Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Shared Equity

So, the government has started their third term with a couple of controversial ideas; ID cards and Shared Equity Schemes.

I don't think I've talked about ID cards before but I have to say I wouldn't mind having to carry one. I don't accept the argument that it will tackle terrorism but I can see that it would help to stop benefit fraud and the like. Having said that, I would not be happy about being forced into paying the best part of a hundred quid for one. You shouldn't have to pay for something you have no choice over, in my view.

Anyway, what I really want to write about is the announcement by the Chancellor that the government will be setting up Shared Equity Schemes to help first time buyers get onto the property ladder. On the face of it, it's a really good idea, taking some of the burden of debt away from homeowners, but when you get down to it the scheme doesn't look as fair as it should.

The key is that the government or mortgage lender who takes on a proportion of the debt then owns that proportion of the house and accordingly gets that share of the property value when you sell on, regardless of whether the price has gone up. That may not seem quite right but if you shared the cost with a friend that is exactly what would happen. But that is where it starts to get unfair.

Say you're in a shared equity scheme and that the government has a 50% stake in the property. When you move in, the kitchen is in real need of refurbishment and the garden needs some work. You spend a total of £3000 over a couple of years getting it done and that adds £5000 to the value of the house, on top of any increase due to the market. When you sell on, you realise only £2500 of that increase in value, a net loss of £500 on what you put into it. The government has made money from your hard work and spending. The same occurs when you're talking about necessary repairs, such as a leaking roof. You end up spending more money on the property than the other party and yet they still get half the resale value.

I'd love to see someone trying to explain how that can be fair.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Health Update

I was meant to be working at home yesterday so I dragged a laptop home with me on Wednesday. I sat down to work yesterday morning and connected to the work network, only to find something was wrong and I couldn't launch any applications. I spent an hour or so on the phone in total between then and 3.30 talking to our technical guys. They couldn't sort it out so I ended up with a day at home, doing very little, that wasn't counted as leave. Result!

Anyway, the reason I was working at home was that I had my next appointment at the endocrinology department at 11.30 (rescheduled from 8.45 the previous week). I had some blood tests a couple of weeks ago, to see how the drug has been working and, the long and the short of it is, it hasn't. My T3, T4 and TSH levels are about the same as they were 9 weeks ago. So, the consultant has told me to double my dosage and we'll see how it goes over the next nine weeks.

The odd thing is that I have been feeling better. Okay, I haven't been back to the old me, but I didn't expect to be, given that parenting Cirrus is hard work. Maybe I'm just sleeping better (when I'm allowed to, that is). Even more odd,yesterday afternoon and evening I felt worse than I have done in weeks. Perhaps it's all in the head.

The consultant was a little puzzled that the pills hadn't made any real inroads but he wasn't all that surprised. He stressed that, particularly in men, the condition is often not completely sorted out by the drugs but that we needed to get it under control before doing anything else. I'd pretty much come to the conclusion that other treatments would be required anyway so what he said didn't bother me at all.

So, now I have to remember to take 2 little pills every morning instead of one and hope that they're going to do the trick. At least I'm exempt from prescription charges.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Unexpected Meeting

In the last carriage of a Northern Line train, a man is standing near the door, book in hand and white earphones in his ears. A woman with a distinctive lock of red hair is sitting down nearby and looking at him as if she knows him. A girl walks down the carriage and as the man moves out of her way he sees, from the corner of his eye, the woman watching him. He looks up and recognition blooms on his face. He steps over and they talk about his new baby for a few minutes before the woman gets off at her stop. The man starts reading again before getting off one stop later.

Friday, May 13, 2005

An Oily Character

So, George Galloway MP, who lives in Portugal (from where he can obviously represent the people of Bethnal Green and Bow adequately), is off to the States to rubbish the claims made by the US Senate that he was allocated a large amount of oil by Saddam Hussein. I can see how it will go.

US Senator: "So you see, Mr Galloway, these papers show that Saddam set aside this oil for you. Now we're not saying you have profited from this in any way (aside: mainly because we can't prove it) but you can at least see that Saddam allocated 20 million barrels of oil for you."

George Galloway (in a loud voice) "I did not make any money through oil from Saddam Hussein. I have answered these allegations already in my successful legal battle with the Daily Telegraph!"

US Senator: Sigh "We're not saying you profited from this, Mr Galloway, and we have already shown that these allegations are different for those made by the Daily Telegraph. Can you see that now?"

George Galloway: "You can't talk to me like that! Do you know who I am? I've just won an election! The people of Bow Green and Bethnal have chosen me, ME!, as their MP and now you're asking me these ridiculous questions. Why don't you ask me about what matters in Green and Bow Bethnal? They don't care about oil. Look, I've had enough of this. Either ask me something sensible or I'm off.

US Senator: "But..."

George Galloway: "Right, that's it." Storms out and hops back on a plane to Portugal.

Always good for a laugh, isn't he?

Prediction Results

Well, my predictions weren't too far off, were they? A 67 majority for Labour instead of my predicted 71 means I was pretty close on that one (though I messed up my calculation regarding the number of seats the other parties would gain). I was five minutes out on the first result but Peter Snow's swingometers and 'battleground' were definitely well used during the night.

As for the rest, the only thing I got significantly wrong was my own result. I wasn't sure whether Tony McWalter would keep the seat or not. I was pretty sure it would be close but in the end I went the wrong way. Whether or not my vote helped or hindered the result will remain a mystery.

It was an odd election, though, don't you think? Have you ever known an election result that can be described as good (but not great) for all the major parties? I mean, Labour may have lost a lot of seats but they came out of it with a decent majority and their first ever third term. However, there was a very obvious backlash against the party, and the PM in particular. The Tories gained seats and have brought in a lot of new, young MPs, which should be good for the party, but the downside for them is that they didn't make larger in-roads into Labour's majority. Then there are the Lib Dems, who made large gains (in swing if not seats) against Labour and have confirmed their place in UK politics but will be disappointed not to have made much showing in the Conservative seats they were targeting.

Everyone has something to boast about and something else to think about. Strange.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Election Prediction

It's the big day tomorrow so, despite still not knowing who to plump for, I thought I'd make a prediction of the results. If you want to do the same then leave it in the comments.

Fairly obviously, I think Labour will win it but not with the sort of majority they've enjoyed over the last eight years. I think it will be cut from 166 to around 70 (71, say, for precision's sake), with the Conservatives gaining 58 seats and the Lib Dems increasing their total by 30 (the others going to minor parties like the SNP).

The first result will be called by 10.38p.m. tomorrow. Peter Snow's new swingometer will get a really good workout and I will stay up watching bleary-eyed until well after midnight (I'm not working on Friday, thankfully), by which time the result should be clear.

Locally, I think it will be very close but that Tony McWalter will remain our MP for another few years, allbeit with a much reduced majority of around a thousand - definitely a target seat next time around.

I'll see how close I am next week.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Vote '05 - Any Ideas?

I was going to write a whole series of posts on the election but other events and a general apathy towards the whole campaign have conspired against that. Suffice it to say that I still have no idea who to vote for on Thursday. Here are a few points that have flitted through my mind over the last couple of weeks.

I really can't stand Michael Howard. I hate the way everything he says seems to have been scripted days beforehand. I don't want him to be PM and the Tories to be in government, which is odd, since I am probably more naturally conservative than anything else. Even if I could get past that dislike, I think the Tory intentions towards immigration are ludicrous.

On the other hand, I really don't want Tony Blair to be PM, either. I don't care that he can weasel his way out of the allegations that he lied over Iraq (he didn't - only bent the truth about as far as it was possible to and mislead parliament while doing so). No, what have really turned me from Labour (admittedly, it didn't need much), are the continual assertions that, whether there were WMDs in Iraq or not, it was right to go to war because otherwise Saddam Hussein would still be in power there. So, after the fact, it is suddenly all right for regime change to be the justification for war. I'm sorry, Mr Blair, but that simply isn't the case. Put that together with ID cards, trial without jury and imprisonment without charge and it doesn't matter how well Gordon Brown is handling the economy or how much Labour are doing to help young families - I just can't bring myself to vote that way.

So, then. The Liberal Democrats. In many ways, my current political leanings are most in line with Charles Kennedy's party and there is a bonus in that I don't actively dislike the man. However, there are two main stumbling blocks to me voting for them. The first is that there is no chance of them getting into power unless there is a hung parliament. While that could be interesting from an objective point of view, I don't want it to happen. The second, much larger problem is Proportional Representation. If the Liberal Democrats get into power, either with a majority or in a hung parliament, they will push for the electoral system to be changed from the current 'first past the post' system to a PR system, like they have in Germany, for example. While it seems a fairer way to elect a government, it has one major flaw in this country: we only have 3 major political parties and a PR system would hand the balance of power to the smallest of those parties, which, coincidentally, happens to be the Liberal Democrats.

I have exhausted myself of parties to vote for (I wouldn't consider voting for one of the smaller parties, e.g. UKIP) so how about looking simply at my local candidates instead and voting on their intentions on local issues? Well, I have met our current MP, Tony McWalter (Lab), who has a majority of 3,742, and I have to say that I like him a lot and agree with where he stands on a few key local issues (keeping Hemel Hempstead Hospital open and in its current location; the council trend for closing down youth schemes, which means kids hang around in residential areas disturbing those that live there; building on Green Belt land). However, the Conservative candidate stands for largely the same things. The Liberal Democrat candidate only talks about local issues in terms of how they would be affected by the polices of the party at a national level, rather than confronting the issues that are peculiar to Hemel Hempstead residents.

All of which makes it very difficult to work out who to vote for. Locally, a vote for the Lib Dems is next to useless, as they only got about 13% of the vote last time round, but I don't want to vote for either of the other parties. Maybe I'll just go along and spoil my ballot paper. That, at least, would be a fair representation of my views at the moment.