Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Tories and Leadership.

I think David Cameron's a good egg. I trust him and, by and large, I think he's got my back in the great councils of the world. Furthermore, I think the Coalition are making the big calls right, though I wish they were a bit more aggressive on deficit reduction and spending cuts, I understand the caution. Certainly increasing private-sector involvement in Hospitals and Schools is a policy I can get behind, and the changes to the Benefits system seem Reasonable. Gove's education policies are genuinely radical and will leave the education of British children vastly better than it was before, and (not un-related) the Teaching unions will be weakened.

Eastleigh votes today in a by-election, and if the Tories lose, it's in part because of Tory-inclined voters voting UKIP and in-part because Lib-Dems are harder to shift than Herpes when they get dug in, in the political trench-warfare of a 'Get-out-the-vote' campaign.

The problem is that the Tories look like Labour in the 80's. They are unwilling to consider the compromises of Government, preferring the masturbatory pleasure of idealogical purity, against which no leader stacks up. Witness Tory MP after Tory MP discomfiting the (mainly Tory) Government over taxes, Europe, and (absurdly) Gay Marriage. Contrast with the disciplined array of Labour drones asking co-ordinated questions about the "Bedroom tax". You could argue that this is a positive display of free-thinking from our legislature. Or you could argue it's adolescent posturing from people who owe their position to Cameron, who, it should be noted remains VASTLY more popular than his party.

But Tories from MPs down to Grass-roots don't want to be led, and seem to prefer opposition to Government. They're unwilling to compromise, unwilling to work for the common good, and will openly consider voting for a bunch of Poujadiste nincompoops who're prepared to stroke the innate prejudices of the Tory voter.

UKIP is the Tories Militant tendency. Until this is purged, and the Conservative party rediscover the discipline that used to be their secret weapon, the Tories will look leaderless, rudderless and frankly unelectable as they have between since 1990.

If you're broadly Tory-inclined, and you're thinking "Cameron's a traitor, I'll vote UKIP", he's not a traitor, you're just a cock. Do you WANT Ed Miliband to let his Union-funded myrmidons run the country with their hand up his bum? Do you WANT more state spending? Do you WANT to abandon the country to Ed Balls' economic head-bangery? Then fucking well grow up, hold your nose if necessary and vote Conservative, you dick-head.

The business of Government is compromise. Tories used to know this. Eventually the habit of Government will return to it's rightful place and the nation will be much happier as the people mastering the art of achieving the possible will not be the economic lunatics of the Labour party. But Labour, having abandoned idealogical purity looks like the practical party even as they lay waste the nation's finances. Labour are wrong of course, but effective because in politics appearance is everything.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Speeding and the Abuse of Statistics

Yesterday, I attended a speed awareness course. I was caught at 35 in a 30 zone (in my defence I was decelerating  and it was a genuine mistake). I was given the option of a £95 course instead of £60 and 3 points.

During the course, the instructor, a knowledgeable but catastrophically monotone former traffic cop asserted that the re offending rate for the speed course is better than that of the points and a fine. My inner stat geek started screaming: SELF-SELECTING SAMPLE. People offered the course have

  1. not offended in the three years previously
  2. been caught a small amount over the speed-limit
  3. be prepared to spend extra to avoid points therefore probably wealthier
  4. be willing to spend half a day taking the course.
All of these things suggest speed awareness courses are being given to people who already respect the rules of the road, and if the conversations with my fellow "delegates" (ffs) was representative, all were first-time offenders who reckoned their speeding was an error of judgement, not habitual. There were no "boy-racers", and the only person undermining the instructor was me, because I am a contrary bastard and I don't like the police and he didn't appear to know the law surrounding cyclists very well.

Above all, I feel genuine stress when I see people abusing statistics. This seems only obvious to me. Is it?

Abuse of stats is a problem: People working in a business where success is measured by stats: speed-camera partnerships and associated road-safety wallahs are a good example, will use statistics to "prove" whatever they do is working. Without the cold, hard measure of cash, the temptation to abuse stats is enormous. People look for information confirming their biases. In this case that the course an instructor delivers, works as intended suits the interests of the people who work for AA Drivetech. The record of speed cameras in saving lives almost dissapears for example when you consider reversion to the mean. Thus we have a deeply unpopular policy sold on the basis of safety, yet with the suspicion that it's about money.

As it happens, the I found the course is useful, and might even be useful to people who are more habitual speeders. I would not mind the course being COMPULSORY with a fine for more serious examples of speeding and repeat offending. Certainly I took away a few tips for safer driving from a bloke who knows what he's talking about. Commentary driving as a means to combat boredom and fatigue for example. But I think the focus on speed and speed alone means the dick-head tail-gater who can only be caught by rear-facing cameras in non-police cars, or the dick-head (probably the same) who passes fast and close to cyclists, or the person overtaking round a blind bend, are NOT caught by speed-cameras. The police need to stop thinking speed cameras are all that matters. And they need to accept evidence from people who aren't warranted officers.

This dick-head wasn't speeding. But he WAS driving like a cock. And people like that only get caught when they hit someone. Road deaths have fallen over the years. Mainly because children are no longer allowed anywhere near roads until they're in their mid-teens. Cyclists have all but disappeared and the car has become an armoured box so few die when they crash any more. 

Now cyclists are returning to the roads, we need to realise that driver attitude - the aggression of the white-van tailgater the Audi driver who simply must get in front at all costs, is what needs to be tackled if the long-term decline in fatalities is to continue. We must also build infrastructure which allows people to take a vehicle which isn't a car in safety. Otherwise we've just chased the pedestrian and cyclist off the roads, and congratulated ourselves for increasing safety, and a nation of fat, sedentary, mollycoddled drivers. The driver has assumed he owned the road for too long. The roads must be taken from the driver and given back to people, whatever means of transport - shoe, bike, motorbike, horse or car, they choose for their journey.

My fellow delegates may have lacked the aggression of the true driving twat (those people aren't given the option of the course), but they did all share the assumption that the car is vital, and there is no other option. That too needs to change. Let's start building towns and cities around people, not cars. Finally we need to deal with driver behaviour that isn't simply speed. Unfortunately, both of those seem to require more work and flexibility than the police or local authorities possess.

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