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What do opinion poll probabilities tell us?

Anyone speculating on the result of the EU referendum can refer to either opinion polls or prediction markets. On the morning of June 20, polls put the probability that Remain will win at 52 per cent, while prediction markets estimate 75 per cent. That is a big difference. What then do these figures mean?

Visions of Europe: Why the European Union is not, and should not be, the United States of Europe

Many visions of Europe are driven by rivalry the United States of America. In this article I describe one which welcomes European integration, sees a European identity as a complement to national identity, not a substitute for it, and does not equate ‘ever closer union’ with additional powers for supra-national institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg.

The dangers of confusing democracy with populism

Last week I received a communication from the Electoral Commission about the coming EU referendum. The pamphlet states the case for each side and gives instructions on how to vote. At first sight that process epitomises democracy in action. But on closer examination the leaflet illustrates why momentous decisions should not be made this way.

Political instability stems from the diminished importance of the left-right spectrum

The problem of western democracies such as Britain and the US is that the institutions of a two-party system in which alternating governments compete to attract votes in the centre do not work well when politics is no longer arranged on a one-dimensional spectrum from left to right. Recent political upheavals are only the start of the resulting instability.

Incremental improvements to infrastructure offer better value for money

Does it lift your heart to hear that “Britain is uniquely placed to lead the world in a smart power revolution”? Do you share the ambition of George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer, to discover “what the government needs to do to become a world leader in 5G infrastructure”? Here’s why my heart sank when reading these words in the plans of the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission.

The dangers of ever-closer tax scrutiny

Explaining your possibly complex financial affairs to unsympathetic journalists adds to the already too long list of reasons why able people might not want to go into politics. And such scrutiny draws attention away from genuinely serious and widespread tax evasion, corruption and money laundering, practices.

Our tax system needs purposeful change, not tinkering

George Osborne has, it is reported, abandoned plans for root-and-branch reform of the taxation of pension saving and will content himself with tinkering with rates of relief. However, what’s really needed in our tax system — as in so many other areas of political life — is purposive change: reforms may well be implemented in piecemeal fashion but should be motivated by a sense of strategic direction.

Trade debate in EU referendum should focus on UK as world leader in services

Britain has a trade surplus in almost every service sector except tourism. As a result, world trade negotiations have not played to British strengths because advanced economies tend to trade freely in manufactures but retain home-country bias in their purchases of services. This should frame any debate on trade in the EU referendum.

What Uber and another John Kay teach us about innovation and competition

Uber’s superior service threatens London’s black-cab drivers, just as (my namesake) John Kay’s flying shuttle eventually led to rebellion by out-of-work Luddites in the 19th century. The losers from such innovations should in some circumstances be compensated. But restricting competition is against the public interest.

UK invites more bank failures by backtracking on executive liability

The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, which reported in 2013, recognised the central significance of executive responsibility for systemic failure in the sector. It proposed a senior managers regime which would hold executives liable for wrongdoing in activities for which they had responsibility even if they had no specific knowledge of the improper conduct. Having accepted this recommendation, the UK government is now backtracking.

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