Archive for the ‘quackery’ Category

Quite ridiculous microtale about the head of MI6’s wife being on Facebook. But what’s this, from Patrick Mercer MP?

The Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, who chairs the counter-terrorism sub-committee, said the mistake had left the Sawers family “extremely vulnerable”. Referring to Miliband’s suggestion that the incident was not significant, Mercer said: “If that is the case why has the site being taken down?” He also pointed out that military chiefs had warned that the Taliban get 80% of their intelligence from Twitter and Facebook.

Can he really believe this? Eighty per cent? What percentage of users of either are located in Afghanistan? I’m going to stick a target on the wall and say it’s much less than 1%, so this suggests that a very few people are very insecure indeed. Perhaps we could just ask the guy to knock it off, or post him to the Falklands?

I’d be surprised if 80 per cent of their intelligence didn’t come from informers, friendly civilians reporting where our patrols go, if not more. Rather like it did in Northern Ireland. And Patrick Mercer of all people ought to be well aware of the possibilities…

He’s got form for Chris Morris-esque nonsense, mind you; remember his role in the Glen Jenvey/Comedy Gladio affair? Some people are, indeed, very insecure indeed about the world of today, and it remains truly remarkable just what stuff a lot of MPs will happily read out to the camera without passing it through their brains. The question remains whether Facebook is a made-up Web site.

The thing that pisses me off about Al-Qa’ida is that they insist on egging the government on. That said, I can’t think of anything more ridiculous than Phil Woolas wanting to have reports of any foreign student who misses ten lectures. I can’t think of many things more ridiculous and contemptible than Phil Woolas anyway, but this drowns the fish.

I should point out that he was on Radio 4 earlier today claiming that “biometric visas” were our first line of defence, because the visas were checked against a watchlist. He didn’t say, mark, that the biometrics were; after all, if they haven’t caught the guy yet, they don’t have his dabs.

Let’s think about it sensibly. I doubt there is a single student in the world who hasn’t accumulated 10 hours of non-attendance during their course of study; even if you reset the limit after every academic year, there will still be an absurd number of false positives. There are 330,000 foreign students in the UK. How many might miss 10 hours of classes in a given year? For some courses, you’d only need a couple of days off sick. An outbreak of freshers’ flu at the right schools could stage a denial-of-service attack on the whole gig. How many reports are they prepared to follow up, to what degree of thoroughness?

Further, and I know this is a pathetic argument long since raped by history, the idea of a university implies a commitment to intellectual freedom and a certain respect for the fact that the students are adults who attend of their free will.

But even if you forget everything else, as a security measure this is quite incredibly cretinous. The threat it is designed to mitigate is that terrorists will pose as students in order to infiltrate the country, or rather that they will actually become students in order to do so. Of course, they may also do this to prepare an attack on some other country. Anyway. If you have registered at a university in order to pose as a student, it’s obviously part of your cover story that you go to lectures. Depending on what you are planning, you might even be hoping to get access to things you need for the attack – information, a good chemical or biological lab, perhaps time on a supercomputer – in which case you’ve got to go to the lab or the library regularly as well.

This is a security measure which is designed to miss anyone who matches the attack profile it’s designed to detect. Further, the more serious, disciplined, and well-organised the attacker, and the more technical and demanding the subject they choose to study – in short, the more dangerous – they are, the less likely it is to detect them. It even provides them with an explicit target number of classes they must not miss. It is quite brilliant in a negative way.

It is especially hilarious that several ministers in the government spent much of their student years plotting, or imagining that they plotted, how to bring about the world revolution. Presumably, they did this between lectures. Or perhaps they didn’t, and in fact they are basing their policy on their own experience; which would explain how little they seem to have learned.

The Guardian leaps in on the Nemesysco lie-detector crapware story, and misses; notably, they are apparently too chicken to point out that they are claiming to get 129 dimensions of data from only two actual measurements. This wouldn’t even involve the Lacerda/Eriksson paper; it would just involve reading their published statements and the content of the patent they filed. There is, as usual, almost too much more at the Ministry.

Given that, it’s no surprise they don’t mention the fact that the licensee of Nemesysco’s poxy “software” in the UK is none other than Capita, the IT-service firm known to millions as Crapita, whose CEO Rod Aldridge was elevated to the peerage after lending the Labour Party a ton of money. Further, the paper let a representative of Nemesysco/Digilog/whatever it’s called this week get away with arguing that it’s impossible to test the effectiveness of their product, which is such a classic quack’s excuse it’s almost an admission of guilt.

Look what the Ministry found. Remember the business with Harrow Borough Council and the secret Israeli lie detector? We noted that it was unlikely that the signal it claimed to detect would be transmitted through the telephone system; an expert pointed out that it might be manifested in other ways; eventually we obtained a copy of the patent including a reference implementation in MS Visual Basic, and discovered that even if this was so, that wasn’t what it did.

In fact, it did very little of any use, and the actual content of the code directly contradicted Nemesysco’s claims regarding the system. For example, far from measuring 129 different parameters, it measures two, and claims to derive information on no less than eight different scales from these. And the actual judgment of truth or falsehood is based on entirely arbitrary reference values.

Swinging from tragedy to comedy, someone who was almost certainly Nemesysco founder Amir Liberman was then sighted sock-puppeting in the comments, and further inquiries showed probably the same person spamming Wikipedia. Very funny. Anyway, the Ministry has found an article from the International Journal of Speech Science and Law i which a pair of Swedish academics scrutinise the claims of some supposed lie detectors, Nemesysco’s among them. You can read it here. Here are some highlights:

The author describes the program as ‘detecting emotional status of an individual based on the intonation information’. But whereas intonation in phonetics means variation in pitch encoded by fundamental frequency (albeit almost always accompanied by other prosodic factors) the author of the LVA mistakenly believes that what he calls ‘thorns’ and ‘plateaus’ represent intonation..

Don’t get scratched by them thorns.

When an analog signal is digitized the complex continuous variation found in the original signal is replaced by a simplified discrete representation. How closely this representation matches the original depends on the sampling parameters but the match will never be perfect. It is in the digitization process that the ‘thorns’ and ‘plateaus’ are created. There is obviously an indirect relationship between thorns and plateaus and the original waveform, but the number of thorns and plateaus, which is the very basis for all computations in the LVA, depends crucially on sampling rate, amplitude resolution and the threshold values defined in the program. It is therefore correct to say that these computations are basically no more than statistics based on digitization artefacts.

And that is all there is. There is nothing special with these computations, except that there is no theoretical basis for them or independent motivation for the proposed ranges… The program would analyze any sound the same way, be it a man speaking, an idling car engine, a dog barking or a tram passing by. Secondly, the number and distribution of thorns and plateaus depend crucially on a number of factors that have to
do with how the digitization is performed. Different sampling frequencies and amplitude resolutions would produce different results.

the code is rather messy and not particularly well structured and we decided it would not be worth the time and effort to clean up the code in order to convert it into a running program. The Damphouse et al. group report that the program crashed repeatedly during their experiments so it is obviously rather unstable too

Ouch. But it gets worse.

The performance of LVA on the VSA database … was similar to that observed with CVSA. That is, neither device showed significant sensitivity to the presence of stress or deception in the speech samples tested. The true positive and false positive rates were parallel to a great extent.

That is to say, the results were entirely down to chance. And finally….

The output of an analysis is structured much along the same lines as horoscopes…To sum up by saying that there is absolutely no scientific basis for the claims
made by the LVA proponents is an understatement. The ideas on which the products are based are simply complete nonsense

Just for good measure, it seems that Liberman promoted himself as a significant Israeli mathematician whilst trying to sell the program in Sweden; it turns out he is no mathematician of any kind. However, he did know just what to do; sue the International Journal, which took the article off line. So much for that. Now for the DWP.

No wonder the Indy‘s moving in with the Daily Mail; it’s taken to publishing leaders like this one, a crude bit of hard right culture war stuff which blames the Sharon Matthews case on “welfare”. Yes, really. They also rehearse the old Peter Lilley thing about “single mothers who get pregnant just to jump the housing list”, and sniff that the Matthews’ life was “disorderly in the extreme”.

Refined shudder! Let’s not even imagine what might happen if various north London councils’ social service departments had to look into the “orderliness” or otherwise of various well-known journalists’ home lives. We could be faced with a nonsense shortage. Perhaps we should maintain a national stockpile of terrible journalism against such a possibility.

The proposed solution is of course to make the poor rather poorer, so that they will become better people. They will be scared into being more orderly; it’s worth noting that this disgusting piece of writing doesn’t even bother to claim that its proposals would have done anybody any good. No;

Ms Matthews might then have been tracked by government agencies earlier and her life on benefits might have become less comfortable.

In the next paragraph, they go on to say that she would still have had far too many children and not gone out to work. So what does this actually mean? Surely they cannot expect that some jobcentre clerk would have detected an ambition in her to fake the kidnap of her own daughter, had she only been forced to fill in some more forms and be lectured some more about Standards?

And, as we have seen recently, there is absolutely no reason to think that the State would have done anything effective had it had this information. I mean, can you imagine ringing up the social services department or the cops with this story? Yes, one of my clients at Dewsbury Job Centre. I think…I think she’s going to kidnap her own daughter. Well, I know. Yes, the daughter lives with her. Don’t ask me – ask her! Why? For the reward money! But at least, as the Independent puts it:

Ms Matthews might then have been tracked by government agencies earlier and her life on benefits might have become less comfortable.

Surveillance of the poor is an end in itself, it seems, as is rendering their lives “less comfortable”. And, of course, I mean the poor, and so does The Independent. There is no protocol for only applying more surveillance to the guilty – that’s not how it works.

Of course, on the substance, the whole Government proposal the Indy is supporting is silly, a bit of midmarket newspaper fan service left over from the boom years, when unemployment was primarily the Thatcher legacy and not something that affected the large majority. Now, on the boom has come the slump, and we’re facing the possibility of a big cyclical surge in unemployment.

The nature of cyclical unemployment is that it is caused by the business cycle and spread broadly across the economy; there is simply not enough work. There is no point making the cyclically unemployed report more often and jump through more hoops; unless your purpose is to impress Associated Newspapers with your sternness towards the undeserving poor. And, it would seem, The Independent.

Of course, this probably has something to do not only with Independent News and Media’s increasing closeness to the Daily Mail, but also the arrival of Roger Alton as editor of the Independent. In fact, this piece – a first leader which was given an unusually generous word count – might be Alton’s own work, just as the conversion of The Observer into a cocktail of Decent Left drivel and lifestyle wank was Alton’s work.

What is the Decent line on the economic crisis? It doesn’t seem at all clear yet; they don’t tend to interest themselves in economics. Certainly Nick Cohen can be expected to take up the sort of Tory moralising that has infected the Indy, and Cohen’s career was promoted by Roger Alton more than anyone else.

Meanwhile, the Independent is doing its bit to make life less comfortable; they just fired 20% of their journalists. Presumably, Alton (and IN&M) is preparing the Indy for a new role in a Tory period as the Mail for people who can’t bring themselves to read the Mail but actually want its politics, just as David Cameron is the Conservative for people who can’t bring themselves to vote for other Conservatives but actually want Conservative Party politics.

Update: Jamie Kenny has more. It seems clear there is a push on this going on – the Sunday Telegraph editoralised in the same terms today, and Tory shadow minister Chris Grayling trailed something similar in the Observer.

Cameron today outlined his plans for economic responsibility to replace “irresponsible capitalism and irresponsible government” under Labour. He began his attack by accusing the prime minister of basing his financial decisions on “false assumptions” that he said had left the economy in ruins.

Among them were the ideas that a successful economy could be built on a “narrow base of housing, public spending and financial services” and “that you could abolish boom and bust, and that the good times would last forever”.

Eh? A Tory complaining that the economy is too dependent on housing and financial services? Yes.

“We’ve got to broaden our economic base to include more science, more hi-tech services, more green technologies, more engineering and more high-value manufacturing, drawing upon a much wider range of industries, markets, people, towns and cities.”

Did he just say that? Did Dave from PR just announce a medium-term industrial strategy? This is, by any measure, a political moment of the first order; the Tories, the people who decided UK plc should be a huge investment bank based in London, ran a high interest rate and strong pound policy that killed off most of engineering and high-value manufacturing, and whose pet thinktank apparently believes the North should be evacuated…they said that?

Perhaps they’ve realised that yes, Virginia, the UK is no longer an oil exporter because they pissed it all up the wall in the 80s and 90s, and that turn-London-into-a-huge-investment-bank thing ain’t looking so clever any more. Perhaps they’ve found one of Michael Heseltine’s old memos from his shakeout’n’invest period in the files. OK, then, where do I sign?

But what is this?

He dismissed critics who believed that “permanent state intervention” was the only way to avoid a repeat of the problems. Those who believed the change the country needed was a “turn to the left” were wrong, he said, as he promised to inject greater responsibility into the economy through a centre-right platform of measures

Responsible us back the DNA-sequencer activities of Amersham International plc, willya? Could you perhaps responsible up a wave power industry while you’re there? Anyway, before we slide into bitterness…there’s also this.

He promised a new debt responsibility mechanism, with the Bank of England required to write regularly to the Financial Services Authority about sustainability of the level of debt in the economy. “If the level of debt is growing unsustainably, the bank will instruct the FSA to ensure banks either slow their lending or put aside more capital.”

So no permanent state intervention….except for the bit where you take powers to intervene in the management of the entire banking sector, including the bits that are still independent of the state. Also, direct government controls on lending? Isn’t that the Sovietisation of Britain or something? What next, exchange control stamps in your passport?

But that’s apparently it. Cameron is planning to regenerate the entire industrial base (and “high tech services”, which I think means BT Global Services ‘cos we don’t have any other firms like that since Leo Computers in the 1960s), and he intends to do this simply by running a smaller budget deficit, and imposing a bank lending corset. He’s not even promising any tax cut ponies.

There is one actual measure in there, though. Apparently he wants to change the insolvency laws to protect “sound but struggling businesses” (and again, there’s a sick laugh from the 80s for you…). But how is this going to interrelate with the Cameron Corset proposal? Camorset for short, which sounds nicely like the sort of southwest-central shire where the buggers come from. If it’s harder to cut off credit to those “sound but struggling” businesses, but the banks have to reduce their loan books ‘cos Dave says so, where do they cut? Doesn’t that imply they’ll have to bear down on everyone else even more? Why should a sound business that’s not struggling quite enough to be protected take the punishment? (Why don’t any Tories seem to understand marginal economics at all?)

Oh bloody fuck. He’s at it again. George Osborne is in his white coat, on the stage, flogging his snake oil. All he needs now is a gospel choir. I think we’ve pointed this out before, but here goes. The Bank of England was nationalised in 1946. It’s part of the State. The money in it is as much public money as the money in the Treasury. It is fundamentally dishonest to pretend that you can take the assets of a failing bank onto the Bank’s balance sheet without any cost to the Government budget.

And George Osborne thought the Bank’s balance sheet was composed of public money back in the autumn of 2007. We were told that the loans to Northern Rock were regrettably unavoidable but also a terrible risk taken with our money. Here he is at ToryKennel:

“The question we now ask of the Chancellor is simple: has he been honest with taxpayers about the risks that they face, and has he told the whole truth? …[snip]

The Chancellor will not tell us the size of the facility, when he expects it to be repaid or the terms of the repayment, even though much of that information is an open secret in the City. Indeed, the Governor of the Bank of England wants to publish the letter that he sent to the Chancellor to set out those terms.

Suddenly, after nationalisation, this statement became inoperative. The Bank of England had become a kind of charitable institution, nothing whatsoever to do with the Government, devoted to acting as a hospice for dying banks. Strangely, its Governor appeared unaware of this change.

Of course, this is a teachable moment about the Tories and the voluntary sector. As Boris Watch wisely points out, they are obsessed by the idea that Britain is full of charities who all have inexhaustible resources of their own, topped up regularly by squadrons of flying ponies. Poor old Gideon; what a nasty surprise to learn that the Bank is a public sector agency staffed by Daniel Davies’ past colleagues and notably deficient in ponies.

Further, does the Bank even have the capital to digest a whole failed bank on its own hook, without having to turn to the Treasury, or print money? Well, we could always look at the sodding books, couldn’t we? Bringing the Bradford & Bingley’s mortgage book (about £41bn) onto the Bank’s balance sheet would imply a Bank with one-and-a-half times the current level of assets, but no more capital than it presently has. Its current net worth is only about £2bn. Now, B&B’s liabilities were about £51bn, of which £22bn was made up of deposits, which have been taken over by Banco Santander; so for the rest, assets exceeded liabilities by some £12bn. However, for public sector accounting purposes, net debt/credit is defined as liabilities less liquid assets, and the whole point is that the mortgages are far from liquid. To put it simply, the Bank of England would have had a negative net worth several times as great as its existing capitalisation.

We would have successfully replaced an actually quite well capitalised bank with a desperately undercapitalised central bank. This isn’t that big a problem; central banks are weird financial institutions anyway. But the vast bulk of the Bank’s assets are loans to other banks, as you’d expect, and the last thing we want it to do under current circumstances is to stop lending to other banks.

Now, the whole point of this crazy exercise is to save the Treasury’s books. But it’s literally insane – and inane – to behave as if the taxpayer was on the hook for some sort of huge debt. The problem isn’t on the liability side of the banks’ balance sheets; it’s on the asset side. Now, how bad do you think the problem is? Shall we assume that the housing market will go down 50% from the peak, a crash of epic proportions? Well, that would still leave the Treasury sitting on £20.5bn worth of assets (or a bit less than one-third of the Bank of England’s assets), with no hurry to liquidate them. And the Treasury has essentially got it for nothing. It’s also fundamentally dishonest to pretend that literally every mortgage at the B&B is worthless.

However, Osborne insists on arguing that the total numbers involved are incredibly high, and also that the Bank of England’s puny capital base is sufficient to handle them without cost to the general Government budget.

I notice that Vince Cable, as usual, is talking sense.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, said that ideally a private buyer would have been found for B&B, but he recognised that part-nationalisation was the “only other way forward”. Mr Cable said the deal could even benefit taxpayers. “They have got a lot of bad loans, they have got the buy-to-let mortgages, they have got the self-certified mortgage arrangements,” he said.

“But it may that in the long-term, having acquired this for virtually nothing, the Government will be able to sell it and perhaps either cover itself of probably even make a profit.” Mr Cable contrasted the situation with that in the US, “where the taxpayer is actually paying to buy up bad loans.” He said: “here the Government is effectively getting them free, and depending on the competence with which they are managed, it may prove to be a relatively successful deal for the taxpayer.”

Not so Osborne. From the same article:

George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, said: “I don’t think the taxpayer should pick up the bill that really should be borne by the City.

“What is really being saved here are not the depositors or the jobs – it is the large institutions that lent lots of money to Bradford & Bingley and made money out of that when times were good, and now that times have turned down, are asking every single person in the country to pay more in their taxes to bail out this bank. “Under nationalisation, the taxpayer steps in and says ‘We are going to give you your money back’. I’m not sure that’s fair.”

The bill *has* been borne by the City; the shares have gone to zero, the bank has been broken up. In fact, the “large institutions” lose out badly, if by that he means the major clearing banks; they ended up stuck with most of the £400m in new shares issued a couple of months ago, which are now worthless.

Here’s a little extra for you (hey, I had a Halifax savings account when I was a little boy and they had branches in Dales villages); Osborne, and the entire Tory party, were very horrified by the bill for the nationalisation of Northern Rock because they claimed it contained provisions for the takeover of more banks, and only an evil socialist plot might explain this, as this would never be needed again. Clearly, when Gideon says they’re all being alarmist, it’s time to go short.

Update: The numbers in an earlier version of this post were based on B&B plus NR assets and liabilities, which was far from clear in the text. I’ve recast it to take account only of B&B. You can, of course, add the NR numbers…

This is sick, but perversely reassuring. With the great miscarriages of justice of the 70s, the first phase was that the judge, the cops, the Home Office, and all right-thinking people agreed, and nobody took seriously that the victims might be innocent. This lasted a long, long time; but then we passed into the second phase, when the cops and the government spin doctors concentrated on bullying those of the victims who had been released, and those people who dared to say they were innocent. It was an important stage in the evolution of resistance; dissent was suddenly worth punishing.

Not that this helped very much, and it won’t help Jim Bates much. But the sheer stupid desperation here is telling. They arrested him for possessing the hard disk they’d given him to examine; brilliant, PC Brains. We’ve discussed Bates before; it’s worth pointing out that absolutely none of the facts of the cases he was involved in depend on his credentials. Nullius in verba, right? They didn’t here; they didn’t here.

But if Bates is guilty of possession, then the obvious conclusion is that…so are the police! Perhaps they should arrest themselves?

So, the Tories are currently making hay on the economy, while the black clouds are overhead. Unfortunately it’s all drivel, and specifically, it’s drivel because the current economic crisis is entirely the result of the Tory economic settlement. The promise of infinite free money from property was the core Thatcherite proposition, and its costs (specifically, high interest rates and a high pound) were traditionally covered by North Sea oil. Of course, rising house prices aren’t actually money, just a way of borrowing from your kids, with the special feature that they don’t get any schools or railways for the borrowing. But the Tory achievement was to get an economy specialised in property speculation accepted by both major parties. And, as we have seen, they have very good personal reasons to pretend that the government could just stick the bubble back together if it wanted.

All oppositions pretend something like this, of course; but it’s incumbent on them to have some idea of the difference between bullshit and government. Just look at the Tories’ performance over Northern Rock. To recap, they thought the Bank of England’s money was taxpayers’ money in August but not in January; they thought the Bank of England was an independent agency in August but under ministerial line management in January; they imagined the Bank of England had vastly more money that it does throughout. Thank God for the civil service.

And even if you grant them a huge pass on administrative reality, their stated positions are wildly incoherent. In the pastel corner, there’s Huggy Dave’s quality of life reports. In the phlegm-spatter corner, there’s Mad Jack Redwood’s report on how the economy can be revived by letting private “care homes” pack in more codgers per square foot. What an invention – the battery granny farm. Will the staff get Dave from PR’s improved work-life balance? Bollocks they will. However, Greasy Phil Hammond’s specialist NHS property development firm, Castlemead Developments Ltd, would presumably find investments in this field rather tastier. More seriously, what the hell does Mad Jack think our problems are? Aren’t they more about the tradable sector, and what happens to the balance of payments with an energy import bill and tanking City volumes?

None of this should be any surprise. Look at the chief economist of chouchou snackthinkers Policy Exchange. What has he discovered? Well, his tube train was late, and so he’s written “England: An Obituary on a Great Country”. Seriously. And he apparently thinks “Britain” supplies IKEA goods and services, rather than a huge Swedish multinational. This used to be the quality of a middling to poor Tory newspaper columnist. Now it’s their intellectual foundation.

OK, so I’ve been off line quite a bit due to a weird perversion called “moving house”. This means that my constituency MP is no longer Philip Hammond, which almost makes it all worthwhile by itself. Hammond was one of the most annoying features of living in wonderful Runnymede & Weybridge; an immensely self-satisfied and superbly mediocre greaseball who was invariably unhelpful on every occasion I had any dealings with him.

For some strange reason, Hammond has risen to a mysterious prominence in politics as Shadow Chief Secretary of the Treasury. Now this is no small thing; the Chief Sec is probably the most-underestimated job in government, being the gatekeeper for the Treasury’s dealings with all other government departments. So it is a sad comment on the shallow Conservative talent pool that it is filled by a waxwork like Hammond; in more normal times, he would no doubt botch the job and be dropped, but for various reasons entirely beyond his or anyone else’s control, the economic and more importantly financial climate has left him with an open goal. If you’ve seen Kes, it’s his Brian Glover/Bobby Charlton moment.

As far as I can make out, the only reason for Hammond’s success apart from the desperate shortage of alternatives is that he can be relied upon to repeat predetermined talking points without stumbling over often. He is, as the essay at the end of Nineteen Eighty-Four would say, literally a doubleplusgood duckspeaker – one who quacks out the party line without the least deviation. This may not be much of an achievement; you could, after all, replace him with a simple Python script without much trouble. But he’s done well with it.

The problem is the content of the duckspeak; after all, duckspeakers will always be with us. Hammond insists on reciting that “Gordon Brown failed to repair the roof while the sun was shining”; this appears to mean that the budget deficit ought to be lower, or something. Leaving aside that everyone, always, believes that if only they were in charge the budget deficit would be lower; it just isn’t true. Public debt as a percentage of GDP is significantly (about six percentage points) lower than it was in 1997. If the roofing is not complete, then Brown at least put on quite a few new slates.

National Debt as % of GDP, 1997-2008

National Debt as % of GDP, 1997-2008

But the problem is worse; what on earth is the Conservative proposed macroeconomic framework? What would they consider as sufficient roofing? Indeed, what on earth was it all these years? I can’t remember that the Tories ever promised to run a primary surplus during the period 2002-2008, and the only policy of theirs I can think of that was explicitly intended to reduce public debt was William Hague’s half-bright brainwave of using radio spectrum sales to fund the universiti….hold on, that wouldn’t have reduced the public debt, would it? Hague came up with it because he didn’t agree with the Government using the UMTS 2.1GHZ band auction to reduce the public debt.

Not that telcos in 2001-2 would, or even could, have bid that kind of money for spectrum; they didn’t have it. They never will bid that kind of money again, either, as anyone in the trade could tell you. Which is a pity, given that I think Hague’s brainwave is still part of the Tory platform. The Tories do not appear to have any idea what fiscal rules they will use, if any.

Complaining about the Tory legacy (if the roof needed fixing, perhaps it had something to do with the PSBR running between £28-46bn for each of the last three years up to 1997? Just a thought) is widely held to be a pathetic tactic; but you’d be wrong. It was only this spring that a government warehouse – the so-called Work in Progress Store – that had held the backlog of unresolved immigration files since 1994 shut down without fanfare, as Michael Howard’s legacy was finally processed and transferred to the archives.

But they are very good at repeating utter bollocks over and over again.