So you want to be a UKIP MP?

There is a bit of a flap this week over the defection to UKIP of Tory MP Douglas Carswell. UKIP, not exactly known for their firm grasp of reality, are predicting further defections in the coming months, with several Tory MP’s likely to jump ship, something the Tories of course deny.

This will trigger a by election in his constituency of Clacton, with Carswell standing for UKIP. However the problem is that UKIP already have a candidate in this constituency, Roger Lord, who is needless to say somewhat taken aback by having some ex-Tory carpet bagger parachuted in to replace him. Particularly when one considers Carswell’s being implicated in the parliamentary expenses scandal, something that is often highlighted as a reason for voting UKIP.

But it would seem that UKIP’s head office decided to just do this without consulting the local party officials. This flies in the face of how must political parties pick candidates for a constituency (typically with some level of local input). Indeed I can think of only two political parties that seem to pick candidates like UKIP – the German nazi party and the Russian communist party!

What this chaos over candidates betrays is the reality of UKIP as a party of government would likely be a vote for chaos, infighting and political paralysis. It is for this reason that Juncker is the EU President as all sides united to shut out the euroskeptics, realising the need to make sure that whoever ended up in charge didn’t matter so long as they were vaguely sane.

Of course the one winner in all this will be a certain Ed Miliband. If there’s anything he would like better it would be to see the Tory vote split, robbing the Tories of key marginal seats and handing the keys to number 10 to labour.

I bet Cameron right now is wishing he’d not opposed that alternative vote the lib dem’s wanted.

Ukraine and the new cold war

Despite the efforts of Putin’s cult of personality (which now includes many of those on the political right in the UK) to deny it, the fact is becoming clear that Russian troops have invaded Ukraine and are fighting alongside the “rebels” (those who aren’t Russian that is).

Evidence includes photos of tank variants known to be only operated by Russia, satellite images from NATO showing them crossing the border, the capture of several Russian servicemen by Ukraine and secret funerals for Russian soldiers killed in action in Ukraine.

While Putin’s strategy is something known only to him and his cronies, its likely they are hoping to carve out an enclave in North Eastern Ukraine which will serve as a bridge head to Russian occupied Crimea.

The implications of this are quite serious. As I speculated would happen some months ago, Ukraine has now announced its intention to join NATO or enter into some sort of mutual defence treaty with NATO. This plus the fact that Russia will now be occupying disputed territory puts us right back to 1947 and the cold war with NATO and the Warsaw pact facing off over Berlin and the two halves of Germany.

Back then it was generally accepted that if the cold war went hot, it would likely be due to one side, trying to take over the rest of Germany by force (likely by an attack through the so-called Fulda Gap), something that would likely have eventually resulted in a nuclear exchange of some sorts.

However the Ukraine crisis threats not just a return to the balance of cold war terror, but something more serious, given that much of the on the ground fighting will be by rebels and other groups who will not be taking into account the implications of their actions on the wider political situation.

Back during the cold war there were strict orders to military forces about what they should or should not do, so scared where the leadership about a stray shot starting world war III (both sides were quite happy to lose a few men, the odd plane or even ship to prevent Armageddon). This is how an attempted defector (Peter Fechter) was left to bleed to death at Checkpoint Charlie for several hours in full view of Western media.

Furthermore, back during the cold war it was generally assumed that the Soviets with their superior ground forces would be the likely antagonists. However, now the boot is on the other foot. As I pointed out in a prior post, NATO now has a massive tactical advantage over Russia in terms of the location of its bases (in many cases ex-Warsaw pact bases in Eastern Europe!), technology, numerical superiority and the levels of training of its forces (most Russian soldiers are conscript’s while most of NATO’s are professional soldiers). There is little doubt that Russia would struggle to stop NATO in any future conflict. And given NATO’s improving ABM capabilities this would probably force them into an increasingly hair trigger launch on warning scenario, something which has nearly led to nuclear war in the past, most notably in the 80’s and in during the Yeltsin era.

Of course there is some hope that economic pressure on Putin will bring down his regime. My suspicion is that Putin’s major flaw is he didn’t learn the lessons of history and could well be about to repeat the mistakes of the soviets. For example in retaliation for western sanctions, his government imposed counter sanctions on food stuffs…which of course inevitably triggered price rises of between 10 – 60% in just a few days and could well lead to the return of the long food queues Russian’s remember from the last days of the soviet empire.

Indeed the Russians have several queuing jokes from the soviet era that they might need to rehash, such as:
Two men in a queue in Moscow, one goes to the other “I’m sick of this, the Communists have ruined the country, I’m going to the Kremlin to kill Brezhnev”….a few hours later he returns “did you kill him?” his friend says “no, I got to red square and there was an even longer queue there!”

But jokes aside, whosever in charge of that Doomsday clock needs to dust it off and move it a minute or two closer to midnight by my reckoning.

And it might be a time to watch again the Beeb documentary series from the 90’s Cold War.

MH17: the conspiracy files

The shooting down of MH17 was a major tragedy, but inevitably there are some who won’t let it lie. Some on the internet unable to except the obvious explanation (Russian separatists had been taking pot shots at planes for several days before) they have instead resorted to outlandish conspiracy theories instead. This is quite prevalent among Russian bloggers, but also oddly enough among many libertarians or UKIP types, for as I’ve noted before such fans of “liberty” have a nasty habit of admiring authoritarian dictators.

Anyway, one of their favourite conspiracy theories is that MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian SU-25, which they say, shot it down by cannon fire. There “evidence” is lots of “bullet hole” like indentations within the fuselage of MH17…although what exactly the Ukrainians would have to gain by shooting down MH17 (other than to make the Russians feel bad)…and why they would dispatch a SU-25 ground attack aircraft when they’ve a large inventory of air superiority fighters and ground launched missiles (although probably none in the area at the time) is not fully explained by our intrepid internet sleuths.

Nor indeed do they address the fact that the SU-25 barely has sufficient top speed to keep up with a Boeing 777 in cruise, plus a service ceiling of only 7,000m (according to my copy of Jane’s combat aircraft (1995 ed.) data verified by Sukhoi’s own website) versus a 777’s cruising altitude of 11,000m. Also note that this assumes no weapons carried, as (according to Janes) the SU-25’s service ceiling drops to 5,000m with externally mounted weapons. As one aviation blogger discusses, this would make any interception of a 777 by an SU-25 extremely unlikely, if not impossible.

Also the main source of information for this amateur crash analysis is not coming from the official investigators, who would perform a complete forensic analysis of the entire aircraft first (where possible taking everything to a hangar and then meticulously rebuilding the plane) before releasing anything like this. Instead bloggers are relying on a handful of photo’s taken by journalists who visited the site. Such information does not give a complete picture and past experience (e.g. the downing of Aerolinee Itavia Flight 870) tells us it’s likely to lead to an incorrect conclusion.

And as MH370 proved, amateurs relying on the internet to solve an air crash seldom do a brilliant job.

Furthermore the main proponent of this “single fighter theory” is a retired German military “expert”…unfortunately what the pro-Putin bloggers don’t point out is that he served with the EAST German Army, i.e. the NVA the losers in the Cold war, known for their pro-Russian and pro-Communist sympathies…as well as driving badly built cars!

But what about the actual evidence? Well as one science blogger points out the damage pointing to “bullet holes” is only valid if you choose to look at some parts of the plane and then cover your eyes and ignore dents and indentations (often on the very same piece of wreckage!) that look like those caused by a continuous rod warhead, the sort commonly used by anti-aircraft missiles. Such warheads detonate at a stand-off distance and shower the target with shrapnel, some of which would like bullet holes, but the rest consisting of rip’s and scars of various shapes and sizes, which is what we see.

Furthermore air-to-air autocannon would not produce machine gun like bullet holes on a fuselage. Such weapons are very different from machine guns. They fire milk bottle sized shells packed with high explosives, which would blast fairly large holes (particularly on an unarmoured target like an airliner), and I mean holes big enough for you to get several fingers through if not your fist! The damage the pro-Putin camp point too are pin pricks by comparison. Again more than likely continuous rod damage…or the consequences of the aircraft breaking up as it fell and/or impact damage…or possibly rebels shooting at it in the hope of tapering with the evidence!

Furthermore, the SU-25, being a ground attack aircraft uses different ammunition, typically shorter range and heavier armour piercing rounds, as its main combat role is tank busting and/or close air support (hence its low speed and lower service ceiling). It would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible for an SU-25 to hit MH17 from its flight level and again the damage would have been all too obvious.

In short any meaningful examination of the (admittedly incomplete) evidence leads one to the opposite conclusion of the conspiracy theorist’s – that MH17 was probably downed by a missile. And as another science blog discusses, given the extent of the damage and the nature of how the aircraft crashed, it’s probable that it was a ground launched missile with a larger warhead, as cannon fire or an Air-to-Air missile is not consistent either with the damage observed on the wreckage, nor the nature of how the aircraft crashed.

So why do these bloggers do it? Why work so hard denying the obvious, while offending the memory of the many innocents killed in this atrocity? A few months back I discussed why those on the right deny climate change, often relying on similarly dubious half-baked and amateurish fantasy, because they have too.

The minute we accept that the planet is warming due to human activity then, regardless of whether you favour the more free market orientated solutions or centrally planned ideas, such a global problem requires a global agreement of some kind. And that means we need some sort of “authority” to negotiate that on our behalf (which we’ll call “the government”), as well as international institutions such as the UN or the EU to help broker and then administer such a deal. Which is a bit of a body blow to anyone seeking to “shrink the government down and drown it in the bath tub“…as the result is likely to be the drowning of whole cities or states!

Similarly the minute you accept that MH17 was downed by pro-Putin rebels (if not the Russians themselves) you also have to acknowledge that it creates a compelling case for the EU, as there is no way the individual European states could oppose Putin if they acted individually, at least as far as political or economic measures are concerned. Indeed in the absence of an EU, the only option left would be to use NATO and its large arsenal of weapons to confront Putin. So in short if Farage had his way and there was no EU, we would probably now be in the middle of a super power stand-off with Russia.

So unable to accept this reality, many on the right instead choose to engage in gold medal winning feats of mental gymnastics, as to do otherwise would be to confront the short comings in their own political philosophy.

Is the UK really “full?”

One of the key themes for UKIP in the recent election was their assertion that Britain “is full”. That the country needs to halt immigration as there is simply no room for any more people. This they claim is particularly true of London, where they blame immigrants for flooding the city and pushing up house prices. The BBC made a good attempt a couple of weeks back to dispel some of these and other myths with its two part programme too many immigrants? But let us explore this specific assertion and why it merely shows the ignorance and petty bigotry of the UKIP/BNP brigade.

Firstly, the assertion that Britain is overcrowded is not borne out by statistics. The current population density of the UK is 259 per kmsq, which puts the UK 3rd for population density in the EU, behind Belgium (367) and Holland (406) respectively. But by comparison the population density is higher still in countries such as Korea (503), Taiwan (646) or even Jersey (844). I don’t see anyone on Jersey complaining about the Island being “full”.

Of course in some respects it is perhaps the population density of the towns and cities that counts, as after all that is where the bulk of people live and where you get problems with overcrowding and public services coming under strain. For example, New York State, ranks only 7th in the US for population density, despite including much of New York City, while Rhode Island (the smallest state) has one of the highest densities yet smallest population.

London has a population density of 5,354 people per kmsq. However this won’t even get London into the top 50 of the most densely populated cities, topped by Manila at 42,857/kmsq. Nor indeed does London, or any UK city, make it into even the top 50 list of European cities by population density. By comparison New York has a population density of 10,630/kmsq, Paris (21,000), Barcelona (15,991), Athens (19,951) and Singapore (7,567).

In short go to any of these cities and tell them London “is full” and they’ll laugh their ass off at you. There is certainly I would argue a need to get away from a London/South East centric population concentration, by for example encouraging new businesses (via tax breaks for example) to set up in the former industrial regions of the UK or rural parts of the country (both of which have seen population declines since the 80’s).

And similarly a growing population requires a commensurate growth in public services (e.g. more doctors, hospitals, council houses, schools, transport infrastructure, etc.) and in the UK we’ve not really seen any concerted effort to accept this fact and ensure expension of services keeps pace with population growth. But to argue the country is “full” is simply not true.

Also we’re assuming that the only thing driving population growth in the UK is inward immigration, when there are of course a number of other factors at work. These include increasing life expectancy (people living longer leads to a rise in population). There is also a rising rate of births within the UK. Official statistics do suggest that it is these demographic changes, not immigration that is the primary driver of UK population growth (although immigration is certainly a large part of the picture).

Of course the implication of that for our UKIP bigots is that if they genuinely believe that the UK is overcrowded, then they should be implementing policies such as cutting child benefits and working tax credits (which incidentally account for many times more of the welfare budget than jobseekers allowance)…or presumably going around and turning off the life support machines of geriatrics and punching babies! Of course such policies are a little less crowd pleasing than UKIP’s tactic of playing the race card and blaming foreigners for everything.

The London boom
As for London, it recently looked like I might get a job in London, so I took the opportunity to check out the London property market. What I found was shocking, many of the adverts at the lower end of the housing market (e.g. buying at around £120k) were cash only sales, those looking to buy with a mortgage need not apply. Any pretence that houses are intended to be places which people live in seems to have been abandoned. Instead homes in London are seen as little more than gambling chips in a casino >:-[. To rent a property I quickly realised I’d be paying well over £1,000 a month for somewhere decent within commuting distance of central London…probably having to stay in one of those cash only properties I was effectively barred from buying! :no:

And my experiences are borne out by several studies (see here and here) which show that the major driver of house prices and rents in London has been the current and past property bubbles as well as a lack of coherent policy from the UK government on housing. This has led to a lack of sufficient house building in an around London, a chronic shortage of council property and affordable homes, leading to the inevitable supply v’s demand issues. Noting that the vast majority of those seeking homes in London are of course British (5 out of 6 to be exact).

Life in the Big Apple
Indeed it’s perhaps worth contrasting the policies of housing in London, with those in, say New York. Anyone who finds London too small, not sufficiently crowded and too cheap with a lack of multiculturalism. Or you just think people in London are way too nice for their own good, go live in New York! :)) (Aside, for some reason I always associate Gershwin’s piano piece “Rhapsody in Blue” with New York).

A few years ago I applied for a job in New York (at the UN of all places!) and did a bit of checking to see how much I’d be paying in rent. Certainly the upper limits of house prices in New York have really no ceiling. We’re talking tens of thousands a month for that penthouse suite on Central Park West. But it is still possible for around $1,000 a month (i.e. less than I could rent in London for!) to rent a modest studio flat on Manhattan or a room in a larger shared flat either on Manhattan or across the river in Queens or Brooklyn. Or if I didn’t mind commuting in from Long Island or New Jersey I could get a house proper for a similar amount. And I would idly note that public transport around NY is generally both better than in London and substantially cheaper too ($2 on the subway v’s £4.50 on the underground), meaning commuting in to save money is a realistic option.

And the reasons for this, despite the fact that New York has a vastly higher population density (plus higher salaries and a much more competitive rental market), are because of the policies of successive administrations in New York. They have enacted rent controls, encouraged the formation of housing cooperatives and affordable home programs, while maintained a stock of social housing (while in the UK Thatcher sold it off!). Even parties on the political right in the US have added their own touch by for example being much quicker to allow rezoning of buildings and areas (e.g. allowing empty office buildings to be turned into apartments), or allowing the demolition and clearing of low rise areas to allow higher density housing to be built.

In conclusion, far from immigrants driving up house prices in London, many immigrants to the UK are in fact the victims of rack rents set by a cosy cartel of casino landlords who seek to exploit them. The contrast with the US, a country supposedly committed to small government, is somewhat baffling. House prices and rents are high in London (and the UK in general) thanks to the failure of Thatcher’s Lassie-faire approach to housing and a failure of governments since then to do anything to reverse this.

And similarly authorities in America, and other countries, recognise that an expanding population means expanding public services to compensate. Expecting a city to function with the same services it had 30 years ago when the population was half the size is just bonkers.

Britain at 70 million
There are certainly some worrying issues arising from the long term trends predicted by the ONS (70 million people by 2027 and a significant drop in those of working age as a proportion of the population). But immigration to the UK is only one of a number of factors driving this population growth (as noted).

Other parts of the world have had to cope with far higher population densities and large inward immigration. These issues are only a problem for the UK if we choose to ignore such predictions and take no action to prepare for such trends. Noting that halting immigration will not halt the growth in the UK’s population (unless you’re advocating birth control measures such as China’s one child policy). It would merely deprive the country of much inward investment and a large number of working age taxpayers at the very moment many of the baby boomer generation are retiring (potentially leaving nobody to pay taxes and thus pay for those pensions).