The financial burden on new doctor trainees

The real cost of education

The first generation of doctors are graduating this year with much larger student loans than previous medics: those on accelerated programmes had to pay £9000 for their first year (2012-2013), then £5625 for the next three years due to contributions from the NHS Bursary reducing the total ( Ignoring any coordinated reduction in maintenance grants (which there has been), these students paid a total of £25875 for their tuition fees, either up-front or mostly via a loan (all via a loan is not possible any more). Whether this is good value is a complex question, but it can be relatively objectively compared to what students who started their accelerated courses in 2011 paid – a grand total of £3465 in their first year ( That means that graduate medics who are first-year foundation doctors from this August will have paid more than £22000 in tuition fees than those in the year above them. The difference is similar for those on longer degrees: 5 year medics paid £13860 under the old rules, £36000 under the new – a difference of £22100. A five or six year medical student may not incur much greater tuition fee costs than an accelerated four year medical student, but they will have additional living expenses. The first medics under the new tuition fees regime, who started in 2012, won’t graduate until this summer (4-years) and next year (5-years), but with debts as high as this already, not to mention additional debts from reductions in the maintenance aspect of the NHS Bursary, these graduates are going to be motivated by the cost of their education like none before them.


And they will not be motivated by money from a greed perspective, but out of survival; unless they are relatively successful doctors in terms of pay, that debt will grow and grow until they are over 50, and they will continue to pay a percentage of their earnings to pay it off for that whole period. An article by the Student BMJ highlights the complexity of the calculation depending on what they earn and what they’ve borrowed. If they don’t have debt, they will be at least £22000 worse off than they would have been a year earlier (for 4 year graduates this year), meaning that opportunities to buy houses and settle down will be under greater financial strain. Remember that the youngest any of these four year graduates will be is 25, and only if they just did a three year degree with no gap-years and proceeded straight onto the course. I don’t know what the average age will be, but I would guess that the mean will be comfortably above 30, when most women would have hoped to have had children if they wanted to start a family.


And that final point gets to one of the biggest mistakes of this imposed contract – most new doctors are women, and unless we want to have less able graduates becoming doctors, we need to find ways of making family life as a mother work as a doctor. I can only speak for my family, but financial pressures like those stated above will make financial incentives to go abroad that much easier to accept. I have already lived abroad, and enjoyed it very much. I envisaged my future was in the UK, but if we move abroad with young children it will be hard to see our future back in the UK. This is a very real fear that the government has to contemplate – that they are scaring off the brightest and best future UK doctors. They may be able to recruit skilled doctors from abroad, but they will be competing ina  global marketplace, and given the exodus from the UK, they are unlikely to hire comparably well-qualified doctors if they could have competed for the same jobs as the UK-qualified medical graduates.


So I am not suggesting that the foreign doctors will be worse – many will be better doctors – it is just that they will also be looking globally, and will probably have other advantages over our own graduates in terms of their worldliness and their linguistic plasticity (is that a concept? Hoepfully you get my jist…). It just highlights the problems of trying to expand the remit of a system that is already running well above-capacity, without increasing funding. Obviously individual doctors cannot just work more hours for more money. Most junior doctors would gladly work less for less money, if necessary, if the system was better staffed and more efficiently managed. I have no evidence for the assertion, but I challenge anyone to think of a competing scenario that sounds plausible – They would clearly happily work less for more money! However, I strongly suspect that getting more money, but being expected to work longer hours, no matter if that more money is disproportionately higher (say double-time) is not an attractive proposition to most family-minded doctors. Of course there will be some who have no life outside medicine, and for whom more work will not be abhorrent, but they will always, thankfully, be a minority. Obsession is good for a few, but would not be healthy if it were required of doctors.


This un-edited ramble will peter out with a final observation of what the maximum loan that an undergraduate may obtain under current rules (ignoring the maintenance award that they will get from NHS Bursary) – with no maintenance loans, the total fees would £36000, which Ercolani et al. rise with compound interest to £39946, using 2014 RPI values, and assuming a five year degree. Annual maintenance loans of £4375, £5500, and £7675 give total debts (upon graduation) of £63870, £70022, and £81916 respectively. Assuming RPI of 2% (the target generally), that gives a first year interest ranging from £2000 (or ~£165 per month) for £39946 debt, to £4100 (or ~£340 per month) for those with £81916 debts.


Students can now get maintenance loans of £8500 per year… This is a serious tax.

A new type of corporate taxation?

This is just an idea, and I am far from an expert in any of the fields, but social equality is a topic I have thought a lot about. One thing which was so positive about Swiss society was the high employment. Social issues linked to long-term unemployment were pretty non-existent, except perhaps when linked to refugees.

How could this be achieved in a less prosperous, and much larger country without all-out state socialism? I am in favour of re-nationalisation of a large range of services, but definitely not complete state-ran retail, manufacture and other things. One way that large companies could be forced to increase employment (and probably reduce executive pay in the meantime) might be to link corporate tax rates to the number of employees. This may be difficult with complex contracts, but I would encourage ONLY directly employed individuals within that company (not subsidiary etc – it could possible encourage simpler accounting).

There a string arguments against any increase of employment – productivity is a measure falsely blamed for drops in economic output, and often cited seriously on current affairs programmes and debates. Productivity would have to be ignored as a serious metric for economic success, and perhaps recognized for what it really is – a measure of how poorly people are being paid, and how closely linked to primary production the industry is (this is a gross over-simplification, but these are two major aspects for similarly industrialised nations). Countries which pay less well, and have more primary energy/agriculture, and even manufacturing vs services will appear much more productive in theory.

The other big argument against the way I suggested an employee-linked tax could be implemented (I can think of off the top of my head!) is that it would reduce the likelihood of contracted work, and may benefit big vertically-integrated companies. This may well be the case, but only if those vertically-integrated companies are genuinely working efficiently, and actually, I think it wouldn’t really be an issue, as it would encourage companies to actually employ someone if they need someone (thereby improving a company’s in-house expertise as well as reducing pay going into pointless profits for the benefit of non-productive owners).

Actually, maybe that last bracketed point is the main one – this would shift the financial balance from the shareholder to the employee, without radical shifts in ownership…

It would only really work on companies of a large size, and so could start at a certain size, thereby incentivizing small innovative companies.

It’s just an idea-mind… should I patent it? (joke)

Finham Parish Council

I had started a couple of posts of living in Coventry, one focussing on the things I like about Coventry, including the greenness, decent weather and friendliness of people (in general), and another focussing on an aspect of one of my biggest gripes about Coventry – transport. The particular issue is shared spaces which I have experienced a lot in the city centre at Coventry University, and which I think are just plain dangerous without further reduction in car, bus or taxi numbers. I also think there are just too many cars on the road, and that public transport should be massively improved, and walkways and cycleways extended enormously.

And now I’m making tentative steeps towards having some say in public policy by standing for parish council election in Finham. These are very tentative steps, but I am happy to be making them, although with 13 candidates for 10 places there is a very real chance that I may not get elected!

In Finham, I am particularly interested in developing a children’s play area, and tring to improve the connections to the city centre. I regularly cycle to work over the A45 island linking St Martin’s Road and Leamington Road, and whilst it feels OK, it is certainly a high risk crossing on a bicycle! The roundabout above the ring road is perhaps even scarier, but there is a subway alternative which is not available for the A45.

So, in case anyone is doing research into candidates, I am a very enthusiastic young father who is keen to get involved in trying to improve facilities and services for the local community in and around Finham!



Rugby safety, and why not GAA?

Matt Perry and Allyson Pollock were on Today yesterday debating the dangers of rugby for school children. Well, I say debate, more like Allyson massacred Matt in an unsportsmanlike or, more accurately, professional manner on an issue that she has researched and campaigned on over the past decade.

I love rugby, I always have. There is always a danger when you have always liked something that you keep on loving it just because your old self tells you to. I came to this realisation recently when I tried out refereeing and realised it wasn’t for me. I started to question why I liked rugby, and I realised that it was when I played it that I truly loved it, and now that I don’t have the time (nor, increasingly, the body) I cannot love it in the same way except through my memories of playing. On the other hand, I can still regularly play indoor football, which I also like very much (note, I still don’t love indoor football!).

The safety aspect of rugby I have have often dismissed out-of-hand too, but the significance of a serious spinal injury is so immediate that it cannot be easily ignored. They so often get written off as freak accidents, even by those who receive them. The truth might be that they are freak accidents, but they shouldn’t be written off. The freakishness of them does not make them unpredictable statistically, and the statistics of serious injury occurrence can be compared with other sports.

Without citing all the articles, rugby has a relatively high prevalence rate of injury – higher than football and gaelic football in matches. More importantly though, for Allyson Pollock’s arguments, are the prevalence of serious head and spinal injuries, which are much higher than the other games. In Gaelic football they appear to be genuinely freak accidents, like the recent head injury to Ronan Clarke by hitting a post, and I suspect that is also true for football, although heading can’t help the likelihood of head clashes. In rugby, professional rugby concussion rates per 1000 playing hours seem to have never dropped below 3, and have risen in recent years to over 10. This compares with 17 for boxing apparently (alarming close really), and <0.3 all head injuries in gaelic football.

I know what sport i want to play in the future should I ever find enough time (other than indoor football of course), and although I used to always imagine myself coaching a childs’ rugby team, I know what sport I will try and encourage in the future: GAA

The funny thing is, even though I do love rugby, I think Gaelic Football is a better game overall and I really hope it can grow in the UK the way Beano has managed to help it grow (with many other of course!) in Europe… In the end, gaelic football skills can only help elite rugby anyway, if players choose to play rugby later on.

Fresh meat series 4 episode 2

I’ve enjoyed Fresh Meat’s puerile sense of humour for quite a while now (well as long as it’s been on for!). I also enjoyed Bad Education, but I think Fresh Meat’s story lines worked better because the storylines always seemed a little less contrived. When programmes are coming to an end, particularly after more than one or two series’, then you expect the material to get a bit thin. This expectation was, for me at least, blown out the water by this episode. In hindsight, episode 1 also marked a slight shift towards deeper sociological point-making than just stereotyping. Like any good observational comedy it isn’t really making anything up, just exposing the reality for the hilarity it really is…

In this case, the episode starts with some of the characters visiting the careers advisor (they are in their last year after all), and the gulf between their expectations of what job they will do (or what a job might involve) and the reality is clear. This may appear to be a cheap shot at students in general, but the arc of the whole episode demonstrates that the writers wanted to make a deeper point. The climax of the episode is the son of Kingsley’s new older girlfriend visiting their house for them to persuade why he should become a student, where he points out some very raw home truths which none of the students have been thinking – they can be summarised as, “what is the point of going to university to study a subject that isn’t relevant to your future career and come out with a debt that will take 30 years to pay off”. Obviously some students do study vocational degrees, but they are clearly in the minority, even now. As for the debt, students will take out loans for living costs (a maximum of £8200 per year when living away from permanent home, at a University outside London, £10702 per year at university in London!). This means that a poorer student will acquire debts of £17200 per year for ANY course if they were at Manchester like Fresh Meat’s characters…

A bit of simple maths shows that for a three year degree a student studying in England could acquire debts of £51600. Fifty one thousand six hundred pounds! How can any student afford that? Simple answer – they don’t know what they are letting themselves in for. Earlier in the episode, the careers advisor points out to JP that the average graduate starting salary in the UK is currently £22000 (and still in free-fall in real-terms). The government that brought this in – the apparently student-friendly Lib Dems and neoliberal-loving Tories – argued that this was fine as poorer student (who get the biggest debts) will actually pay less because they will never pay off their whole loan!! Well, at first glance, what a clever back-hand swipe for poorer students by Vince Cable, the U-turning Lib Dem in charge of this. But any more than a cursory thought exposes this comment for the spin it really is. For a start, any student who hasn’t paid it off in full in 30 years has either been earning too little to pay any back (contributions start at incomes of £21000), or has basically been paying a tax all that time, and may have paid make many times the original loan amount. The control the government has was highlighted just after the first of the Plan 2 graduates graduated in 2015, at the Autumn spending review where the Chancellor announced that the starting salary for repayment would be capped (hoping that inflation will make it a real-term drop, and increase income from it).

So, the debt is real, and it is worse for poor students. The really poignant aspect about the episode was how it highlighted the cluelessness of the students. All of them, whatever their background was. The worst was obviously Vod with her huge debts, and generally impossible situation, but the episode really highlighted how they had all just stumbled into lifetime-defining decisions not just with their eyes-closed, but having been hoodwinked into thinking it was the only option.

So, a puerile comedy that told a truth that I haven’t seen so well articulated anywhere. England now has the highest headline tuition fees of any public university system in the world, and the third-highest level of costs borne by students once various forms of support available are taken into account. This is unsustainable, and even the Telegraph recognizes that there is a problem.

The question is just a matter of when, not if, the system will need to be modified. Even if tuition fees rises are capped, there is a generation of students who first graduated last summer with enormous debts who will start to come to a collective realisation that they have been hoodwinked, like those in Fresh Meat. Maybe the Higher Education system will contract in the UK, or maybe government will increase funding to solve the problem. My bets would be on the former path, and the government’s lifting of a cap on the number of admissions universities could offer, for whatever reason, appears to be increasing the likelihood of university mergers via contrived free-marketeering. Our universities deserve better, and, more importantly, our country deserves better than leaving universities to “natural” neoliberal free market processes. However, if we do nothing, then the shell of a higher education system we could be left with in 10 years time will be what we deserve. Well done for pointing this out fresh meat, and well done Rosa’s son!

Initial thoughts on the environment

After a tough Scotland loss to Australia (Rugby World Cup 2015!), this crept back into my consciousness…

The news that an odd “megastructure”, which may the first sign of intelligent life, has been spotted far away got me thinking about long-term sustainability, and our approach to the environment. Chris Packham actually got me thinking along these lines first of all, with his view that climate change was less of a worry than loss of biodiversity.

We all have finite times on this planet, but we all like to think that humans may be able to live indefinitely, or perhaps for as long as the crocodile if we play our cards right. This is obviously fanciful (if crocodiles have been around as long as I suspect they have), not least because we know that humans will change over geological times because of evolution. That aside, there is the small issue of resources. The over-consumption of the Easter islanders should serve as a lesson to us all, but it appears to be ignored except when money speaks. Our over-reliance on the free market to tell us what we  need and what we don’t, and how scarce or available it is crazy short-termism, and massively retrogressive, but that is an aside.

If the alien megastructure really is a megastructure, does anyone believe that the life-forms may actually still exist? Of course, some people do, but with my limited knowledy of ET studies, I’m suspecting the probability points towards and extinct intelligent lifeform. Most people, naturally, think that they would be solar panels, providing energy.

This got me to my most pertinent thought. Will we ever be able to do photosynthesis as efficiently as plants? I can imagine we may get to a point where we could create as much energy from each photon of light, but does anyone seriously think we could create solar panels as cheaply, resource-wise, as plants can, and with the diversity that nature provides us? This is where biodiversity and the ability to adapt really come into their own – nature is much more creative at coming up with variations which work, and can work optimally in different conditions.

If we destroy our biodiversity, we destroy the chances for future human/”intelligent” civilizations to exist, let alone exist with the same abundance we currently enjoy. Anthropomorphic climate change is a worry, but losing the ability to create energy and matter from the sun almost for free is even more of a worry. We really need to focus on the real problems, both in the short term and the long term, and not get fixated on what doctors may call the symptoms rather than the root causes.

With climate change, which I still think is important as a symptom, we need to use it as a spur to reduce our overall consumption of energy and materials. I don’t mean increase efficiency, I mean reduce actual consumption. We also need to change our economic focus away from macro-growth, and onto microeconomic features of individual/community well-being. I am a big believer in the importance of reducing inequality down to reasonable amounts, and the idea that this cannot be done just by raising up the bottom – the top needs to be capped at the very least, because capital is essentially wasted once someone has “too much to spend”. Once they start percolating wealth down through luxury yachts etc… the beneficial arguments are as valid as supporting Trident because it creates jobs.

And when it comes to biodiversity, we MUST be much more careful and holistic in our approach. We need global agreements like are currently being achieved for CO2 emissions for biodiversity measurements, and should aim to achieve not just to reduce or even prevent declines in biodiviersity, but increase biodiviersity over decades.

Music and societal change

I listened to a radio programme today which really made me stop and think. It wasn’t the best presented programme, or the best structured, but did what it said on the tin – it is part of Radio 4’s “Seriously interesting” series. I found the presenter, Sam York, a little too serious and pleased with himself, and his prophet Jacques Attali a little smug and arrogant, and yet the idea was too novel to me to be overshadowed by these annoying things. I must emphasise that I am not well read in economics or even political theory, but I think Attali’s idea is more powerful than theories built on other theories.

Attali’s idea apparently comes from a Marxist view of history, which I am not going to pretend to know about let alone understand, and it is summarised as being that society goes through stages of development which are reflected in different aspects of society, one of which is culture. The interesting aspect of his theory is that he looks at music, and sees it as the most fluid form of culture, the quickest to take up new societal ways of being, and therefore possibly at the vanguard of social changes.

Now, whether or not you take a Marxist view of history, there are aspects of the idea that music is such a flexible and adaptable form of culture that it can provide glimpses of the future. The aspect of music which makes it stand out, to me, is the universality of its reach as a culture. Even highly restrictive religions use music, such as the call to prayer in Islam and psalms in protestant Christianity. Obviously, there are probably examples of far more restrictive societies where music may have been banned altogether, but the power of music is probably reflected in how punitive a punishment this is viewed as.

Again, I stress that I am no musical scholar either, but I think that this theory of Attali’s is more interesting beyond the confines of music. Sam York, the presenter of the radio programme and a budding solo musician, was reminded of Attali’s book on this idea because he believed that Attali’s prediction that the abundance of recorded music devaluing recorded music has come to pass. He may be slightly giving the benefit of any doubt to Attali that this was what he prophesised, as the influence on technological advances on the devaluing of recorded music is a hard case to argue against. Nevertheless, it is easy to follow the argument that creating many times more music recorded than people can consume in their lifetimes would devalue recorded music. And when Attali wrote the book, in 1977, technology was already advanced enough to allow people to record and duplicate recordings individually, even only of relatively poor quality tapes or vinyls, and so the way in which music proliferated online could also have been expected to have happened even just with tapes, although perhaps slightly less spectacularly given the physical cost of creating tapes and vinyls and CDs.

In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the book revealed that Attali believed that recorded music would have become devalued before the turn of the century, but perhaps it was in some areas of society, and the rest of society, the mainstream, only finally caught up when free music became too easy to access.

Attali’s theory is really based on the value of individual’s time, and whilst that is an interesting concept and way to think about things, I am personally a bit less interested in it than the general idea that aspects of the music industry can foreshadow societal changes. This is particularly interesting now with a clear shift in people’s interaction with politics in Europe, the UK and now the USA (although perhaps Obama’s election in 2008 marked a first stage towards the more significant shifts that are becoming apparent now).

In the UK, general election turnout figures are really interesting – and they should also be viewed along with political party membership figures. The membership figures of all parties over a 50 year period from say 1950, to 2000, dropped steadily. Recording methods and accuracy vary, but the trend is clear, despite the population increase in the UK over that same period. Now, voter turnout at general elections was at a peak in 1950 over 80%, but at 77% in 1955, it can be seen that turnout barely dropped really until around 2000. In 1992, turnout was higher than 1955, but by 1997 the turnout dropped to 71% before plummeting into the 21st century.

Taken from UK Political Party Membership
Taken from a UK Parliamentary Briefing Report

Popular music building up to the 1990s, and in the 1990s in particular, showed clear signs of increasing commercialisation and corporate involvement in the making and distribution of music. This didn’t mean the music was “bad”, but mass distribution was tightly controlled by a small group of powerful record companies. National success in the music industry required a record contract with a big name record company to enable distribution of the music and exposure to national and international audiences. This situation was satirised in the amusing, if a little over-the-top, Josie and the Pussycats.

If anyone can illuminate me I would be very grateful, but I cannot find a definitive history of UK record sales over the same period. There are plenty of easy-to-find graphics for digital sales, but not longer-term… I suspect, though, that a last of the best-selling singles in the UK is informative guide, and the vast majority of the biggest-selling records and albums were in the 1970s and 1980s. Sales are big again now, but given that the inflation-adjusted cost of music dropped dramatically at the beginning of the 20th century, the revenue must be much diminished.

So, I suspect music sales partly reflect voter engagement in politics, although I cannot prove it, perhaps dropping at almost exactly the same time at around the turn of the century. The question is what is replacing this hyper-controlled industry, and our hyper-controlled politics of the past 20 years? Now, this is something I would like to explore further, but I suspect it will be really hard to predict, and will depend on much more than just a continuation of business-as-usual. I also think it will be a lot more complicated than Attali’s ingenious, but simplistic model of time-based value. The world is changing faster and faster, and whilst there is never really a point of return, any opportunity to keep “the genie in the bottle” is well and truly passed. The effects of the financial crash of 2008 have finally caught up with society, and we are going to be carried along with the tsunami it unleashed.



Fancy starting a new left-leaning party?

I first joined the Liberal Democrats as a fresh-faced 16-year-old in 2002, inspired by the leadership of Charles Kennedy and repelled by the leadership of Tony Blair in equal measure. I thought that the Liberal Democrats were the party of the future on the left; Charles Kennedy said they were, and New Labour were careering into a jargon-jingo land of nonsense, completely removed from their “democratic socialist” constitution. I may have been naïve, or even wrong to do so, but I joined the Liberal Democrats because I believed in democratic socialism. Like nearly everyone else growing up in the UK in the naughties, I thought that liberalism was a matter of course.

The late 2000s brought about a shift in Labour with a more principled leader fighting against the election-winning, but increasingly un-democratic, un-socialist, and un-liberal machine that Labour now was, and that Gordon Brown had been integral in creating. I haven’t read Frankenstein, but what I know of it suggests that the parallel of Gordon Brown as Dr Frankenstein, and the Labour party as the monster would not be wholly inaccurate. With this reality dawning on the electorate, the Liberal Democrat MP numbers reached a zenith in 2005, before Charles Kennedy was unceremoniously dumped. I don’t care what it seemed like from inside the party, I was an outsider at this point who supported the Liberal Democrats because of Charles Kennedy, and his sacking upset me enormously. However, I remained a Liberal Democrat supporter, and like many other peripheral supporters I suspect, I was unaware of the magnitude of the shift in direction of the parliamentary party under Clegg.

By 2010, although I followed politics closely, even having studied it for A-level, I still wasn’t aware of the Orange Book, just that Nick Clegg was more right-wing than me. Nevertheless, Clegg provided a great account of himself in the run up to the 2010 election where the Liberal democrats got the largest number of votes, and biggest vote share since 1983. However, with the luxury of hindsight, perhaps the result should have been scrutinised a bit more closely, and a bit more criticism levelled for the fact that despite all Cleggs’ apparent popularity, and the appetite for “new politics”, the vote share only increased by 1% point on 2005, and MP numbers fell by nearly 10%.

Even just forming a coalition with the Conservatives was offensive to me at first, but I accepted it as I thought that the Liberal Democrats would have some clearly defined red-lines which they would not cross, particularly tuition fees (but I also thought electoral reform might be for some reason), and felt enormously let down when these lines that I had invented were crossed. My view is just my view, but I’m starting to think that it may be more common than I originally thought. The election of Corbyn as Labour leader is bad for the Liberal Democrats because it had a chance to be the main party of the left, and wasted that opportunity under Nick Clegg. The British electorate does not want many parties all saying the same thing, they simply want a clear choice, and Jeremy Corbyn’s election will start Labour on the way to providing some very clear policy differences between Labour and the Conservatives.

From a personal perspective, a Corbyn Labour will be very tempting. I re-joined the Liberal Democrats on 8th May choosing to have Charles Kennedy on my membership card because he represented what I want from politics. A thoughtful, common-sense approach to liberal democracy with a caring socialist bent. I realise that the Liberal Democrat’s want to be a broad church, but I fear that by accommodating the small-state liberals and classical liberals/libertarians under the same banner the party missed a prime opportunity post-Kennedy. Despite this, I think that a “turn to the left” under Tim Farron, with his focus on his key campaign issues is the best way forward. But I would say that, joining as a Social Democrat!

Until Charles Kennedy’s death it appeared that he had been side-lined, not just in terms of actual function, but also in terms of his views. As Alastair Campbell disclosed in his tribute to Charles Kennedy, Charles Kennedy texted:

fancy starting a new Scottish left-leaning party? I joke not

As the tributes to Charles Kennedy showed, he was probably the most liked Liberal Democrat politician of the recent era, and perhaps the Liberal Democrat party should think seriously about re-appropriating some of his more common-sense left-wing views and rhetoric. Perhaps it could even become that that new left-leaning party?! The Lib Dems may have missed that earlier opportunity to become the nations’ second party, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be more opportunities to re-grow. Corbyn’s popularity is bound to have changed the political landscape whatever the result of the Labour leadership election.

Are ID cards really illiberal?

Before beginning, I have to emphasise my lack of experience in matters of ID cards, and government surveillance, my only qualification being a healthy interest in civil liberties.

I am going to start this post with perhaps a controversial statement from a liberal – the furore over ID cards confused me. Again, I have to admit I didn’t follow it closely enough to pick up all the arguments against it, except the biggest argument being that it was unnecessary. A brief glance at Wikipedia confirms that proposals for ID cards in the UK predate a lot of the terrorism fears stoked by 9/11. That fact backs up a thought I’ve had since living in Switzerland for 3 years – that ID cards and local registration for a national register are necessary in today’s mobile world. ID cards should not increase the very real risk of increased surveillance powers and privacy intrusion.

I don’t think that keeping track of where people live should be a controversial idea for liberals, and it would certainly help with identifying employers illegally employing foreign nationals and processing asylum applications. Maybe Yarls Wood could be closed?! Or at least only used as a genuinely temporary measure as the status of people was preliminary analysed. And, I hate to say it, it would make a lot of sense to those who genuinely want to limit immigrant numbers, as illegal immigrants could be genuinely identified. Although I don’t think immigrant numbers should be arbitrarily defined, I do think that some foreign nationals should be deported, particularly if they are convicted of crimes, and as a realist I realise that the majority of people probably want tighter restrictions than me. If this is happening, I believe that a system of tracking individuals in the country is clearly advantageous.

According to the 2011 census, only 9.5 million people stated they didn’t have a passport, versus 42.5 million who said they had UK passports. Assuming all those without passports are UK citizens, it shows that clearly only a minority (<20%) of UK citizens would be affected by ID cards.

So, I think that ID cards and a national system of tracking residence makes sense. So what? Well, I also think that the Conservatives (And Labour before them when John Major first proposed ID cards) have unfairly framed the argument wrongly. They have also been supported, unhelpfully in my opinion, by the pressure group “Liberty”:

Interestingly, Liberty include probably the most often cited argument at the bottom of their list:

Intrusive and unsafe

Large amounts of information (including former addresses and immigration status) would have been held about individuals on the NIR, with the likelihood of more being held in the future.

This information would have been shared with many agencies within the government and also sub-contractors with scope for extension into the private sector.

The government’s record of losing sensitive information raised doubts about its ability to manage this much new information securely. In 2007, for example, Her Majesty’s Revenues & Customs mislaid millions of people’s personal financial details.

This is enormously vague, and, in the case of most UK citizens certainly, exactly what is currently the case. Government has too much data on us already, but an ID card system would not increase this, except, probably, for people who they do need more information on.

The real enemy to civil liberties is a difficult one – too much surveillance from a government terrified of terrorism. Whether the governments fear is real or masking even more sinister motives is irrelevant, too much surveillance leaves society open to state abuse, and we need to reduce that before 1984 arrives, just ask Julian Huppert. We need a national register aside from the NHS, which may include ID cards for those that don’t hold passports, but we also need to curb government surveillance into our private lives.

Jeremy Corbyn (and EU)

I need to add a brief confirmation that I am a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and his “radical socialist views”. I think him and Tim Farron can provide a unifying force for mainstream liberal socialist  views which I suspect are more prevalent than the media makes out. I don’t know what the political landscape will look like if Corbyn becomes leader, but I can only imagine it will be more open to radical ideas in the mainstream, and that can only be a good thing.

I also hope that they both campaign to stay in Europe (I know Farron will), but that they push for Cameron to negotiate serious improvements in democracy in the EU, starting with making the European Commission elected in some way.