Tuesday, 24 December 2019

The exit poll has ruined election night (but not like it did for Jeremy)

I know it's ten days after the event but Christmas has intervened. A hopeful sign of normal life butting in again after a protracted political nightmare? For most people the mood has lightened and folk have stopped talking about the B word.

It won't surprise some readers to know that I love general election nights. Yes, I'm interested in politics, but I don't watch much tv coverage of politics other than the news and sometimes Question Time. I would have been interested in the Andrew Neil interviews - he's the only good interviewer around at the moment for me - but I didn't make the time even for his one to ones and I thought it was wrong of him to pillory Boris Johnson for not appearing. It smacked of BBC entitlement to me.

But the election results.....for me it's a wonderful overload of numbers - results, statistics, swings - and histograms,  political maps....oooh lovely. Just like poring over Wisden as a teenage cricket fan. (Yes, of course I did. In the days when we had libraries). And there's that glorious moment when the exit poll is revealed, followed by all those talking heads saying "let's wait till we have some actual results". With, sometimes, wise old politicians making a complete tit of themselves, like Paddy Ashdown saying in 2015 that he'd eat his hat if the exit poll was right. (Actually, it wasn't right in the overall outcome but it was in predicting that his party would lose most of its seats).

However, the exit poll has now ruined election night for me.

In recent years I've been dismayed by the joint exit poll. Firstly that it's done jointly by the Beeb, ITV and Sky, which spoils the fun of three times as many exit poll numbers and seeing who got the best prediction. To be fair, when the polls were hoodwinked by those "shy Tories" in the past they realised they just had to have a bigger sample. Everyday political polls use a sample size of about 1000 which gives an error band of plus or minus 3 percentage points at 95% confidence. So if you had one party on 40 points and another on 34 there's still a small chance that they are actually neck and neck. So the one off polls, while normally fairly accurate, can sometimes be misleading. Which is why a "poll of polls" chart often tells you more. And why exit polls in the past were unreliable. Also the statisticians assume  a homogeneous population so regional or other differences could lead to errors. There are always regional variations in opinion, though what matters is the change from the previous election. And this time we had the wonderful uncertainty (well, not that wonderful while we thought there was any risk of PM Corbyn) of Brexit and switches in traditional voting patterns, including tactical voting.

To get much more confidence in the prediction you need a far bigger sample. Four times the size roughly halves the uncertainty to 1.5%. To get 99% confidence with plus or minus one percentage point you need a sample of over 16,000. Interestingly, once you have a population size of over 20,000 it doesn't make much difference to the sample size you need. So for that accuracy you'd need to sample over 16,000 whether your population was 50,000 or 50 million. Which is why the TV channels work together, otherwise it's too expensive.

But they still got it wrong in 2015, failing to call a Tory majority.  Techniques were refined, particularly on how the seats are predicted. The 2017 and 2019 exit polls, while not being right in detail, got the direction and scale of the overall result pretty close.

The exit poll started to ruin my election night in 2015 because they stopped showing the share of the vote and went straight to the predicted number of seats. Why did that bother me? Because I like to test my own feel for the result. In 1992 the exit poll got it totally wrong by calling a hung Parliament when John Major actually got a majority of 21. Mrs H and I had been out for dinner and got back to relieve the babysitter just before 10pm. I hurriedly switched on the TV in time for the bongs of News at Ten. "HUNG PARLIAMENT" they predicted. And then they showed the share of the vote. "If that's right" I said to my other half "we can go to bed because the Tories have won". It just seemed obvious to me that was the implication of the vote share. I sat up till the Basildon declaration proved my feel was right.

I've often wondered why the people in charge of that exit poll didn't share that feeling. Most probably they did, but didn't dare fudge the results. If it had been me, I'd like to think I'd have instructed them to show "Narrow Tory majority or hung parliament". If they'd done that they couldn't really have been wrong, after all.

But since 2015 they don't show the vote share. Three elections in a row I've been shouting at the TV "show us the vote share prediction". Then I can decide for myself if they've got it right. Once they finally showed the predicted vote share this time, some hours into the broadcast, it was obvious the Tory majority would be large. But by then results were already confirming it. If you'd told me it was Con 44%, Lab 32% the detail was pretty obvious after all.

So their failure to show the vote share combined with the accuracy they now seem to be getting, has spoiled my fun. It's a bit like watching the football knowing the pundits' prediction is bound to come to pass. Unlike Basildon in 1992, which made the pundits say "hang on...." this time Blyth Valley just confirmed the exit poll's veracity. It didn't stop me staying up till 2.45am mind. There was still some entertainment to be had. John McDonnell sounding as measured and reasonable as ever straight after 10pm and avoiding doing a Paddy Pantsdown. I respected his manner in defeat but it reminded me why I always felt he was so dangerous. (Was? Still is, as his like has their hands firmly on Labour's tiller). There was a super shouting match between Alan Johnson and the scary John Lansman across the studio. The big difference between these chaps is that Johnson is a decent man, even if he's wrong on most things, whereas Lansman is wrong on everything. And there was Alistair Campbell pointing out that only Tony Blair has won a decent majority for Labour in the last 50 years. Though John Smith would surely have also won handsomely in 1997 had he lived.

I shed no tears for Corbyn of course. A man fortunately too limited to be as dangerous as the opinions he holds. The electorate saw through the "kinder politics", the "many not the few" and the unbelievable promises. They saw someone who has very different values from the majority of British people.A number of writers have pointed out the fundamental thing in common between the electorate's stance on Brexit and on Corbyn: patriotism. Many leavers in that collapsed red wall were always wary of European federalism and ever greater union was not what they wanted. But they also, as Labour MP Pat McFadden said, saw a Labour leader unfit to lead, surrounded by people who believe the wrong side won the cold war and keen to explain away the crimes of the country's enemies as being our own fault. They had reservations about Johnson but his namesake Luke Johnson summed it up when he said "(Boris) Johnson is hardly perfect, but he is intelligent, optimistic, energetic and decisive. Corbyn is a tired Marxist who befriends terrorists and is surrounded by dangerous anti-Semites, quasi-communists and fools". I would add that, when he gets shouty, he sounds like a dalek and so comes across as unthinking and unfeeling. Which is what Marxists are actually like of course.

Many have argued that the electorate, in voting "Leave" didn't vote to make themselves poorer. (This is a canard I will return to). But they decided identity trumped the risk of being better off in the future but not by quite so much. Their reservations about immigration weren't racist but, in the less affluent areas, were driven by an intuitive understanding that low earning immigrants were holding down wages and adding impetus to the multi-cultural agenda that leaves many uneasy that we are losing our Britishness. These are valid, not racist, opinions whether you agree with them or not.

Johnson now has the opportunity to lay to rest once and for all the the charge that his is a right wing Tory party - a charge that has always seemed ludicrous to me. Brexit is not a right-left issue and the rest of the Johnson platform is very one nation conservatism.  Though the Guardian has pooh poohed the idea that the Tory party will be fundamentally changed by its influx of new, younger, more northern and yes more gay MPs it must have some effect. The state school, NHS oriented and everyday background of  the new recruits was obvious on election night and that back story has only got stronger. That said, the full name of South Dorset's new MP Richard Drax is really Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle Drax. But he didn't go to Eton. Though I'm not entirely sure that the fact none of the new Tory MPs went to Eton is necessarily a good thing.

Pundits have pointed out that Johnson's Get Brexit Done only increased the Tory vote by 0.3 million while May's Strong and Stable put on 2.3 million. But the increase of 1.2% to 43.6% made it the largest share of the vote for the Tories since Ted Heath in 1970. The key thing was that, by creating the situation in which he could turf out the Gaukeward squad, Johnson has united the Tories for the first time since Thatcher's heyday. Given their woes over Europe for the best part of 30 years this is not to be underestimated. And he benefited from a vote split between Labour and Lib Dem very like that which created Maggie's large majorities. The main difference between Johnson and May was that Johnson offered hope (and entertainment). But he also benefitted from the fact that we'd lived through 2 years of purgatory. Woyld tge redult have been the same if the Tories had gone for Johnson, not May, after Cameron? Maybe.

However, we are left with no party of fiscal probity. I just hope the world economy doesn't falter as we could do without heading into a financial crisis with debt going up quickly. Johnson will need luck on his side.

Meanwhile the LibDems reaped what they sowed by hanging their whole body, not just their hat, on total opposition to Brexit, which seemed anti-democratic to so many. It is legitimate to hold the view that we are better off in the EU but it didn't feel right to stridently insist on it against the votes of 17.4 million people. Together with the hubris of  Jo Swinson with her insistence that she could be PM, I'm sure this limited the LibDem increase in vote share to a point where they were never going to make an impact. Nevertheless, I was saddened that she lost her seat and disgusted by Nicola Sturgeon's reaction. But Swinson's defeat leaves the LibDems in a difficult position - maybe even the "existential crisis" I saw in one headline.

And Nigel Farage? His place in history is now secure despite leading two different parties which both failed to win a single seat in a general election. An absolutely remarkable achievement.... Hopefully we will see less of him in future, though I expect he'll pop up again as 2020 wends it's way towards a close and the last deal or no-deal cliff edge. On that score, Johnson must resist the EU's preposterous attempt to impose sequencing on the trade negotiation after it caused so much trouble on the withdrawal agreement. (Apparently they want to sort fishing and a few other things first. I'm still not buying another BMW till this is sorted Angela). You know my prescription - walk away early if they insist on prejudicing the negotiation from the start, giving time to come back and reach agreement on mutually acceptable terms.

The only party besides the Tories to do well was the SNP. I think Johnson is right to resist their calls for a referendum for now.  A 45% vote share against the unionist parties isn't a clear mandate for independence. If she gets nowhere I wonder if Nicola Sturgeon will dare to have a referendum about having a referendum  - if she legally can. But if not don't jail her like the Spanish did with the Catalans. Boris should deliver Brexit and let people see whether it's working for them before anyone, including the Scots, tries to block or subvert it or take their ball away.

The Scottish position is fraught but it's the future of Labour that probably matters most to England and Wales. Corbyn has stayed on solely to ensure that his successor is picked using the same rigged rules that got him there. His supporters, like Richard Burgon - sorely over-exposed in this campaign - show absolutely no contrition, though the claim that they won the argument and their manifesto was popular did make me smile. What would being unpopular look like in a general election result? Labour have the chance to regroup but probably won't be able to take it this time, as the involvement of Ed Miliband in their inquisition demonstrates. After all, Labour's crisis is his fault as he set the rules under which Corbyn got in. They'll go for a younger, probably female leader who may well prove to be as  unready for the job as Jo Swinson was. All governments need a reasonable quality opposition to keep them on their toes so Labour's woes aren't helpful but worse, in the longer term, is the lack of an electable alternative.

The scale of the Tories triumph is that both Labour and the LibDems are in deep disarray if not crisis.Suddenly we've stopped hearing that, unless they can appeal to the young, the Tories are dead. Youth fell for Corbyn in 2017 but younger people saw right through him this time as the crossover age at which people are more likely to vote Tory fell from 47 to 39.

A Happy Christmas to all my readers. I wish you peace and prosperity in the new year confident that, for every man (and woman) jack of you, you will be better off under Johnson than you would have been under Corbyn.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Who to vote for, Mikey47

Normally I would add a question mark at the end of a title like this and debate the issue with myself leaving the question hanging. But, egged on in their comments on yesterday's post by Democracy Man (who can readily guess who I'll vote for) and Mikey47 (who asked for some real reasons to vote in a particular way) I'll tell you what I actually think.

All elections are bigged up as the most important in a generation. This is the only one that has really felt that way to me for a long time. The Ted Heath "who runs the country?" election in 1974 felt that way and was inconclusive. But Heath hadn't done enough in government to justify re-election and we had a truly awful 5 years of a weak and eventually minority Labour government, the IMF bail-out and the trade unions' winter of discontent.

So the election that turned out to be the most important in my lifetime was 1979. It didn't feel that way at the time: it felt a depressing choice between failure, an unknown quantity in Margaret Thatcher and an attractive middle ground with the newly formed SDP-Liberal Alliance. Fortunately the country set itself on a sustainable course under Margaret Thatcher. I was disappointed at the time as a member of the SDP and it was an uncomfortable, rocky ride at first but with the hindsight of history I can see I was wrong then to oppose Thatcher. Her reforms were desperately needed and the fact that we have had one of the strongest rather than one of the weakest economies in Europe since then can be attributed directly to her government's reforms in the 1980s.

There is a huge risk that we now throw all of that away.

First let's contemplate the extremely unlikely - a majority Corbyn government. The damage would be colossal and immediate. The financial sector makes up over 10% of our economy. The prospect of a transaction tax and the seizure of 10% of the shares of large companies would kill capital markets overnight. Floats on the stock exchange would become a rarity and international businesses would quit London. Many of the 330,000 additional rate taxpayers who contribute over a third of all income tax work in the City. They are highly mobile and would migrate overseas. Then tens of thousands of lower paid jobs would steadily come under threat of being switched abroad, only this time the job would go not the person.

If Mikey47 doubts this, he should ask what I would have done if a Corbyn-led government had been elected in 2005 when I was working for a corporate and running a business that had its production facilities in the USA, Germany and China. A senior management team of three was based in the UK, but we could have departed overnight for Germany or the USA. The pension taper alone would probably have been enough to ensure we did. Had there still been production facilities in the UK (history I won't go into) the option of basing the central team abroad would still have been there. (You don't need to guess - I'd probably have gone to the USA though it might have been easier to decamp to Germany first). Write that story tens of thousands of times over.....

Investment has been weak since 2016, wreaking insidious but significant damage on the economy. It would collapse overnight. As we rely on capital inflows to balance our persistent trade deficit McDonnell would get his financial crisis which he would use to take "emergency measures". There would be prolonged legal wrangles over attempts to nationalise utilities below market value. Our international status would be fundamentally changed by support for every "radical" cause on the planet. As someone has said, this isn't Wilson or Callaghan or Blair or Brown. This is Hugo Chavez.

You might say why contemplate what isn't going to happen? Corbyn can't possibly win. I agree but even a minority government can do stuff. Supported by the almost equally crackpot SNP and moderated only by the LibDems a minority Corbyn government could do huge damage. Johnson could have gone on a long time with a majority of minus whatever in a gridlock situation; so could Corbyn. A minority Corbyn government would still be a 100% Corbyn cabinet, with control over foreign policy, for example.

Mikey47 said he felt we might end up with a hung parliament. That is a very real risk: many sources are saying it would take only a few tens of thousands of targeted tactical votes to deny Johnson a majority and even create a Corbyn-led government. Some say this could happen without Labour even winning any more seats than they have currently.

My problem with a hung parliament is that it really will solve nothing. Oh sure, Brexit might be fudged with a second referendum between a Brexit in name only and remain. The result wouldn't matter, as it wouldn't solve anything. Farage would be as important a figure as ever and the argument would rumble on as strongly as ever. We would not exactly be popular with our EU "friends", still chucking rocks at them in their Parliament. The festering resentment in the country would be colossal.

The only way I can see any chance of a healing process in the country is a convincing Johnson win. We leave the EU and get on with trade deals, investment in the UK strengthens and if things go ok the mood will change. There will still be many who will sadly reflect that we should have stayed in the EU but there is a chance that we can put it behind us, at least for most people and move on.

Won't we be worse off outside the EU though? Essentially all economists agree on that. It doesn't mean they are right, but let's go with it, as they nearly all say the impact on growth rate will be something like 0.5%. If the economy were to go forward with a weaker growth rate but still do ok - which is what most economists say - will we notice? No, of course not. We'll be better off in 5 and 10 years time. Maybe not as better off as we would have been but that would be theoretical to most people. After all, if Germany can tolerate weak growth for year after year, why can't we? Over time how we do on productivity is far more important than whether we are in the EU. Is a Corbyn led government, bringing back trade union powers and influence, likely to revolutionise productivity? Er, yes, but in the wrong direction!

So my healing scenario has a very reasonable chance of coming to pass.

The next biggest risk after a hung parliament is a small Johnson majority. I thought we would hear more about the December 2020 trade deal cliff edge in the campaign. Maybe it's too detailed a point and not immediate enough for the remainers to go at strongly. Instead they've just cast doubt on Johnson's ability to do deals by next December, using lies about the likely time to get a trade deal with the US for example. (The average time it takes the USA to negotiate a trade deal is 18 months. Admittedly more than 12 but not 7 years). It probably hasn't occurred to them that you can do these deals in stages. Effectively we will forever be negotiating and renegotiating trade deals. That sound awful? It's what the EU does on our behalf currently. And because they have to balance 28 countries' interests it takes longer and satisfies nobody. Of course we can do deals that, overall, are better for us and we can do it more quickly than the EU does on our behalf. Johnson probably felt he had to say that the final end wouldn't be overly delayed but I doubt he was wise to choose the December 2020 deadline. However, he got his EU deal through when almost no-one thought he would.

The real no trade deal cliff edge comes if Johnson has a small majority, putting power in the hands of his Brexit ultras. If Johnson has a good majority he can marginalise the ERG and push his deals through. This risk does concern me to the extent that I think a small Johnson majority is nearly as bad as a hung parliament.

But wouldn't a big Tory majority mean a very right wing government? I don't think so. A very wise professor in economics I worked for in the 1980s once told me that, for all the noise, the difference between the parties was usually quite small. I've looked at the numbers more closely ever since. At the time the number bandied about was the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement (PSBR, what we now call the "deficit"). In 1979 the SDP-Liberal Alliance was pushing for "pump priming" of the economy saying we could afford to borrow more to finance growth. The actual numbers were such a small proportion of total government spend that it was hard to see it having any effect. That's not the case this time on overall spending, but it's worth looking at the detail.  There was a good graphic about NHS spending on the  BBC news last night. It showed the average annual increase - and it always has been a strong increase - in NHS spend under each government since 1979. From memory the numbers were something like 3% under Thatcher and Major, 5% under Blair and Brown and around 2% after 2010 and the acute need to rein in spending. The Tories are now promising a 4% increase and the extra spending promised by Labour on top barely registered as a thin red sliver. No difference at all really.

Yes we had the media excitement over the awful photo of the boy with suspected pneumonia on the floor at Leeds hospital. The thing that surprised me most about this was that the Tories weren't ready for this year's equivalent of "Jennifer's ear", which was the 1992 election version. After all, an obvious risk of a December election is that all journalists need to do is keep an eye on every major hospital and, in all likelihood, such a case will arise. The only question was whether it was a child or an old person. While having every sympathy for the specific case, if people are saying that the NHS needs to be ready and waiting with facilities and staff for every conceivable emergency case then there's going to be a lot of expensive surplus capacity sitting around 98% of the time. We need a grown up debate about this and Corbyn promising to keep "weaponising" the NHS won't help us get there.

So the question is who will run the NHS more effectively? Labour with its power to the unions policy which will halt any kind of beneficial change in the NHS for good? (A rhetorical question. A separate blog might come on the Labour lie that the Tories would "sell" the NHS).

Johnson is a centrist, one nation Tory. He ran London well with an inclusive style and strong team. His cabinet is the most diverse ever. Yes he's a fudging dissembler but this is not a right wing Tory party. It's been incorrectly branded that on Brexit, but Brexit isn't a left-right issue. Johnson is the best leader on offer by far and the Tories have the most competent squad. They are the only party that has the first clue about business - and then, most of the time, not much more than the first clue. Even they are blind to the needs of the massive number of tiny and small business that are so important to our economy. But at least they aren't hostile to them. Why would anyone want to start a business under Corbyn? (If you aren't sure of the answer, or aren't convinced that entrepreneurs will flee the country, see what Sir Charles Dunstone, co-founder of Carphone Warehouse said a couple of days ago).

In contrast think what could go wrong. Seduced by the offer of "free" broadband? First remember the old saying about free lunches. But secondly ask yourself, why do they want to control our broadband? Because the public sector will be better at rolling out fast broadband? Pull the other one, this is the public sector that can't deliver Crossrail on time and budget and can't get HS2 properly started before the budget is not just blown but annihilated. You may think the next bit is paranoia but bear with me. All far left governments want to control the media. Labour have an "oven ready" way with the print media: the egregious Leveson controls are sitting there waiting to be implemented. The LibDems wouldn't resist it - Clegg was one of its main champions. But the internet is another thing. Control broadband and you're half way there.

This sort of Orwellian development wouldn't happen at once of course. McDonnell and co know that they just need to win battles now and then. Get state control of some of these things now and you are positioned to act later on. Especially when "emergency" circumstances require it. All those counter-terrorism controls  are there to be used. After all, local councils have used it if people use the wrong bin....

But aren't the Tories just too awful, seen as the nasty party as Theresa May said?  For the most part, no. The so-called friendlier, gentler politics of the left are of course actually bullying, harrassment and anti-semitism. They will use all of these things. Remember the Bolsheviks started as a minority government.

I have often wondered how things would have panned out in 1979 if Thatcher hadn't won and the SDP-Liberal Alliance had been in government or a coalition. I can reluctantly only conclude it almost certainly wouldn't have worked out well. A vote for the middle ground this time could also set us on the wrong track for a long, long time. Democracy Man will vote for his party, as he should but otherwise a vote for the LibDems seems a cop out to me, even if I wasn't put off by their extreme position on identity and gender. I wasn't the only one to find the news that they have accepted a £100k donation from Ferring Pharmaceuticals, a firm that sells drugs used in identity clinics to delay the onset of puberty, concerning.

I have more of a problem with people saying they can't stand Corbyn but have always voted Labour so will again. I can respect the idea of fighting from inside the tent but the battle for the heart of Labour seems lost.

But the real question is the undecideds and whether they will vote at all. (Generally they don't).

So Mikey47, I can respect that, if you think the single biggest issue facing us is climate change then, even though we are only one country and your vote won't have much if any impact, you should vote Green.

Otherwise anything other than voting Conservative risks a bad outcome: continuing argument over Brexit, the potential for the end of the union with Scotland after indyref2 and the whole Marxist nightmare slowly unfolding. And don't kid yourself, everyone knows McDonnell can't finance his plans on the back of the rich alone, if only because they'll decamp. He'll be coming after middle ground people like you, me and Democracy Man as well. He'll need to tax the many, not the few. And this from a starting point where the tax burden on the economy has just grown to the largest proportion of GDP since before Mrs Thatcher started her revolution in reducing the size of the state.

We live in a marginal so our votes do count. I'll be voting Conservative as the only viable option to anything other than a bleak, chaotic future. I don't think your constituency is a marginal, so you might as well follow your conscience. But I hope I've convinced you that a tactical vote against the Tories could be disastrous.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Reasons to vote in the general election

Just like last time, I've been finding plenty of reasons for the electorate to vote for the various parties in the general election. Most of them are admittedly whimsical at best - it shouldn't be too hard for you to identify the very small number of reasons I've found that I think might just be good ones.


You don't know if we should leave or remain and think we need at least another year to figure it all out

You want to be able to play Fortnite all day on free broadband on your day off in a 4 day week 

You long for the good old days of British Telecom and British Rail. You agree they were completely crap but it's much better to wait for months for a phone line than to have someone make a profit out of providing you with a generally good service.

You don't like rich people and think their taxes should go up so much that they all bugger off abroad. Sure we won't be able to afford as many doctors, nurses and teachers but it's better than having all those blood sucking rich dudes around. Isn't it?

You long for the good old days of secondary picketing and want to see the trade unions restored to their rightful position of being called in to No 10 for beer and sandwiches to fix the problems they have created in the first place

Spending that much money will inevitably create the crisis in capitalism that you crave. Not so much the velvet revolution, more the spendthrift revolution

You like paying for sex and want to see it decriminalised. (The Labour Party officially supports the blanket decriminalisation of the sex trade. It's not clear if they realise that means removing all laws against pimping and brothel-keeping and effectively means exploiters and human traffickers would go free. As Andrea Dworkin said, only when women's bodies are being sold for profit do leftists claim to cherish the free market).

You can't stand Trump or American imperialism and think we should quit NATO and forge a new alliance with Cuba, Venezuela and The Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

You think Britain should be much more outward looking and so we need a PM like Jeremy, whose main interest is in the international socialist cause not all this boring internal British stuff. Indeed you've always supported all revolutionary causes (IRA, Hamas and so on) and can't understand what the anti-semitism fuss is about. It's much more important to oppose Israel and Trump.

You think that, with so little on the nation's plate currently, Parliamentary time should be allocated to legislating about football club governance. (Shadow sports minister Rosena Allin-Khan says fans should be given a greater say in running clubs, including who the manager is and whether "safe" standing should be allowed. I imagine she doesn't know anyone who was at Hillsborough).

You don't believe what you read (that Johnson has had the most diverse cabinet ever) and think there should be more women and black people in the cabinet. After all, Diane Abbott will really sort the Home Office out

You're fed up with there being so many elections and voting for a bunch of unreconstructed Marxists could well be a way of bringing that to an end.

(Trust me these are only a subset of the range of reasons for voting Labour)

Liberal Democrats

You like to think the referendum never happened. (But sticking your fingers in your ears and saying "la la la la" every time Brexit is mentioned might work just as well for you....)

You want to see gender neutral uniforms in school and want to be able to put "X" against your child's gender on their passport

You like paying for sex and want to see it decriminalised. See Labour above. The LibDems also take the view that prostitution is a job like any other. The party's Wendy Chamberlain argued against criminalising punters saying that "sex work has been going on for thousands of years and sadly no policy will end it". Er, you could say the same about murder, Wendy....

You think we should invest in all our people, not just young people and certainly not just the top 50% who go to university. After all if it's elitist to preferentially treat the top 20% by sending them to grammar schools isn't it just as elitist to send the top 50% to uni and ignore most of the rest apart from some pathetic apprenticeship schemes?


You just want to get Brexit DONE! (I've bad news for you: negotiating trade deals will be a pain and won't happen quickly, even if ditches are died in).

You enjoy having a PM who speaks quite well and has comic value even if he doesn't know what he's saying. After all isn't that better than having a PM who doesn't speak well, also doesn't know what he's saying and definitely isn't funny?

The Tories are the only party who have the faintest clue about business and the economy, even if Boris did say **** business and they don't actually have any relevant policies. After all, isn't it just best to end the Brexit uncertainty and then give business the confidence that they can plan because the government isn't actually going to do or change anything?

You are worried that there will be another financial crisis. Oops, too bad, all parties are promising to break what's left of the bank. But the starting point might not be quite as acute under the Tories.

You are an endangered or victimised species (i.e. an entrepreneur or a fairly high earner trapped in George Osborne's fiendishly complex black hole of the pension taper; maybe an NHS consultant, praised to the hilt for your work and taxed at marginal rates that can be above 100%*). Actually it's too bad, probably no-one is going to help you but it's just possible that, having created this ludicrous situation, the Tories might not make it worse. Which would probably be impossible anyway.

You think that fairly high earners, even NHS consultants, are as bad as the super rich and so like the Tories for hammering them with the brilliant pension taper.


You had such fun on the XR demos, holding up people going to work and the odd blue light ambulance.

You think it's right on having two people as party leader simultaneously. If Boris had thought of that and shared the role with Gove, they wouldn't have had the problem with Channel 4. Stupid Tories! 

You are miserable, having given up all air travel, your fossil-fuelled car and gas boiler and are limiting your use of batteries because of all the rare and unrecyclable materials in them. After all, mustn't be hypocritical. But it would cheer you up no end if everyone else had to get on board and join you in the Middle Ages by 2025 at the latest.

You're so woke you never need to set an alarm clock.


You're fed up with being subsidised by the English and want indeyref2 to sort that out once and for all.

Indeed, given the choice, you'd rather be subsidised and bossed around by the Germans than the damned English.

Plaid Cymru



Just like UKIP last time, I can't even think of an amusing reason to vote Brexit. It doesn't make sense even as a tactical vote in this election. Campaign for Farage's Nobel Peace Prize instead.

* The pension allowance taper is perhaps the single daftest taxation idea implemented by government in my lifetime. I've read that, as gross salary increases from £118k to £180k take home pay only goes up by £3k (which seems incredible), with marginal tax rates exceeding 94%. Between £118,800 and £122,600 marginal tax rates are over 100%. The arrangements are so complex some finanicial advisers will not offer advice. The taper is why many NHS consultants have limited their hours of work to avoid falling into the trap and large numbers are planning to retire early. One consultant, appointed to lead a regional specialist service, got a £92,000 tax bill, was effectively forced to leave the pension scheme in his 40s and intends to leave the NHS. Anecdotally some have had to sell their house to pay a large unexpected tax bill. Johnson has said he'll fix it but it's still the example that most undermines my view that the Tories are generally competent. I know these are high earners but this is worse than "one for me 19 for you" as George Harrison sang about the taxman under Labour in the 1960s. And note it doesn't affect really high earners. And funnily enough folk like train drivers fall just under the £80k higher rate threshold - as do MPs come to that.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Everton can't afford to keep getting it wrong

How proud did Duncan Ferguson look? And this was at his pre-match press conference before he took charge for the 3-1 win against Chelsea yesterday after Marco Silva's expected dismissal:

Managers and coaches need to be good communicators but, before yesterday, I'm not sure I'd ever  heard Duncan Ferguson speak. I'd met him - asking for an autograph with my then 13 year old son as he got back onto Everton's team bus after an away match at Southampton back in the 1990s. Ferguson wordlessly complied and then upset some other parents by diving quickly onto the bus. At least until I pointed out that he had reappeared sitting in the driver's seat and signing everything that was pushed through the open window at him as long as there was anyone showing interest. "He's got a heart of gold, Duncan" said one of them.

Anyway, I expected he would pump the team up with simple messages and they would at least put in more effort than they seemed to be doing under Marco Silva. I've said before that I hoped the players understood more of what Silva was saying than I could from his TV interviews, which always came across to me as confused and lacking inspiration. It seems they didn't.

But yesterday Everton did more than put in effort, which should be a given in all games anyway, but of itself won't win you anything. They executed more tackles than any team in any Premier League game this season, though that in itself shows they were under pressure much of the game. But some of the players of whom I've been very critical produced performances which I hadn't believed them capable of. The best example was Alex Iwobi, who has looked occasionally talented on the ball but hopeless when the opposition is in possession. The first time I saw Iwobi from the stands rather than the TV I couldn't decide if he was lazy, unfit or just couldn't be arsed when the opposition had the ball. His positional play was poor and he didn't seem capable of getting near enough to the ball to exert any pressure. Yesterday was a revelation. It looked like Ferguson had told Iwobi that to close down an opponent you actually have to get close to him.

I read an interview with Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, last week in which he was asked what the difference was between managing in the ninth tier of English football, where he started with Alfreton Town and the Premier League. His answer was nothing at all. I realised this when I coached in the Oxford Boys' League. Sure the top players are faster and much more skilful. But the basics of what need to be done are nearly identical and the way individuals and groups behave has more to do with human nature than anything else. Above all I found in my playing career that the messages I responded  best to were simple and punchy. I could never imagine Silva conveying a point that sharply.

So there was no guarantee that Ferguson could cajole a performance out of a team but it wasn't a surprise. He's always had passion and has been coaching at Everton now for 8 years after volunteering to help at the academy and being subsequently taken on to the staff. Promoted to coaching the first team five years ago, he has worked under four different Everton managers, so unless Kenwright has told them all they must keep Duncan, he presumably has coaching ability.

However, as Ferguson himself said, it was one match. Coaching a team to sustained excellence and dealing with all the other aspects of club management is another matter.

Those other aspects include dealing with the media. The reason I hadn't heard Ferguson (pronounced FAIR-guss-n in Scouse by the way) speak was because, for most of his occasionally controversial playing career Ferguson would not give interviews. I imagine he felt the press had given him a raw deal, though they had plenty of material. While at Rangers in 1994 Ferguson was sanctioned for headbutting an opposition player. The referee didn't see the incident but Ferguson was subsequently charged and found guilty of assault - very rare for an on-field incident. As it was his, ahem, third conviction for assault (the fist was for headbutting a policeman) he was jailed for three months.

That sentence came after Ferguson had gone on loan to Everton, then as last week struggling at the bottom of the Premier League. Everton took him on loan for three months in the dog days of Mike Walker's reign as manager, when blues fans had to put up with rednoses asking "what's the difference between Everton and a compass?" (A compass has four points was the answer; Everton had three from eight games). The loan signing felt like desperation by both parties: Ferguson had to get out of Scotland and Everton couldn't get anyone else. Nothing much happened in his first few matches, until Walker was sacked and ex-Everton centre forward Joe Royle took over. Royle's first match was a Merseyside derby. Ferguson scored. Everton won and proceeded to move quickly up the table. His loan was made permanent and he played a big part in the club qualifying for Europe and winning the FA Cup over the next couple of seasons.

I've only recently read a remarkable account of Ferguson's "preparation" for that first derby, which took place on a Monday night. It involved a Saturday night out in Liverpool - maybe not the best idea while waiting for the assault case and still on probation - a lot of red wine, driving through a no entry sign into a bus station, being banged up in St Anne Street police station overnight, failing a breath test and being let out the next morning. The consolation for Ferguson was that the young lady who was in the car with him (I doubt he knew her well...) was waiting in his hotel room when he got back there. "I will be back. I don't know when, but I will be back" he had told her as he got arrested and gave her the room key.

By Duncan's own account this less than ideal preparation meant that he felt he owed Royle a performance. But his night really sparked to life when Neil Ruddock kicked him from behind and, in Royle's words, Duncan "went to war", but this time using his head in the right way for football.

Duncan's first full season at Everton was interrupted by that jail sentence and the imposition of a 12 game ban on top imposed by the Scottish FA. Ferguson quit international football in protest and had nothing further to do with Scottish football and its governing body until taking his first UEFA coaching course at Largs in 2011. And probably it also made him circumspect with the media.

Despite Ferguson's troubled early career and his occasional brush with referees subsequently he was generally more sinned against than sinner. When your reputation precedes you with opponents and referees you often have to put up with a lot. The only player I've seen who routinely had to put up with as much provocation, especially in terms of holding, was Marouanne Fellaini - for similar reasons. Duncan was a far more skilful player than most neutral fans gave him credit for. But you still might not have expected Ferguson to turn into a competent coach, which he clearly is.

And his only publicised problems since in terms of assault have come in 2001 and 2003 when burglars broke into his house. Each time an man ended up in hospital and it wasn't Ferguson.

As for dealing with the media now, I was impressed with his post match interview on BT Sport. Under persistent questioning from Jake Humphrey Ferguson declined to pitch for the Everton manager post, saying he expected the club would go out and try to get the best manager it could. As Humphrey persisted Ferguson stopped him in his tracks, saying firmly but politely "I think I've answered your question".  This showed a degree of competence which hinted that Ferguson might have the characteristics and intelligence needed. While football managers don't need to be Brain of Britain - as Bob Paisley demonstrated - they have have nous and emotional intelligence.

What Everton do next could be critical. Fans had thought the Moyes era had brought to an end the persistent flirting with relegation that blighted the nineties and early noughties. Only Arsenal can better Everton's proud record of 65 successive seasons in the English top flight. Having said that the club was poorly lead at board level from the time John Moores grew old. Their purple patch in the 1980s under Sir Philip Carter was delivered by Howard Kendall's excellence as a manager and concealed a strategic void at the heart of the club. As a result it went into the Sky/Premier League era still counted as one of the "big 5" but rapidly fading. They were unlucky in the timing of the English teams exclusion from Europe but missed the boat as the modern era of riches dawned. The once "Mersey Millionaires" would not have fallen out of contention so permanently had they made the right decisions through the 1980s.

The Bill Kenwright era brought a welcome stability but with Manchester United and Liverpool's persistent financial strength, Abramovich investing in Chelsea and Manchester City being given a stadium followed by a a rich Arabian genie appearing as if from a lamp the gap is now so large that it's hard to see how it can be closed. Tottenham - who Everton were well ahead of until just a few seasons ago - might be a model, though they haven't actually won anything yet. And Leicester have shown that miracles might not be temporary. Farhad Moshiri's arrival has brought hope but has so far only revealed that you have to spend money wisely.

So what Everton do next is critical. They can cement their place in the Premier League for the several seasons necessary for the new stadium project to come to fruition after which it might be conceivable that they can build a stronger future. The alternative is terrifying.

In the time I've been watching football only Arsenal and Everton have always been in the top flight. I can remember Liverpool being promoted in 1962. I've seen all of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham relegated. While big clubs often bounce straight back, there is no guarantee as City found. If you can't get straight back, financial fair play as implemented by the EFL makes life really hard for recently relegated clubs once their Premier League parachute payments cease and some, like Sunderland, go down further.

After initial promise Martinez faltered, Koeman floundered, Allardyce was a stop gap and Silva was just not up to the task. If Everton keep getting it wrong the future is worrying. This time it's important they get it right. Niko Kovac was at Goodison yesterday watching the game. That worries me. The ex Croatian national manager took Bayern Munich to the German title in his first season. It was Bayern's seventh consecutive title so he inherited a decent team used to success. This year it's gone sour and Kovac left last month by mutual agreement after a 5-1 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt. Bayern are currently seventh in a league in which it is hard for them to be below second place. Sounds a bit Marco Silva-ish to me.

Other candidates include Vitor Pereira, who they considered in 2013 but rejected because of his poor English. He'd won the Portuguese League with Porto and subsequently he has apparently learned English, as well as winning a double with Olympiacos. But he didn't last at Fenerbahce and took 1860 Munich down from the second German tier before going to China where he has won their super league with Shanghai. Hmm.

Then, as I've rehearsed recently there is Max Allegri and the more familiar candidates: Pochettino, Howe, Moyes and Benitez, though the last of these is probably not available at the current time.

Duncan Ferguson has given Everton some breathing space at least. The fixture list is still studded with hard matches but there seems no need to panic. It's more important that they get it right this time. I would give Ferguson a few matches and forget the January window. If things go ok let it run to the end of the season while lining up the best candidate. Duncan might thrive, though I wouldn't bet money on it.

But I guess if Pochettino would come now I would go for him, even though his interviews leave me as puzzled as Silva's.

* Alan Patullo write up of Ferguson's remarkable account first Merseyside derby was in the Guardian on 26 Sept 2014: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2014/sep/26/duncan-ferguson-everton-liverpool-merseyside-derby

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Let's see more party leaders on tv

So OFCOM ruled that there was no case to answer when Chanel 4 excluded Michael Gove from their climate debate and featured a melting ice sculpture instead. I find their reason - that the Conservative viewpoint had been given due weight - risible, but the main problem is they were looking at the wrong question.

From this year's campaign one would think that it had suddenly become mandatory for all party leaders at the election to be interviewed by Andrew Neil. I'm a long term admirer of Neil but it would clearly be anti-competitive for one broadcaster to be given this status and impractical for every leading channel to have its main interviewer confront all the candidates. The Andrew Marr interview with Johnson was appalling, perhaps because Marr felt slighted that he was seen as a softer option. As a result he spoke over every one of Johnson's responses in the latter part of the interview (maybe all of his responses, I only watched the second half).

There are two problems I see here. The first is a lack of structure which means that there is always an argument about who is hiding from who. The USA has tackled this by having a Commission on Presidential Debates. That is more formal than it sounds, however, as the "Commission" is a carve-up, sorry "non-profit corporation" between the Republicans and Democrats which sponsors and produces the debates and related activities. They have a rule that candidates must have scored at least 15% support across five national polls to keep out third party candidates.  That said, the multi-way debates we have here, often including people who aren't even standing at the election (e.g. Sturgeon, Farage) are never very edifying and rarely add much, being far too fragmented to allow development of any point or argument of substance. Indeed why on earth regional parties are given time on UK wide tv I can't fathom. They have their own  regional debates.

However, I think there is a case for there being some arrangement between parties and broadcasters about how debates should be staged. In the US system each candidate is asked a question and has two minutes to reply. The other candidate then gets a minute to respond, extendable by 30 seconds at the moderator's discretion. There is a traffic light system which counts down the time remaining for the candidates' responses.  I think there is some evidence that this works better than our non-system, even though in recent years the debates have been generally dull, as candidates go for the equivalent of a 0-0 draw rather than avoid risking defeat in open play.

But my big problem with the way we do it at the moment is that I don't believe Channel 4 were correct in insisting on only having party leaders. We are electing a government not a prime minister after all. I think the competence of the prospective cabinet is as important as that of the PM. The main reason I have voted Conservative in recent elections has been my perception that they generally have greater competence at running government departments, probably due to the broader "gene pool" that their candidates are drawn from. There are competent politicians in all parties but there isn't much depth of competence in any other than the Conservatives as far as I can see.

Therefore I consider it important that we see a range of party leaders, not just the leader. Gove would have been a very appropriate participant in the Channel 4 climate debate. He was a very effective SoS for environment, just as he was an effective justice secretary and education secretary. I accept his occupancy of the last of these was not without controversy - indeed, I've been berated for my admiration of Gove's achievements by many in the teaching profession in recent years. I have to admit I discount most of those objections as "producer interest"; even more so after the publication of the recent OECD PISA international student assessment which showed a significantly improved international ranking by the UK, especially in reading. I am not the only one to link this 100% with Gove's reforms.

It is interesting that the Tories chose to try to field Marmite Gove, who Cameron kept out of sight in 2015 as he is by no means electoral catnip. Be that as it may, we really should see other party leaders like Gove being quizzed on the tv. So the Tories are to be commended for fielding Rishi Sunak in the BBC 7 leaders debate. Some tried to denigrate the fact that he was only "number 2" at the Treasury but the Chief Secretary role is important and has been a cabinet minister post for as long as I can remember. (Actually I've just checked: since 1961, though since 2015 it has been downgraded to "attending cabinet"). Former holders of the post include Leon Brittan, John Major and Alistair Darling, all of whom went on to hold high office. And anyway, we know what the Saj sounds like, whereas many wouldn't have heard Sunak. 

Three of the last four Parliaments have seen a change of PM between elections so there is a strong argument for us seeing more than just the party leader, as another in the winning team might easily become PM before we vote again. America also has this more right is as there is also a vice-presidential debate, though this is straightfoward for them as the VP candidates are "on the ticket". 

So I find the argument about Boris Johnson not turning up for the Channel 4 debate fabricated. What I want to see is more of the party leaders on tv. Adam Boulton made a similar point when he said that the reduced access for journalists to party leaders at daily press conferences and other election events compared with previous decades was harmful. Andrew Neil made the point that the BBC's reason for having Johnson on Marr's programme, that the pubic should hear what the PM had to say about the London Bridge terror incident, was fallacious: it should have been Home Secretary Priti Patel. Quite - and Diane Abbott should have been on with her: we still want to know if the putative Labour Home Secretary can count, after all.

The Lib Dems, to be fair, have fielded someone other than their leader Jo Swinson at many media events: the promiscuous (in political party terms) Chuka Umunna. I can understand this since the opinion poll survey which revealed the more the public sees of Swinson the less they like her. However, I am left wondering how someone, however photogenic, gets to be foreign affairs spokesman for a major party after only being with them for what seems like five minutes. (Umunna joined the LibDems in June, his third political party in 2019). Even stranger is the fact that Umunna will struggle to win the seat he is standing for and get returned to parliament. Meanwhile the competent Ed Davey is nowhere to be seen or heard.

There are plenty of channels gagging to cover the election. So we should have had debates on the economy; the environment; policing, justice and prisons; education; foreign policy and of course Brexit with the party spokespersons for each of these areas appearing, not the party leader, on programmes spread between the main channels.

Speaking personally, I'd have paid money to see Keir Starmer quizzed on Labour's Brexit policy and Diane Abbott asked about anything for entertainment value alone. And it would have been more revealing for the electorate than a melting ice sculpture.

Coming soon - my verdict on the biggest lies in this election campaign.......

Monday, 25 November 2019

Do statistics lie? A P.S. on the Everton manager

A P.S to yesterday's post on the Everton manager. I see in yesterday's newspaper that Mrs Benitez wants Rafa to come back and manage in the Premier League, so there's hope. And I doubt he would be a candidate for Arsenal or Manchester United when there's a vacancy. He's missed out on Spurs, so why not Everton? There is the small matter that Rafa is managing in China at the moment and is clearly finding the Wanda Project at Dalian stimulating. He has advised on their £230 million training facility (!) which was only started last summer but will be completed by December (!!) Oh, and he's earning £12.5 million nett.

The Sunday Times say Everton and Leicester made approaches to Benitez while he was at Newcastle but he stayed loyal to the Magpies. But if Mrs B wants him home then at some stage perhaps we could see him in charge at Goodison.

I may be being unfair to Dyche but I see him as a young Allardyce.

As for Moyes, I worry that he may not be up to date with Premier League tactics. But that is also probably unfair, as he has always been a fanatical student of the game.

So my considered suggestion is that Everton should line up Benitez for next summer and, if the situation requires a change, bring in Moyes till the end of the season. They would probably have to keep the first bit confidential for Moyes to accept of course and they may have to offer at least an 18 month contract.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Do statistics lie?

I spotted a stat in yesterday's paper that surprised me. It said "If Everton beat Norwich" (I know, they lost but bear with me) "Marco Silva will have the highest win percentage of any Everton manager since the club last won the title in 1987". But for that clueless, spineless, passionless shambles, Silva would have had an Everton career to date win percentage of 43.1%. What does that compare with?

Howard Kendall had a win rate of 54.1% in his first spell which lasted from 1981to 1987. This was only the second time that an Everton manager in charge for more than one game achieved a figure over 50%. The other was Dick Molyneux in 1889-1901. Kendall is therefore head and shoulders above even the other great Everton manager of my lifetime, Harry Catterick, whose win rate between 1961 and 1973 was 46.5%, though Everton and Catterick were on the slide for some time at the end of that period and he would have had to step aside much sooner in the modern game. Otherwise, Silva's performance is at least par for the course when Everton are going ok:

Roberto Martinez, 2013-16; 42.9%
Colin Harvey, 1987-1990, 42.4%
David Moyes, 2002-2013, 42.1%
Ronald Koeman, 2016-17, 41.4%
Joe Royle, 1994-97, 39.0%
Howard Kendall, 1990-1993, 38.9%
Sam Allardyce, 2017-18, 38.5%

When things are really bad the figure is much worse:
Walter Smith 1998-2002, 32.4%
Howard Kendall , 1997-98, 26.2%
Mike Walker, 1994, 17.1%

And yet, I was still shocked to see Silva so high on that list. Ah, but Everton's current trajectory is worrying, isn't it? It's disappointing after the investment that has been made in the team, but the Premier League form table over the last 6 games has Everton in mid-table at 11th, with 2 wins and a draw from the last 6 games.

As always the mid-table is very congested: one more win and Everton would have been ahead of Manchester United in the top half. I know, being ahead of Man U doesn't say much at the moment, but surely it would be hasty to go with the Goodison crowd: many Everton fans joined in with the visitors when they sang  "you're getting sacked in the morning.."

There are two ways of looking at this. One is that Silva's performance is entirely typical for a decent manager at Everton, chopping and changing never does any good, better to give him more time. The other is that the players currently look flat and disorganised, bereft of any ideas or sparkle and generally lacking in any passion or fight.

From my perspective I've always been a Silva sceptic. I saw nothing in his record at Hull or Watford to make me believe he was a top manager in prospect. I know football has changed and modern managers have to be empathetic coaches rather than hair dryer disciplinarians. But Silva's personality seems feeble and, unless the players can understand what he's getting at better than I do watching his interviews, no wonder they seem to be lacking in direction.

The questions I expect Everton's board will be debating are who should replace Silva and when to make the change. Everton's upcoming fixture list is terrifying: Leicester away, Liverpool away, Chelsea home and Man United away. After that there is a home Haribo Cup quarter final against Leicester and then Arsenal at home. The last of these would traditionally be viewed as a hard fixture but this is probably the least scary Arsenal team in 3 decades. However, by then, Arsenal might well have changed their manager.

There is a case for not subjecting a new manager to that fixture list, risking condemning him to a poor start. And if Everton were to scrape a draw in the derby and win their quarter final, things might start to feel better for a while.

But also there is also a case for getting your man when you can. That is if they have a man lined up. Who are the candidates?

The outstanding available candidate is Max Allegri who Juve decided to ditch after he'd won them four consecutive Italian league and cup doubles without cracking the Champions League. He is apparently learning English but would probably wait for Manchester United to come up, if Arsenal don't bag him now. Mauricio Pocchettino might also sound fanciful but it doesn't look like he's going to Real Madrid or Man United anytime soon. If you think back to 2014 when he went to Spurs, Everton had just finished 5th - ahead of Spurs, as they tended to be then. It would be another Spurs type project (including a new stadium project!) but maybe that's is all Poch can hope for. For most of the time at Spurs he did well and he would be a good bet if Everton could get him.

More prosaically there is Sean Dyche, whose Burnley team nearly always look organised and committed. But I've come to the view that, while David Moyes was as pragmatic as necessary, his heart was in trying to play football - how could you say otherwise when his team evolved to a midfield containing Mikel Arteta, Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman? I'm not sure Dyche is like that and I've gone cold on the idea of him at Everton.

Eddie Howe may never get the chance of a top job, unless he waits for England after Gareth Southgate. He might view Everton as a route forward for his career. His teams are organised and do play with passion. Everton took a risk with David Moyes in 2002 and it worked well. Howe is far more experienced than Moyes was and shouldn't represent as big a risk. But is he, as Bill Kenwright saw in Moyes, a winner? Howe is a maybe. I'm sceptical but not as sceptical as I was about Silva.

The other obvious thing to do is bring back Moyes. That feels like a backwards step to me now, only to be done if there is no other attractive option. The bookies fancy Mark Hughes - not me. And of course there is a top, Champions League winning manager who lives a short car journey from Goodison: Rafa Benitez, who I've said before I would love to see at Goodison. Surely the Liverpool connection is long enough ago now?

If Rafa would come I'd take him every time, even though Everton did manage to finish ahead of his Liverpool team in 2005. If not, Poch, then Howe would be my choices. And then Moyes if none of them can be landed.

The statistics say that it doesn't matter too much who the Everton manager is, unless they are useless the win percentage will be about 40. But damn the statistics, they have no heart and I can't stand much more of this clueless football from my team!

Monday, 11 November 2019

VAR is flaky but Pep should look at himself

For defeated football managers it was generally blame the ref. To that we can now add blame the other ref, i.e. VAR. To be fair, VAR is a long way from working smoothly. Why anyone would think that decisions would become totally clear and uncontroversial - or indeed quick - because you can see a replay I can't imagine. After all, pundits have often disagreed after looking at interminable replays. And it has always been the case that, where one person sees a foul, another sees a defender "being strong", for example.

Rugby's TMO system has got a better handle on this, with the referee asking "is there any reason why I can't allow the try?" It seems this question lends itself to a clearer and quicker interpretation of what football is calling "clear and obvious". Or maybe it's just that football hasn't got it's mind round the issues yet. Maybe they should give it a maximum of one minute then stick by the on field decision because, by definition, it can't be clear and obvious by then can it? But still there will always be the judgement call about whether there was "enough" contact or what actually constitutes an "unnatural body shape". So, unlike Pep Guardiola, I can see why two people will look at the same replay and reach a different conclusion.

What I'm finding difficult about VAR is the spurious precision of the offside line. It seems daft to say that someone was offside by the size of their big toe, as happened when a Sheffield United goal was disallowed at the weekend. I realise that your toe is part of a bit of your body that you can score a goal with, so it "counts" when they draw the line. But by any sensible definition that's "level". Level was once offside, but it was changed years ago to give a bit of benefit to the attacker. Now they can draw that infernal line on a screen, "level" seems to have no meaning, you're either offside or onside. If the football authorities want to keep the advantage with the attacker of being level not behind the defender then maybe the guidance should be that the attacker needs to be "clearly" beyond the defender to be offside. After all, that's the way the game was pretty much played before VAR. But wait - how many millimetres is "clearly"?

However, my real problem with the way it's being done at the moment is that the technology can't currently be precise about when the ball has been kicked, so the accuracy with which the line is being drawn is completely spurious. Indeed, since the ball compresses when kicked should it be when foot strikes ball, or when ball leaves foot? Logic would say the latter. This may seem pedantic but remember we are talking about millimetres with people running at speeds which can be close to ten metres a second.

I always found it harder running the line than refereeing in junior football. That is because you have to look at two things at the same time: watch for when the ball is kicked while also looking at the position of the attacker, who is often sprinting forward, relative to the defenders, who might be moving in the other direction. Given the player playing the ball forward can be 50 yards away from the position of the receiver, to use an American Football term, this is physically impossible. You have to glance at the defensive line and quickly look back to the ball and make the best judgement you can. If the action is close enough, you can watch the line and listen for the sound of boot on ball. (No, I didn't try to factor in the difference between the speed of sound and light.....)  It always impresses me how good the top assistant referees are at doing these things. And it's why the best assistant refs aren't necessarily good refs; they are different skill sets to some extent. Assistant refs don't need to be people managers, for example.

Maybe it's just that the rugby TMO has it easy: checking for forward passes can be fraught but the distances and relative movement aren't as large.

What causes me to muse about VAR was Pep Guardiola's childish behaviour during and after Manchester City's resounding defeat at Liverpool yesterday. (Incidentally, I thought both managers should have been sent to the stands). Yes there was VAR controversy - when isn't there? Many pundits thought City should have been awarded a penalty just before Liverpool opened the scoring. Many others didn't. Former Premier League ref Mark Clattenburg thought the decision was right, but not for the reason given. I agreed with him that, as the ball had ricocheted against Trent Alexander-Arnold's red sleeved arm from the hand at the end of Bernardo Silva's blue sleeve, it would have been perverse to award the penalty.  Neither "handball" looked deliberate to me but, even if Alexander-Arnold was making himself "bigger" with his arm position (for me he wasn't) why should City benefit when the ball had hit their player's hand first? That would go against any idea of natural justice.

More materially, as Martin Samuel pointed out, it wasn't VAR's fault that, 22 seconds later, Liverpool scored a cracking goal. The fact that City couldn't contain Liverpool's counter attacks for most of the game had more to do with it. As did Gundogan's weak clearance to the scorer, Fabinho. And also the fact that City's number 2 goalkeeper, Claudio Bravo, isn't an adequate standby for Ederson. A fact which is proved by the remarkable stat that Bravo has conceded 22 goals out of the last 41 shots he has faced.

Being a good goalkeeper in a great side isn't easy as there are long periods with little to do. Pulling off a world class save after standing around for an hour is much harder than making a great save when your team is under the cosh and you've been making a series of saves. Coming in as a rarely used number 2 goalkeeper isn't easy either. But Bravo obviously isn't up to it. He's an insurance policy that's not worth the premium.

I felt Liverpool's win was much more comprehensive than the scoreline suggests. City's strongest players didn't perform on the day. I was bemused by my newspaper giving Kevin de Bruyne 8 out of 10 for his performance. He saw plenty of the ball but didn't use it particularly well. De Bruyne has hit some killer passes and crosses this season but looked ordinary yesterday; the killer balls came from Robertson and Henderson. Sergio Aguero had chances to break his Anfield scoring duck but bizarrely seemed to pull his foot away from the most dangerous cross towards him.

All of City's players can look outstanding on their day, but I'm not convinced by some of them. Ikay Gundogan can do some nice things in a good team playing well but, for me, he fails the Lee Sharpe test. Sharpe looked a good player for Manchester United and won several England caps but when Alex Ferguson tired of his attitude and moved him on he never looked the same player. This may be unfair - Sharpe did have an injury at Leeds which might have been material. But I doubt I'm being unfair to Gudogan, who is one of those "big lightweight" players, like Everton's Morgan Schneiderlin: a big guy who plays with all the physical presence of a midget. Gundogan is 5 ft 11 in in old money but plays like he is several inches shorter. Yesterday both Claudio Bravo and Kyle Walker came in for criticism for not defending Henderson's cross for Mane to score Liverpool's third. But it was a cross that was every bit as good as a de Bruyne classic. And the problem started with Henderson, who had been suffering from flu in the week and didn't see out the match, bursting past Gundogan on the touchline as if he just wasn't there. To take the Lee Sharpe analogy further, I don't think Gundogan would justify a place in the midfield of any top half Premier League team. Not only would I not swap him for any of Liverpool's midfield squad, I wouldn't swap him for any of Everton's (apart, maybe from Schneiderlin - tough call that) including Fabian Delph who City sold to Everton on the summer. Delph would have done a better job for City at Anfield than Gundogan.

As for their coach, I laughed when he took off his leading goalscorer at 3-0 down, making a like for like change in bringing on the talented but lightweight Gabriel Jesus. That's not what most people would do in that situation, Pep! But City's team selection was curious anyway. Guardiola trusted Angelino at left back and the £10M summer re-signing spent most of the game looking like a startled rabbit. Meanwhile Guardiola had over £100M worth of full backs kicking their heels. Cancelo was on the bench and Mendy, who always looks eccentric at best when he does play, didn't even make the squad. Guardiola preferred to keep midfielder Fernandinho in the back four, leaving centre-back Otamendi on the bench. Fernandinho tried to clear Robertson's cross for Salah's headed goal with his foot when a natural back four player would surely have attempted to head it and probably succeeded, or at least blocked Salah's vision, which is often all a centre back needs to do (spoken from experience). In his place in centre midfield Rodri looked as ineffective as he has all season.

Guardiola can only look at himself for these shortcomings. He has spent a fortune - more than £200 million - on full backs while not getting anyone as good as the ones he inherited (Zabaleta and  Kolarov). He has also spent hugely on centre backs with patchy results. Admittedly, the injured Laporte was a success. John Stones should have been but has gone backwards under the mentoring of his famous manager. In contrast, Raheem Sterling has come on hugely over the last two seasons, so maybe it's just that Guardiola and his style of play don't work as well for defenders. Other doubtful but expensive signings like Otamendi and Mangala preceeded Pep's time at City, so this is a recruitment problem for the club that predates him. Nevertheless, it was puzzling that Vincent Kompany, who retired in the summer, wasn't replaced, meaning City went into the season with three experienced centre backs, four being the normal complement.

It seems strange to criticise someone with such a stellar record as Guardiola, especially in view of his back to back Premier League titles. But before that, let's face it, he had no-one to beat in Germany and only one and a half teams in Spain (Real and Atletico Madrid). One wonders, if Pep had gone to Manchester United or Chelsea in 2016, where would they be now and where would Man City be? United would have been a difficult rebuilding job for anyone.

In contrast, Liverpool's recruitment has been far more targeted and successful. When pretty boy man-mountain Virgil Van Dijk signed for Liverpool rather than City nearly two years ago he said he wanted to play for Klopp, and was impressed by the passion of the Liverpool fans.  I was a little surprised as City seemed the better bet to me at the time. Klopp was sure he had the right man and I can now see why van Dijk made his choice.

I'd much rather play for Klopp than Guardiola and I'm an Everton fan.......

Thursday, 7 November 2019

The analogue enemy strikes

Roy Harper recorded his tour de force album Man and Myth in 2013. I'm still dumbfounded that a man who, despite my admiration for him, made many patchy albums could make one of his best and most consistently high quality albums in his eighth decade. His song The Enemy recalls the bad guys we traditionally feared, the muggers, pickpockets and highwaymen:

We are soldiers from a different world, both her and I
We fight the shadow doppelganger
Of the shady passer-by
The lads go out drinking
While the girls try to keep an eye
But no one's on duty this side of the sky

The song is saying that, while we are genetically programmed to be suspicious of strangers lurking in the shadows, these days it's the hackers and scammers who are more likely to rip you off.

Not always though. After more than 40 years of travelling, while the antivirus and firewall software was guarding the other half of the sky, Mrs H had her purse taken from her handbag by a doppelganger from the shadows while we were on holiday in Tenerife. Yes we'd been drinking - a nice bottle of Albarino with dinner and we weren't on high alert in a smart resort. Sure, the damage is limited: not much more than a hundred euros, two cards that we blocked within half an hour* without them being used and, most hurtful, a purse that had sentimental as well as material value. Scammers can do harm on a far larger scale.

We didn't see this traditional enemy while we stood at the side of a busy promenade waiting to book a restaurant table for the following evening. But a concerned Belgian tourist saw something suspicious and suggested Mrs H check her bag. And he then legged off in pursuit of a small group of youths with me a few strides behind. At least we made them run for a bit.

We've been in many so much dodgier places over the years. In our street market drill I stand behind the shoulder she has her bag on, which is a decoy anyway as there's nothing much in it. I scan nearby faces rather than looking at the goods on display and scowl suspiciously at anyone who comes too close. Basically looking like a psychopathic bodyguard, which would generally make most villains choose a softer, or at least less  crazy, target.

Which is what they did this time. What upset her most was the fact that, recovering from a broken ankle, she was using a walking stick. So they picked on someone who looked old(ish) and vulnerable.

Mrs H takes an Old Testament view of this kind of crime and the appropriate sanction. No tough on the causes of crime for her! She would gladly go round and trash the villain's mother's (or preferably granny's) dwelling in retaliation in order to make them all see the errors of their ways. Any liberal leftie who tries to suggest this might not be quite the best way to handle such things had best keep their counsel in  her presence or they will probably get quite an earful.

For me the intrusion of an old analogue type of foe is unwelcome - and reminds me I can't react or run as fast as I used to. But Harper is right - the main enemy is on the other side of the sky. While it's our own responsibility to  be careful, the more I read about the scams people have fallen victim to the more I find myself incredulous at the pathetic processes and systems banks and other companies seem to have in place. In particular, I seethe about banks that won't co-operate with victims who aren't their customer, protecting criminals who have been allowed to open accounts with flaky ID to funnel away proceeds of crime with impunity. I'm sure there are all sorts of angles on this - after all folk might quite like to retract transactions they regret. But surely banks could cooperate to track fraudulent transfers. And phone companies who allow scammers to make it look like a bank or other instutution is in the line, just do something will you!

The banks deservedly got a bad press over the financial crisis. You wouldn't think their reputation could go lower. But it has. If they are giving these issues any thought at all they are making a very good job of concealing it. They're like one of Roy's shadow doppelgangers, effectively collaborating with crooks on the other side of the sky.

* at least we thought we had. I keep a list of up to date emergency phone numbers separately from cards and cash - calling the number on the back of the card is ok if you have the card. But I don't write down the card numbers and if you don't have the card.... The bank that used to like to give you a little eXtra managed to get in a total tangle and cancel the wrong card as we realised when we got home and a replacement had arrived for a card that wasn't stolen. Which meant the stolen card hadn't been blocked. When we phoned again they didn't seem to understand why we were agitated, given that I had already checked there were no transactions on the card. "Because you're obviously not as good as the other bank we had to call". Aaaaarghhh!

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Grenfell victimisation

The first stage of the Grenfell Inquiry confirmed much of what we knew already: that the building refurbishment breached fire regulations which themselves are probably lax compared with countries such as the USA and the emergency response was brave but lacking in common sense.  So nothing much surprising, even though it took over 2 years. Indeed, the fact that the second stage may not report until 2022 is depressing, not surprising. No wonder it takes us so long to build a railway or a nuclear power station.

Much ordure has been heaped on the head of the London Fire Brigade commissioner Dany Cotton, mainly for the "remarkable insensitivity" of her evidence, saying she would not change anything done on the night and comparing the incident with a spacecraft landing on the Shard, even though cladding fires have happened before including one at Lakanal House in south London which killed six people in 2009. One wonders why she didn't say that, in hindsight, more people might have been saved by changing from "stay put" much earlier, though that wasn't necessarily obvious at the time. Some have speculated that Cotton's stonewalling approach might have flowed from legal advice to try to avoid liability for the fire brigade. But it doesn't take the forensic legal mind of a retired judge to point out that, as the fire brigade belatedly switched from "stay put" to "evacuate" that doing so earlier might have helped.

Ms Cotton was also criticised for her "apparent lack of curiosity" when she arrived on site at 3am. Now I made a whole management career out of asking simple questions - the most revealing responses often flowed from questions I had thought almost too dumb to ask - but the situation on the ground at that time at Grenfell didn't really lend itself to detailed quizzing of her subordinates about what they were doing and why.

The issue of building regulations, practice, checking and inspection will surely prove to be more substantive and to hold out the prospect of saving lives in the future without resorting to last ditch efforts by emergency services working in life threatening conditions. But in the meantime the resentful cry has gone up about Ms Cotton's remuneration. "Grenfell fury at £234,000 boss's plan to retire at 50 with pension pot of £2M" said the Daily Mail, for example.

Now I'm not sure why the LFB commissioner earns £234k, a lot more than the prime minister. The job has scale, but limited complexity - there are a lot of fire stations and folk in them all charged with doing the same things. But she does earn £234k. "She should not get any pay off" said one Grenfell survivor, arguing that Ms Cotton should be stripped of her pension. Another described Ms Cotton's pension as "like winning the lottery".

Now one can argue that some public sector pension schemes are wildly generous, wholly unaffordable in the private sector. (Hypocrisy alert - I benefited through being a member of such a scheme for most of the first half of my career....) Ms Cotton can retire aged 50 on a full pension with 32 years service, 3 years of it as commissioner. And in the nature of final salary schemes folk like Ms Cotton who complete their career with a stratospheric salary get their whole pension based on that salary, even though their contributions were based on a much lower average salary across tgeir career. This form of subsidy by the people who stay in the same grade all their career has always struck me as a Robin Hood in reverse kind of stealing from the poor to give to the rich. ("Yes, but don't tell them" said one company pension manager when I made that remark many years ago). And I don't know whether Ms Cotton is benefiting from any added years enhancement if she retires early - I suspect not given the way I understand the fire brigade and police pensions schemes are set up. But if she is not, it's ever so simple. Pensions are just deferred pay. Ms Cotton has earned this benefit through her career and is entitled to now claim it. There appears to be no case that she has not done her job - she hasn't been suspended or investigated to my knowledge. If she was sacked I feel sure she would successfully claim unfair dismissal at an industrial tribunal. But even if she was culpable, she had worked through all her career to that point and earned her pay doing it.

So Dany Cotton should be allowed to retire in peace and reflect on her lack of sensitivity at her leisure while I reflect on just how unforgiving and vengeful our society has become, always looking for someone to blame, even if they were just doing their job.

In the meantime there are more important things to address. Building regulations and how we check compliance certainly. Public sector pension schemes - yes to that too, though politically difficult the current apartheid like divide with the private sector is unjustifiable.

I am left with one other uncomfortable and currently almost unsayable thought. How did such an apparently limited individual as Dany Cotton come to be commissioner of the London Fire Brigade? I accept that the Inquiry might not have revealed all her management competencies. But on what we saw? We need more women in high profile jobs throughout our society but maybe this one was over promoted - a comment that obviously you could equally make had she been male, but there is pressure to appoint women these days.

But she was put in the role and, if she wasn't up to it the LFB should look at its appointment process. As she was put in the role and presumably up to Grenfell was performing satisfactorily she is entitled to her pay, including the deferred pensionable element. After all there are plenty of women arguing currently that if you do the job the pay should be the same, however well you do it (though mostly these are female employees at the BBC.....)

Leave Dany Cotton alone with her no doubt uncomfortable thoughts and let's move on to the more important issues. Can someone give Sir Martin Moore-Bick a prod to hurry up? There I go, looking for someone to blame....

Friday, 25 October 2019

Hacked off by the Haka

The rugby world cup has been a great success, typhoons notwithstanding, particularly because of the Japanese hosts: both their organisation and their joyous, fast, entertaining play. But now we move on to the business end of the tournament with the expected big guns in the semi-finals.

I am hoping Wales and England will play well and win. I am rather more confident about Wales, though they haven't played that well yet. As ever, England will have to play a solid game through the whole match to beat the All Blacks who, not unreasonably, have been described as the most outstanding team in world sport in recent decades.

England's first problem with the All Blacks is one I share: what to do about the haka, their pre-match ritual inspired by Maori culture. I don't care for the haka, partly because it is clearly ridiculous - it must be almost demeaning to perform. It's not so much that the All Blacks perform their ritual,  which is clearly intended to be not only motivational but also confrontational and intimidating, more the range of problems that it has thrown up in terms of how opposition teams respond.

 I'm not the only one who feels this way, though I admit I'm in a minority. I've been reading two interesting histories of the haka. One you can read at https://deadspin.com/a-brief-history-of-rugby-teams-trying-to-respond-to-the-1796680563 gives a history of recent responses by other teams which have included teams going nose to nose with the All Blacks and the Tongans performing a kind of rival ritual at the same time. These pranks have usually not ended well as they seem to have motivated the All Blacks to even higher levels of performance. For example, in 1997 hooker Richard Cockerill, making his test debut for England, crossed the halfway line to go nose to nose with his opposite number during the haka. There was some pushing and shoving before the referee intervened. As the teams took their positions England captain Martin Johnson asked Cockerill "what the *** have you done?". New Zealand won 25-8. There are many other examples of teams confronting or ignoring the haka, only to motivate the All Blacks performing it.

During the Lions tour of 2005, coach Sir Clive Woodward did some research and formulated a response which was intended to both respect the haka and show the All Blacks his team were ready for battle. “It was based on getting an email from a Māori,” said Woodward. “It said the chief (O’Driscoll) should go out with one of the youngest players and he should then accept the challenge after the haka is done by picking up and throwing a piece of grass in the air as a mark of respect and friendship. That’s why we did it. We thought it was a nice idea.” He perhaps should have shared this idea with his opposite number, since the it is possible that the Kiwis did not think it was such a nice idea: this was the match in which, after less than one minute's play, O'Driscoll was picked up and slammed down on his neck by two New Zealand players. I hadn't been aware of this possible connection.

The haka does have a long history - when Wales played New Zealand for the first time in Cardiff in 1905 it was performed between the two national anthems, rather than immediately before the kick off. In a match to mark the centenary of the first game Wales persuaded New Zealand to recreate the original sequence. (It didn't change much, the All Blacks won 41-3).  Wales asked for the same change in 2006, citing consultation with two Maori chiefs that their national anthem was an appropriate response to the haka. Despite six weeks notice the New Zealanders resisted and, after a stand off, decided to perform their routine in their dressing room. The crowd, puzzled by the absence of the haka, booed and New Zealand won 45-10.

Before the 1991 World Cup semi final, Australian David Campese ignored the haka by practicing his kicking before going on to produce a great individual performance as the Aussies won 16-6. Other teams have gone into a pre-game huddle to blot out the noise and gurning. But this option seems to have been squashed as I understand World Rugby has decreed that opposition teams must "respect" the haka. This seems to me to be handing an instiutionalised advantage to the Kiwis. 

But in an interesting rugby blog called blitzdefence (sounds more gridiron,  know) I came across at https://theblitzdefence.wordpress.com/2017/06/24/its-time-to-end-the-haka/  the writers said "It's time to end the haka" arguing that, while the haka has been performed for over a hundred years, a look at old videos shows it changed beyond recognition in the 1980s. For example, take a look at this rather comical you tube clip of the haka in 1973: 

By 2005 it's a lot more aggressive: https://youtu.be/dGazxnFhPH4

Moreover, until 1986 it was performed exclusively overseas, not in New Zealand. So much for tradition.

The problem is it leaves opponents, under instruction to "respect" the haka, a dilemma. Stand there and watch? Or turn your backs on them, risk censure and motivating the opposition further?

Blitzdefence argue that, in an era of professional sport, it is wrong to give the All Blacks special treatment by allowing them to perform their ritual immediately before kick off and not other teams whatever the supposed cultural significance. Oh yes, it is special treatment: the Aussies had Waltzing Matilda blasted out for a while before kick off until the 2003 World Cup where it was decreed teams could have only one song, i.e. their national anthem, apart from songs that are culturally important. Which turned out to just be the haka. (OK, so just sing it and stand still then!) 

Blitzdefence suggest it's time to give opposing teams the choice of whether the All Blacks can perform the haka before kick off or whether, if they want to perform it on the pitch, they must do so well before the national anthems, perhaps 20 minutes before kick off, i.e. while the teams are doing their warm up. I would add, if it's done while both teams are on the pitch, let them perform it at one end, facing the crowd, not adjacent to the half way line. 

The crowd can, of course, intervene: in 2012 the Twickenham crowd blotted out the haka with Swing Low Sweet Chariot.

That option isn't open to England tomorrow. Their best response will be to simply go out and win the game. At least I can't see Owen Farrell being intimidated.

But the haka has become a distraction. Shift it away from kick off and let's concentrate on the game.

P.S. England's "V" formation, boxing in the All Black's haka and making them look rather like a bunch of snooker reds waiting to be scattered, was perhaps the most effective opposition response to date. And I loved Owen Farrell's wry smirk. But I enjoyed the England performance in the match far more. This England team was confident enough to not be intimidated by the All Blacks reputation. It was one of the best English rugby performances I've seen. A shame the Welsh couldn't produce a good enough performance against South Africa.