is probably not possible to succeed electorally in coalition government under first-past-the-post while remaining equidistant from the two big parties. If we can’t win the fight for proportional representation, it may be that we have either to stay in opposition or pick a side.We are NEVER going to succeed by aligning ourselves ANYWHERE on the left right axis because it's already crowded. We need to persuade people that the axis that matters is the Liberal authortarian axis because we bloody own it.
There are three options for the party now: remain in opposition unless we can change the electoral system, even if a coalition opportunity presents itself again, allowing us to be whichever version of our liberal selves we like; seek once more to reunite the left by merging or aligning with Labour, thereby creating a path to power for liberal ideas; or rebuild, take the next chance to be in government, and do it differently in the hope of a different outcome.Does it have to be us that changes the electoral system? I don't care who does it, as long as it gets done, and there's a LOT of pressure for it now. And once that happens, all bets are off.
Look, clearly Ryan wins the argument from authority here, because the party pays him an awful lot of money to do what he does, and the party doesn't pay me anything anymore because I got made redundant, there being no funding left for my job now we have been massacred. So you can dismiss this as bitterness if you like. But I think people will vote Liberal Democrat if we give people a reason to vote FOR US. And "we're a bit less profligate than Labour, and a bit less heartless than the tories" isn't a reason to vote for us, it's entirely negative. Until some overpaid soothsayer comes up with something the voters can latch onto that's distinctly us, we're screwed.
Of course, up until 2010 we had "you can trust them to do what they say", and look how well THAT'S going now...
Please feel free to provide Wild Rumpus and Shenanigans of a celebratory nature in comments. Pictures of sheep and pangolins particularly welcome.
Sorry for my absence for a few days. This has been an incredibly busy and stressful few weeks — since the election I’ve had a severe illness in my family, spent a couple of evenings with a friend over from California, and had various other bits that needed doing.
One of those things, that’s occupied a big chunk of my spare time recently, is putting together the final edits for my novel Faction Paradox: Head of State, which will be out in the summer. So I thought I’d talk a little about it, without spoiling too much, because I think the process of writing it is of some interest.
It started, as a matter of fact, as a space opera. I was trying to come up with a Faction Paradox novel idea, because my friends Simon Bucher-Jones and Lawrence Burton, both of whom have written their own very good novels in the series, said I’d be good at it, and my original thought was to use a space opera idea I’d posted here, about first contact with a planet that was exactly like Earth in every way.
The idea was a good one, and I may well come back to it, but I hit a few snags. There were things I wanted to include, things that I had a hazy idea of, that just didn’t fit — I wanted to include a book that held some great significance, I wanted to talk about power, and I wanted to include a plot point hinted at in The Book of the War which I still think is one of the best ideas in the Faction Paradox series. And none of this really seemed to fit the space opera storyline.
Then, I had two other ideas. I can tell you precisely where I was — I was walking through Piccadilly train station, and I could show you the precise spot where I was when these ideas came to me, they were that vivid. The first idea was to have the Thousand and Second Night, as told by the decapitated head of Scheharazade. The second was a scene which comes right at the end of the book, so I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s set in 21st century America. But the thing is, I *knew* those two scenes, totally disconnected as they are, were part of the same book.
I also realised that the Thousand And Second Night could be the important book that I wanted to write about, so now all I had to do was connect the two images.
The first, obvious, thing was that Sir Richard Francis Burton, the Victorian explorer, was a translator of the Arabian Nights, and also appears as a character in The Book Of the War, so I decided to use him as a character, and model the version of the Nights in my book on his translation. Making the book the motivating factor behind a character in the last scene could tie the threads together.
But that’s still only five ideas (1002nd night, Richard Burton, ending, book, motivation). At a rough approximation, you can get about 1000 words out of an idea. So I needed seventy-something more ideas to write a novel. I’ll talk about how I pulled those together next time…
Tagged: faction paradox, my books, writing process
Can you beat off the stiff competition? Have you got what it takes? Find out
As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said about pornography: "I know it when I see it." What he may not have envisioned was that 50 years later, people would make a living from doing just that.…
[more than usual in the last fortnight I have been sticking to light, predictable reads that I find comforting and escapist]
Much Ado About You by Eloisa James
A new series of farcical historical romances, this time featuring four sisters (rather than the previous series, which was four friends). I do like the friendships in these books probably at least as much as the romances. I also like that the library has them all; they're definitely single-serving books for me.
Archangel's Blood by Nalini Singh
Second in the "Guild-Hunter" series about a vampire hunter and angels. This was definitely a bit gorier and getting close to my personal tolerance for that; also to my tolerance for dominant asshole romance "heroes". I still like the concept and the characters a lot though, and the library has the rest of the series.
Justice Calling by Annie Bellet
This is a pretty short read (150 pages, but a couple of chapters of the next one are included, so it's rather less than that). It's a fun urban fantasy: there's shapeshifters and a witch with a secret, and a big tough law enforcer, and peril and plot, and a bit of romance worked in. It was more or less exactly what I wanted to read right now and I enjoyed it very much. There are four more books in the series, and a sixth coming out next month; I'm restraining myself from buying the lot right now, but I will be getting them as I clear more of my ebook backlog.
A Walk in the Park by Jill Mansell
This was a library book; I have about 2/3 of Jill Mansell's output on my shelves: contemporary romcoms with interesting people, complicated plots and happy endings, many of which are set in and around Bath, near where I grew up. I haven't read one I disliked, and I thoroughly enjoyed this one. [I am still migrating my to-read pile into my room, and there are two more by her in it, so I have physically pulled them out to read shortly.]
What I'm reading
I'm part way through rereading Ancillary Sword, and then "T Kingfisher" (Ursula Vernon) released another fairy tale retelling this week, so I am also part way through Bryony and Roses and enjoying it very much.
What I'm reading next
I was sufficiently impressed by G Willow Wilson's defence of A-Force to buy the first issue digitally. (Though ouch, individual comics on release week is an expensive way to do this hobby.) I also want to carry on with Daredevil vol 1.
That pair of Jill Mansell books I just found.
Younger by Suzanne Munshower is next up in my ebook list
I (who, of course, am not a goth in the slightest) am working my way through my Hugo packet*. I am now decided how I am going to vote in 13 of 17 categories. The Graphic novels this year have some really, REALLY awesome stuff in - two of the four I've read have made me want to engage with anything else in the series. I need to read the rest of the novels to see if anything can beat Ann Leckie. And I've committed a heresy against my Whovian religion by deciding that the Orphan Black episode nominated is better than the Doctor Who episode nominated (I really didn't like Listen).
Who all else here is Hugo Voting? What have you really loved (or really hated) so far in what you've read/seen?
a million thank yous to Mary Robinette Kowal, without whom I would not have a Hugos packet. I will totally buy at least one of your books and read it as soon as I have a job again.
Ryan Coetzee is, rather like his predecessor Richard Reeves, likely to go down in the history of the Liberal Democrats as a rather controversial figure. But whilst Richard’s controversy was mostly confined to being within the Whitehall bubble, for Ryan his close association with such a disastrous general election result means his likely to be the more talked about record.
He’s written a must-read piece for The Guardian giving his take on what went wrong. I doubt many others will agree with all of it, but it makes a coherent case that is well worth digesting as part of the party’s post-mortems:
People shy away from articulating the emotional consequences of a loss so comprehensive, preferring catch-alls such as “devastated” and the very British “gutted”. The full range goes something like this: disbelieving, horrified, guilty, embarrassed, angry, vulnerable, resentful.
Our campaign was fought on three fronts [against the SNP, Labour and the Conservatives], and we lost on all of them.
On the point about how faulty the party’s intelligence on its prospects in key seats turned out to be (on which I’ve written about here), Ryan reinforces the point that the party’s data and the final results were at variance:
We hoped – and what data we had suggested – we could add Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, Ross Skye and Lochaber, East Dunbartonshire and Edinburgh West to the “safe” seat of Orkney and Shetland. We couldn’t…
By the end of the campaign we thought we could hold onto Sheffield Hallam, Leeds North West, Bermondsey and Old Southwark, Birmingham Yardley and, at a push, Cardiff Central. Only the first two made it across the line.
Where there’s likely to be the most controversy over Ryan’s views is when he makes this point:
Should we have run the campaign differently, given what we knew? I don’t think so. We correctly identified the threats facing us on each front, and did our best to counter them. We made a coherent, liberal case to the voters, offering both a strong economy and a fair society. There are of course improvements that could have been made to the design and execution of the campaign, as there always are, but in retrospect it is difficult to imagine a different campaign producing a significantly better result. Doubtless some will disagree, but consider this: our excellent candidate in Montgomeryshire, Jane Dodds, ran a Roll Royce campaign. Lembit Opik, the man who lost us the seat in 2010, was by all accounts the opposite of an excellent candidate and put in very little effort. He polled 9% more than her.
Actually, the party could have done things differently. In the face of what he calls The Fear from the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats could have talked down rather than talked up fears of a hung Parliament. Rather than repeating the problems of 1992, the party could have tried to do the opposite.
Despite that disagreement with him over the campaign, I do agree with his point about how the party needs to learn to look after its core voters:
I have no doubt that going into coalition was the right thing to do for the country, but I can’t help feeling it is the root cause of our current woes … I do think we should have done more to look after the interests of our core supporters in the first half of the parliament.
His conclusion from all this?
My tentative conclusion is that it is probably not possible to succeed electorally in coalition government under first-past-the-post while remaining equidistant from the two big parties. If we can’t win the fight for proportional representation, it may be that we have either to stay in opposition or pick a side.
Firmly picking a side is what worked for the Liberal Democrats so well in the run up to the party’s 1997 breakthrough. But that requires both one of the main parties to be so unpopular and the other to have moved so much closer to the Lib Dem territory for it to be a palatable approach.
That isn’t just up to the Liberal Democrats and the party shouldn’t bank on it being an option available for 2020.
For more on what I think went wrong, see see the lessons in Liberal Democrat Newswire #65, my piece on what went wrong with the Lib Dem polling and the repetition of the mistakes of 1992. But not everything went wrong: 10 things the Lib Dems got right in the general election.
On May 5, 2015, SpaceX tested its launch abort system: A set of powerful rockets on the Dragon space capsule that can pull the Dragon away from the Falcon rocket underneath in case of catastrophe.
SpaceX just released video taken from a camera on the Dragon capsule, and it’s pretty dang dramatic. Come along for the ride:
Whoa. SpaceX said the capsule went from 0 to 160 kph in 1.2 seconds, which is an acceleration of four times Earth’s gravity. It reached a top speed of 550 kph, arcing nearly 1200 meters into the air.
You can see the trunk jettisoned at 0:30 (in a real flight, this sits under the Dragon and contains unpressurized cargo and the capsule’s solar panels). At the time I wondered where the trunk landed after the test; from this it looks like it came down in the water; it looks to me the capsule was already past the shoreline when the trunk jettisoned.
Seconds later the drogue chutes deploy to stabilize the capsule, then the three main parachutes release. Weirdly, the video stops just before the capsule splashes down. Perhaps we’ll see more of that later.
This test was critically important: NASA requires any human-rated vehicle pass stringent tests, including the ability to get astronauts away from the rocket stack in case of emergency. If SpaceX had failed this test, it would have been a major setback to getting Americans back into space on an American rocket. As it happens, things look to have gone pretty well.
There's also video of the test taken from cameras on the ground, and you can see just how fast the capsule blasted away from the pad.
The SuperDraco thrusters used for this test have double duty with Dragon; besides being there if needed in an emergency, they can be used on-orbit for maneuvering the capsule. SpaceX plans on being ready to put humans into space by 2017. They are also currently building the next generation Falcon Heavy rocket with plans for a test launch later this year.
Edited to add: Slate posted a review of a new biography of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. I also wrote about meeting Musk during a visit I made to the SpaceX rocket factory earlier this year.
John Neufeld very cynically wrote a young adult novel in which he did HIS level best to make the teenagers of America scared to death of a basically harmless and insecure Quaker in the White House.
The basically harmless and insecure Quaker being Richard Nixon.
Keiran Pedley assesses the importance of a recent poll of LabourList readers that shows Andy Burnham the clear front-runner for the Labour leadership but with Liz Kendall in a stronger position than you might think.
As the Labour Party leadership campaign gathers pace, we are gradually building a picture of what the contest will look like. Right now, it seems that there are three serious candidates that can win, with a maximum of four likely to take part. Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper seem certain to make the contest, Liz Kendall looks likely too but there are some question marks over whether or not Mary Creagh will make the ballot.
Given that the polling industry has collectively gone to sit in a corner and think about what it has done there is not much polling out there on the candidates so far (yet). However, LabourList has released the results from a survey of 2,274 of its readers today. The findings are interesting.
As LabourList sensibly acknowledge in their write-up, there are plenty of reasons to be cautious about this poll. It is an online, self-selecting sample of LabourList readers and therefore almost certainly not representative of those that will vote in the eventual leadership contest. We should always be very cautious with such polls. Who can forget, for example, the survey of Sun Readers that showed UKIP in second place nationally that was presented by some as a proper nationally representative voting intention poll? Put simply therefore, these are not poll results you can ‘take to the bank’ (of course the unkind among you may ask what are these days!).
In fact, I suspect that we are going to have to be cautious about any poll produced on the subject of the Labour leadership race. The ballot itself will be conducted among Labour Party members and affiliates. It is highly doubtful that nationally representative surveys conducted by pollsters are going to be able to adequately sample this audience. A simple Labour voter cross-break in a standard voting intention poll is not going to cut it. This does not mean that surveys produced tell us nothing but it does mean we should be careful in how much significance that we place on them. Perhaps then, polls such as this one produced by LabourList are as good as any we can use to understand what is happening.
With such caveats in mind, what does this survey tell us? Well, it confirms what we already knew, which is that Andy Burnham is most definitely the front runner. This will no doubt help the Burnham campaign reinforce such a perception among MPs as they consider who to support. Of course, the front-runner position is not always a comfortable place to be (just ask David Miliband) but Burnham supporters will be heartened at such a convincing lead in this survey nonetheless.
However, this survey should also give significant heart to the Kendall campaign too. To be second, at this early stage, ahead of Yvette Cooper, is a great place to be for a relative newcomer to frontline Labour politics. Other than just being second place with a long way to go there are other aspects of the survey results that should boost the Kendall campaign too. Importantly, this survey does not ask respondents to rank their preferred candidates in order, a likely crucial factor in the result of the leadership contest. We do not know where Yvette Cooper’s support in the above example would go. Also, a large number of respondents chose ‘other’ (22%) when asked which candidate they prefer. In some respects, this does not reflect well on any of the current crop of candidates. However, one of them has to win and this group selecting ‘other’ represent a large group of potential untapped support for each candidate to win over. Of course, there is no evidence that Liz Kendall should disproportionally benefit from 2nd preferences or ‘others’ being reallocated but the point is merely that there are votes out there to be won. Andy Burnham’s position is not unassailable.
Of course, Liz Kendall’s candidature has its own limitations too. For a start, she will have to make sure she gets on the ballot in the first place and Labour members are entitled to wonder whether backing a candidate that cannot command large amounts of support in the PLP is wise. Furthermore, she will need to be careful that she does not run too far to the right of the party. A common refrain from some of the Labour Left on twitter is ‘what difference is there between her and the Tories?’ There is a delicate balancing act to be struck here between (rightly) taking Labour out of its comfort zone but also in ensuring that the party is willing to come with you. With this in mind, I expect her to start attacking the Conservatives with gusto in the coming weeks.
So overall, at this early stage, the contest is up for grabs. Given sample considerations and the fact that this poll recorded so many preferences for ‘other’ whilst not asking respondents to rank their choices, there are enough unknowns to suggest that each of the leading candidates has a chance. Burnham is of course favourite. He is clearly ahead among MPs and party members and if he takes enough second preferences and ‘others’ he will be the next Labour Leader. Also, it is likely that the above poll skews London so his current position could be stronger than even this 11 point lead suggests. Nevertheless, he is not inevitable. If Liz Kendall can make the ballot, this poll gives enough encouragement to her supporters that she can compete and win. The idea of a ‘fresh start’ is likely to be a potent message to Labour members. Finally, let’s not forget, it could also be that Yvette Cooper, relatively quiet until now, emerges as something of a ‘consensus candidate’ between the Labour ‘Left’ and ‘Right’. The fascinating aspect of this race we cannot call yet is who makes the final two and where do second preferences go. The final outcome is not yet clear, there is a long way to go yet.
Keiran Pedley is an Associate Director at GfK NOP and presenter of the podcast ‘Polling Matters’. He tweets about politics and polling at @keiranpedley.
A few things I wish to put onto your radar, or put back on, as the case may be:
1. A reminder that next week at this time I will be the author guest of honor at ConCarolinas, in beautiful Charlotte, North Carolina, along with other very cool people. Come down and say hello to us all! We promise not to bite. You have to pay extra for that. But even without the biting, it will be a ton of fun. Hope to see you there.
If you’re already playing the game, you knew about this update; if you’re not playing it yet (on iOS; the Android version is still in the works), then this is a very fine time to pick it up. Have fun!
3. Monday will be an interesting day. You’ll know why when it happens. That’s all I’m saying right now.