Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Brown gives his answer

Montreal: I see from the BBC website that Gordon Brown has admitted that a mistake was made over the 10p tax rate, but feels that it was a question of the details rather than the big picture. So he admits that he got it a bit wrong which is probably the most sensible tactic in the circumstances. Whether it is so wise to claim that he is in effect learning on the job is another matter.

Asked whether he had a "presentational problem" and was less able to give a "human answer" to a question than predecessor Tony Blair, he said: "My job is to work every day on behalf of the people of this country. I think people are less interested in the theatre of it and less interested in the personalities."

This is an effective response to the likes of Blairites like Lord Levy who put presentation before substance. Unfortunately for Brown in modern politics presentation is often almost everything.

On Tuesday, Bank of England governor Mervyn King called for an end to excessive City pay packages and blamed the City and its bonus culture for the credit crunch. If some of the blame for current problems is attached to the City, this may distract some of the criticism from the government. It could resonate with some voters given the word greed that comes up again and again in political discussions. But, then, either one has a market economy or one does not.

I see that house prices have fallen over the last year. In some parts of Middle England this will be greeted as the end of civilisation as we know it. At the very least it is a long overdue correction. But it is doubtful if it will bring to an end the British obsession with bricks and mortar as an investment. But there are risks with a house of cards economy built on consumer debt.

Monday, 28 April 2008

The battle of the polls

In the London mayoral election internet poll YouGov is forecasting a big victory for Bozza while telephone based Mori puts Ken ahead. This may suggest that in fact Boris has a small lead, but one of the polling methods and companies is going to end up with egg on its face.

The YouGov panel does tend to attract people who have a higher than average interest in politics. Some of the differences between the two polls are being discussed on the political betting site - I cant give the reference with this Quebecker computer, but we have referred to it before.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

The personalisation of politics

Montreal, Quebec: I have just been talking to an Italian colleague about the personalisation of politics in the context of the victory of Berlusconi in Italy. There are parallels with the Ken and Boris show in London.

It is almost as if disciplined political parties were a parenthesis in history which lasted for just a hundred years. Of course the British case is more complex than that. But the kind of celebrity politics we are seeing in London - the Greenwich Mercury carried adverts with one simple message: Vote Ken - may be a precursor of a trend. And the result would be even more disappointment for voters and greater political instability.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Political joke

No, I am not referring to the Mayor of London contest (on which Bagehot in The Economist had a good piece last week). Apparently the English Democrat candidate has withdrawn, as this excellent blog informs us:
Open Democracy

Roy Jenkins was offered the freedom of the borough where his father was a MP. After the ceremony he retired with the mayor and corporation to the local pub where a meal was offered. The first course was 'Pride of the Valleys' paté which Woy did not like the look of.

'Could I have something light, say some asparagus tips?' he asked. The waitress went away. Looking somewhat flustered, she came back later. 'Chef says he can't get any asparagus tips, but here are some Benson and Hedges.'

I'm off to Quebec for a week so I shall miss the mayoral election result and there won't be any updates for a while. I simply no idea whether it will Boris or Ken.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Step forward, Frank Field

The hero of the hour for forcing the Government to beat a retreat over the 10p tax rate is maverick MP for Birkenhead Frank Field who led the revolt. I met him once and he seemed to me to be a very sincere politician with a genuine interest in the less well off (at one time he headed up the Child Poverty Action Group). Part of his beliefs stem from his devout Anglicanism.

Field was brought into the New Labour government by 1997 with a brief by Tony Blair to 'think the unthinkable'. Unfortunately he did and got sacked 15 months later. He ran into a battle with the Treasury over his advocacy of compulsory private pensions. He also managed to upset his boss, Harriet Harman, which some people might think is a tick in his favour.

An admirer of Margaret Thatcher, Mr Field is something of an isolated figure on the Labour backbenches, attracting desriptions like 'idiosyncratic' or 'independent minded'. This victory will hardly make him more popular with the Government, not that he cares. It also shows that an independent minded backbencher can make a difference. Tam Dayell comes to mind, the originator of the 'West Lothian' question and scourge of Mrs Thatcher over the Belgrano, but he had more of a following in the Labour Party and was elected to the NEC.

Government backs down on 10p rate

The Government has effectively backed down in the face of a revolt by backbench Labour MPs over the 10p tax rate. The rate will not be restored, but there will be a set of compensatory payments:


How all this is going to work is not quite clear. Apparently, retired people between 60 and 64 will be assisted by changes in the winter fuel payment, although quite how that will operate is unclear. Will I, as a higher rate taxpayer over 60, get an even bigger payment? It seems a blunt instrument to me.

Similarly, manipulating the minimum wage is also a blunt instrument and could have unintended consequences, e.g., setting the rate too high could have an adverse effect on jobs.

It would also appear that the working families tax credit would be extended to childless couples and presumably to single people (the distinction between these two categories is unclear given the large numbers of people who cohabit). Presumably this would not be at the same rate as for families.

The $64,000 dollar question is where is the money going to come from these compensatory payments before the end of the financial year? Through public expenditure cuts or tax increases elsewhere? We got into this mess in the first place by treating cuts in the standard rate as a political virility symbol.

Monday, 21 April 2008

The crazy housing market

Demands are being made for the Government and the Bank of England to do even more to bail out the stuttering housing market. But, as Martin Wolf has pointed out in the Financial Times 'anybody who thinks it is a duty of the state to keep housing expensive is crazy.'

He continues, 'It is high time the British realised that people cannot become rich by selling ever more expensive houses to one another. According to the IMF's latest World Economic Outlook, UK house prices are more overvalued, relative to economic fundamentals, than those of any other high income country.'

Given that many people find it difficult save, a house is seen as an investment as much as a place to live with the notion that one can 'downsize' or move to a less expensive area when one retires. Given that UK house prices have risen 150 per cent in real terms since 1996, one can see why they think 'bricks and mortar' is a good investment.

But such rises are not sustainable because eventually they mean that first time buyers cannot enter the market and without them the whole pack of cards starts to collapse. Indeed it would take a 25 per cent fall in real house prices to put them on the 1971-2007 trend line.

Given that even a slight fall in prices sends the Daily Mail into paroxysms, such a fall would be regarded as a political catastrophe. But is it really sensible to run an economy based on debt secured by housing? However, a belief in housing as an investment is so structurally and culturally embedded, it would be difficult to shift in the short run.

Bozza ahead in latest YouGov poll

Boris Johnson is 7 per cent ahead in the latest YouGov poll for the Sub-Standard. It's interesting to speculate about why internet polls are showing a bigger lead for Boris, but I don't have a clear answer. There is also some information here about the relatively new polling company used by the Sunday Times:


Salmond targets 20 seats

SNP leader Alex Salmond has set the party a goal of increasing its representation from six to at least 20 seats at the next general election. He told his party's spring conference in the Scottish capital that such a shift could 'make Westminster dance to a Scottish jig.'

One must be careful of reading off results from the Scottish Parliament election to the next general election. However, if the SNP did increase their representation at the next general election they could be key power brokers in a hung Parliament. Unlike the 'Cleggovers' they would be less likely to support the Conservatives given that they are essentially a social democratic party.

Mr Salmond also revealed that the Scottish Cabinet would go walkabout in the summer recess with meetings planned in Glasgow; in the south of Scotland at Dumfries; in the north at Inverness (which once hosted a meeting of the British Cabinet) and on Skye in the Highlands and Islands. The Scottish Parliament has already met away from Edinburgh.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Boris and Ken neck and neck

The latest poll on the London mayoral election for the Sunday Times by Mruk Cello [sic] puts Ken on 45 per cent, Boris on 44 per cent and Brian Paddick on 9 per cent. This implies a much lower vote for minor party candidates than I would have expected. However, given sampling error and response problems, polls are not good at picking up minor party allegiances - even if the anonymity of a phone poll as this was partially overcomes the problem of declaring a preference for a party that is not seen as 'politically correct'.

It is no surprise that the two main contenders are in a virtual dead heat or that the result may be decided by differential turnout which would probably favour Bozza. What is interesting is Ken's large lead over Boris on strong leadership (52 per cent to 28 per cent). In fact the only issue on which Boris enjoys a lead is crime (38 per cent to 32 per cent).

Moreover, nearly a third of respondents (31 per cent) said that they could not vote for Boris on the grounds that he was not serious, more than the 28 per cent who thought he would be a good mayor. 62 per cent of respondents actually think that Ken has been a good mayor, but nearly half of these (28 per cent) think that it is time for him to go.

What all this confirms is that many Londoners are fed up with Ken but don't really want Boris. A proposed tube strike just before election day will not help Ken and play into the hands of Boris. The distribution of supplementary votes could be crucial.

Is voting green a luxury good?

Green candidate for London Mayor Sian Berry

The Green Party is concerned that its hopes of winning four seats in the London Assembly elections may be hit by the state of the economy. This is the fear of Green candidate for mayor Sian Berry.

While New Labour has announced a number of hard line green policies in recent weeks such as cracking down on gas guzzling cars, the Tories are edging away from their 'vote blue, go green' tactic which was a useful means of demonstrating that the party had changed. George Osborne has admitted that it would be hard to force green taxes on the public unless they were sweeetend with incentives.

CBI supremo (and Warwick University Chancellor) Richard Lambert recently warned that green policies that looked like 'no brainers' when the economy was growing rapidly looked less alluring when growth slowed. A recent YouGov poll hinted at growing boredom among the public about the reptition of environmental messages. 30 per cent of those polled thought that there was too much coverage in the media about global wraming (although some of those could be diehard 'petrolheads').

Ipsis Mori data shows that concern about the environment peaked in January 2007 when 19 per cent of people named it as one of the biggest issues facing Britain today, but by January 2008 that figure had fallen to 8 per cent. In contrast 23 per cent rated the economy as a top concern, double the number who did for most of 2007. However, Ipsis Mori emphasised that for people to mention an issue unprompted is a tough benchmark.

Race, immigration and terrorism top voter concerns at the moment. However, a recurrence of unusual weather events could drive up interest in the environment again. Moreover, high oil prices remind people of the need to develop alternative energy sources. For the Conservatives retaining an interest in the environment would help them to take seats off the Liberal Democrats, the greenest of the three main parties.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Sir Anthony Eden Way

Sir Anthony Eden looks the complete matinée idol, while Sir Winston seems to be directing his gaze at the young lady's décolletage

When I was out walking the dog recently I noticed the road leading to a new 'luxury flat' development had been named Sir Anthony Eden Way.

Sir Anthony was for some three decades the MP for Warwick and Leamington, otherwise known as the 'Garden of Eden'. When he first contested the seat he faced the Countess of Warwick, former mistress of Edward VIII when he was Prince of Wales, standing in the Socialist interest. The Countess was chauffeured round the constituency in her limousine to meet voters.

Sir Anthony was elected unopposed at some subsequent elections. In the post-war period when he visited the constituency with Lady Clarissa (recent author of a book of reminiscences) he would ride in an open topped car through streets decked with patriotic bunting to acknowledge the cheers of the crowds.

Sir Anthony has a lively claque of local supporters who claim that his reputation has been unjustifiably vilfied. They even staged an exhibition in his support in the local museum. One of them, an Arthur Fretwell [sic}, wrote to the Leamington Spa Courier claiming that Sir Anthony's 'political reputation - so injured by the Suez debacle of 1956 - is slowly being restored.'

Apparently, 'This is because more people of judgement are coming round to the view that Eden was "sold down the river" by President Eisenhower and the US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.' Perhaps they couldn't recognise that Nasser was an Arab nationalist promoting his own interests rather than a Soviet tool who was also the 1950s equivalent of Hitler.

As Sir Winston said on his last day in office, 'I don't think Anthony is up to the job.'

More unpopular than Chamberlain?

There has been some discussion in recent days of the claim made by the Sun that Gordon Brown is more unpopular than Chamberlain. It is therefore interesting to read the contribution of the doyen of British polling, Sir Robert Worcester, taken from one of his books:

'The British Institution of Public Opinion (Gallup Poll) began its long series of questions to the British public in January 1937. Dr. Henry Durant was its founder, and in an interview published just before he died he told his story: “I had taken my degree at LSE. As usual in the early ‘30s no job. I lectured, was registered for a PhD, was writing, earning money any way I could. Harry Field, as associate of Gallup came from the USA in 1936, looking for somebody to start up part time Gallup work from home. He went to LSE Appointments Bureau, was given half-a-dozen names and he chose mine; just like that” (He was paid £150 a year.)'

'It wasn't until October 1938 when they asked their first question about the performance of the Prime Minster with the question "Are you satisfied with Mr Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister?" At that time 52% said yes they were satisfied with Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister, while 39% said no, they were not, and 9% said they did not have an opinion. A majority and more were satisfied with his performance, hitting a high of 68% a year later, in October 1939, two months into the war.'

The Sun seems to be engaging in some hyperbole as part of the general Murdoch Press campaign against Brown. This may be motivated by nothing more than that they like to back winners rather than losers and Brown is certainly in political trouble, not least with his own backbenchers. This is not just coming from the 'usual suspects' on the left who made life difficult for Blair, or the new 'Exhume Blair' tendency, but from Labour loyalists.

One symptom of this was the threatened resignation of a PPS, the lowest (and unpaid) form of ministerial life, which had to be stopped by a phone call to Gordon Brown at the White House.

Following the death of the redoubtable Parliamentarian, Gwynneth Dunwoody, the longest-serving woman MP, there will be a by-election in the Crewe and Nantwich constituency. By the way, in 1966-70, Gwynneth Dunwoody was part of an unusual husband-and-wife team in the Commons: she represented Exeter, while her husband, Dr Dunwoody (they later separated) achieved the feat of winning a Cornish seat (Falmouth and Camborne) for Labour.

Her majority was 7,078 votes in 2005 which Dave should be able to overturn if the polls are to believed. However, the Conservative message seems to go down less well in northern seats which Crewe and Nantwich just about is, being in the less salubrious part of Cheshire. It is also thought that Gwynneth Dunwoody had something of a personal vote, although this is often exaggerated by commentators.

Monday, 14 April 2008

More bad news for Brown

Gordon Brown is less trusted to steer his country through the global financial crisis than any other major western European leader according to a FT/Harris poll. 68 per cent of respondents said they were 'not confident at all' in the government's ability to deal with a financial crisis compared with 52 per cent in Germany, 51 per cent in the US, 50 per cent in France, 43 per cent in Italy (!) and 36 per cent in Spain.

Of course, as the question relates to 'the government' some of the blame should perhaps be apportioned to the uncharismatic Alastgair Darling. What is also interesting is that respondents have low confidence in the ability of the Bank of England to deal with the crisis which is another blow for depoliticisation. Of course, such a lack of confidence was evident at the time of the Northern Rock crisis when reassurances from the Bank had little effect.

In the poll British househplds were also concerned about 'excessive taxes' than people in any country apart from Italy (which is ironic given that country's history of tax evasion).

Until the forced withdrawal from the ERM in 1992, the Conservatives invariably had a lead in economic competence ratings over Labour. They then lost it by a large margin and have only recently regained it. Because they had not lost their reputation for competence at the time of the 1992 general election, the global recession of the period was actually on balance helpful to the Conservatives. It doesn't look as if it will work that way this time for Labour.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

YouGov Poll Gives Tories Big Lead

A YouGov poll in today's Sunday Times gives Dave Cameron's Conservatives their biggest lead over Labour since 1992. The poll puts the Conservatives on 44 per cent, Labour on 28 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 17 per cent.

It does sometimes seem that YouGov gives the Conservatives a bigger lead than other polls. Of course, they are a reputable organisation using an innovative method that has allowed them to recruit a very large panel. However, even today, not everyone is on the internet.

Of course, YouGov can constitute their samples to take account of population demographics on a range of criteria. Nevertheless, supposing we take a group like less well off people over 60. No doubt YouGov has been able to recruit sufficient numbers to their panel. But are, say, DEs over 60 who are connected to the internet typical of all DEs over 60? Their demographic characteristics, including their income range, may be similar but might they differ on more subtle factors? I don't know, but it would be interesting to learn more.

There is not going to be an election tomorrow, so these figures should not be treated as indicative of a result in 2009 or 2010. What I find the most interesting figure is that only 11 per cent of those questioned think Labour will win the general election. This is often a rather good predictor of what might happen in a general election.

Some commentary by YouGov on their London mayoral results can be found here, although it does not address the sampling issue:

The end of depoliticisation?

One of the dominant academic orthoxies in the discussion of British politics in the last ten years has been the notion of 'depoliticisation'. Its not just an academic debate as leading Labour figures have insisted that many decisions are best left to technocrats and experts.

I have always had some normative reservations about depoliticisation as a doctrine as it could reinforce the distance of the 'political class' from the median voter, leading to even more disillusionment with the democratic process. From an analytical point of view, it seemed to me that depoliticisation faced two limitations:

1. As far as the main depoliticisation was concerned, the transfer of the setting of interest rates to the Bank of England, its political success (as distinct from its economic success) was always dependent on a benign economic environment.
2. The use of depoliticisation as a device to reduce voter expectations to a realistic level (which is a real and necessary challenge) has not worked at all well in the case of the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE). The press is still full of emotive stories demanding that patients with terminal illnesses receive expensive drugs - regardless of very low success rates and the fact that prescribing such drugs on the NHS involves a substantial opportunity cost elsewhere given that the budget is in principle finite.

What I particularly want to focus on in this posting is the MPC. The quarter per cent reduction last week is unlikely to have much effect on the plight of mortgage borrowers, given the way in which the Bank of England rate and the inter-bank rate have drifted apart.

The 'solution' there may be, as the banks insist, for the Bank to lend more money to them on the security of more marginal assets. This point has been made by two former members of the MPC, Sushil Wadhwani who said the bank was too concerned about inflation and needed to focus on the 'substantial downside growth risks' while De Anne Julius was critical of the slow reaction to the Northern Rock affair.

The underlying issue here is the way in which the British consumer economy is structured around debt based on housing. People generally perceive their house as an investment as well as a comfortable and conveninet place to live. However, that perception is not going to change any time soon.

What is evident is that the Bank is facing general political pressure, e.g., the warning from retailers last week to cut rates, otherwise jobs might be lost. There has been some criticism for commentators for a failure to make a bigger cut. However, the primary task of the MPC is to seek to control inflation, not to boost the level of economic activity.

Indeed, Mervyn King has recently hinted that unemployment may need to go in order to bring inflation under control, although he also noted that it could not be allowed to slow too sharply. As he acknowledged in his speech in Israel, this was a 'difficult balancing act.'

One poll puts Boris behind

One opinion poll has shown Boris Johnson behind Ken Livingstone in the race for the London mayoralty. However, given that the results are within the range of sampling error, all they confirm is that the race is a close one.

The Conservatives have refused to disclose who wll be in Mr Johnson's cabinet until after he was elected. The implicit message is that Boris will be the engaging figurehead and a group of men in suits will attend to the task of running the city on a day-to-day basis.

However, this reluctance to reveal how the distinctive City Hall building would be run could play into Labour's attack which focuses on Boris Johnson's lack of managerial experience. The Labour claim is that Mr Johnson's management experience was confined to a 'small rightwing magazine, where the most difficult decision was where to go for lunch.'

For its part the Tories are trying to make integrity rather than competence the key issue, focusing on Mr Livingstone's perceived cronyism and lack of transparency.

One letter to The Times reflected the feeling of many Londoners that none of the main candidates was acceptable and suggested that the Californian 'none of the above' option should be made available. However, given the wide range of minor party candidates available across the whole political spectrum, there is a de facto 'none of the above' option. Londoners could then use their supplementary vote for the major candidate they thought was the least bad choice.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Boris and Ken neck and neck

The latest IPOS/Mori poll suggests that Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone are neck and neck in the race for London mayor. Following a poor showing by Boris on Newsnight some punters are switching their bets:

The implication in one of the comments that Mori might be biased is unfair. This is a highly reputable polling organisation that conforms to Market Research Society codes of conduct. I happen to know the founder, Sir Bob Worcester. Mori have done polling for Labour, but they have also done polling for other parties and Sir Bob has friends across the political class.

When poll results are so close, they are well within the range of sampling error and should really be published by the media with plus or minus figures. The message here is no one knows for sure whether Boris or Ken is ahead or who will win.

Many Londoners are fed up with Ken, can't stand Boris and think that Paddick is irrelevant to the outcome. For an interesting take from a South-East London perspective go to: The Last Bus Home

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Brown Defends 10 per cent tax rate cut

Gordon Brown has made it clear that he intends to stand firm against the growing revolt by Labour backbenchers against the abolition of the 10 per cent tax band which will hit many less well off voters. Of course, the problem for the prime minister is that if he backs down he will look weak and be accused of a 'U turn', a piece of political vocabulary which actually discourages ministers from admitting they have got it wrong and making sensible adjustments to policy.

The real problem is that if a substantial change was made in the budget package the Government would have an even bigger shortfall in the public finances than it does already and finding the money elsewhere would be equally unpopular. Ever since the days of Mrs Thatcher politicians have seen reducing the standard rate of income tax as a test of their political virility. Given that voters do not expect to see public services deteriorate, taxes are then piled on elsewhere - and these taxes may be less fair and more inefficient than an increase (or at least a steadying) of the standard rate.

Labour backbenchers are hoping for some 'concessions', but these are likely to be marginal. Given offsetting tax credits (although not all those entitled to them claim them) working families with children may not be hit that hard. However, single persons and childless couples who were beneficiaries of the 10 per cent band will take a hit. There is an argument that they have been neglected by tax policy as a result of the understandable attempt to help families.

According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, there are 2.2m single working people who will take a hit. Other losers include 500,000 non-workers who may be on incapacit benefit or early retirees and women pensioners aged 60-64. Why give the opposition an opportunity to appeal to people who might otherwise be disposed to vote Labour?

Monday, 7 April 2008

Vote Match London

This announcement which has reached us may be of interest:

Vote Match London

Unlock Democracy has launched Vote Match London, an online quiz designed to help Londoners decide who to vote for in the elections for Mayor and Assembly. All ten Mayoral candidates and the thirteen political parties standing for the London-wide Assembly elections have provided their answers to a survey which forms the basis of the web application.

As well as matching their views against the candidates', voters can give specific policies extra weight. The results screen enables them to examine the candidates' views in more detail and points them to where they can get more information.

The candidates' responses reveal some surprising results. You may be aware that the Green Party want to lift the ban on feeding pigeons, but did you know that only the One London Party agree with them? Ken Livingstone thinks the police should let people caught in possession with cannabis off with a warning so the police can concentrate on tackling hard drugs but Brian Paddick, who piloted this policy when he was the Lambeth Police Chief, disagrees.

Vote Match has been produced in association with the Dutch Institute for Public and Politics (IPP), which has been developing Vote Match (known as Stemwijzer in Dutch) since 1989. The Vote Match system has been used in the latest European, French, German, Swiss and Hungarian elections and a version was launched earlier this year for the US Presidential Primaries.

You can find out more information about Vote Match, and use the quiz yourself, by going to: Vote Match

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Why Broon is Doon

Talking to a number of people who know more about electoral politics than I do at the PSA conference in Swansea confirmed my intuition that we are experiencing one of those sea changes in British politics (of the kind that happened in 1950/1, 1964, 1979 and 1997) that may see Dave Cameron installed in Downing Street. I still think that the result in 2009/10 might be a hung Parliament and that the Conservatives might need a follow up election to get a working majority (as Labour did in 1966 after winning a virtially non-existent majority in 1964 and to a somewhat lesser extent in October 1974).

It seems to me that Labour has made a number of fundamental errors of judgement which show that they are losing touch with the electorate, just as they did in the run up to 1979 and the Conservatives did in the late 1980s.

I haven't got time and space to discuss all of these mistakes, but I want to focus on some of them. First, the increases in taxes on alcohol will do little to curb binge drinking, but have upset many core Labour voters who enjoy a few pints in their clubs or pubs.

It's always a mistake to upset the licensed trade and many publicans have put up posters banning the hapless Alastair Darling from their premises. It has even happened on the Isles of Scilly, where Harold Wilson is buried, according to my friends on Radio Scilly ( Scilly ). Of course, Alastair Darling is hardly going to make a pilgrimage to Wilson's grave any time soon, but that is not the point: publicans can have quite a substantial informal influence on their customers - they are 'opinion formers' in the jargon. (According to Radio Scilly, a recent visitor to St.Mary's turned down an offer on a tour to see Wilson's grave, asking to see the nearby vet's house, followed by the question 'has she got a man yet?')

The other decision which I found quite extraordinary was the abolition of the 10p tax band. Indeed, it has provoked a revolt among normally loyal backbenchers and even one minister which the whips had to smother. Apparently, there has been some talk of amelioration at the margins but this will do little for relatively less prosperous core Labour voters who will be hit quite hard by the change.

According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies the Budget will leave 5.3m households worse off, in particular those earning between £5,345 and £18,500. They will be hit by the changes in income tax and national insurance, while those earning more than £18,500 will gain. The apparent justification is to simplify the tax system, but this seems to be a bureaucratic rationale rather than one understanding of the position of the very people Labour is supposed to be helping.

If that was not enough, Labour is also setting out to offend another group of core voters by holding back public sector pay. This is supposed to be a move to fight inflation, but no semi literate economist believes this explanation. It is because the public coffers are empty.

Middle Britain is currently taking a big hit from higher mortgage interest rates (which are currently not much affected by adjustments in the Bank of England rate), higher utility bills and higher Council tax. It is not a recipe for Labour success in the local elections or the next general election. Like many governments that have been in office for a long time, they seem to have lost the plot.

Don't call him Boris

The Sunday Times is claiming that an instruction has gone out to Labour ministers not to refer to Conservative mayoral candidate for London Boris Johnson by his first name. It is apparently felt that such familiarity gives him a more favourable image with electors rather like a celebrity. Of course, one of the few other politicians referred to and recognisable by his first name is Labour's candidate Ken Livingstone.

One poll this week suggested that the gap, at least in terms of first preferences, between the two candidates had narrowed to 2 per cent, although another by YouGov showed a 10 per cent gap. One can expect some varying poll results in this campaign given that many electors will not vote and others seem to have difficulty in making their mind up who to vote for.

Dave Cameron has been sufficiently impressed by how Bozza is doing to join him on the campaign trail for the first time and describe him as a 'brilliant' candidate. Ken Livingstone is, of course, facing further revelations about his private life. Some might say that this will have little effect in a sophisticated city like London, others would argue that it raises issues about trust and judgement.

There is something of a stronger anti-politician mood among the electorate at the moment, reinforced by the revelations of MPs' expenses. What is remarkable about the information disclosed so far is the variability of the claims made by MPs. Of course, most of us could not make such claims, but then probably directors of multinational companies have similar perks, it is just that they are not visible.

Of course, we should expect (even if we often do not get) high standards of conduct from public figures. Nevertheless, if second homes (either in London or the constituency) were not subsidised for most MPs, becoming a MP would be restricted to the relatively prosperous even more than it is already.

These developments, together with a strong undercurrent of public concern about crime and immigration, may help the BNP (UKIP is also seeking to address similar issues, but arguably with less success). London politics specialists (which I am not) tell me that two Assembly seats could be a realistic target for the BNP.