Wednesday 26 May 2010

Three economists, four opinions...

Nowadays so much of politics is really economics that the private citizen has to acquire the skills of the economist or retire from the political argument. A case in point is the argument over whether the UK needs a first tranche of cuts, amounting to £6bn, early or later. During the election campaign, Labour and the Lib Dems said we would be prudent to wait: cutting too soon risked damaging the recovery. The Tories wanted "an age of austerity", cut now and cut deep.

Now the ConDem Coalition has adopted the Conservative position and decided that we need the cuts  and we cannot wait until the emergency budget. So much so that the announcement of the cuts was made at a press conference at the Treasury rather than in the House of Commons.

The question for the  rest of us is, who is right? If we cut Government spending deep and soon, will that actually help or hinder the economic recovery?

The OECD has released a report with attached graphs which may help the layman make up his mind.

My interpretation for what it's worth: government spending and exports are the only current engines of growth in the UK (and many other countries). Other engines of growth, such as consumption and investment show no signs of recovery. In the circumstances, cutting that flow of finance surely risks a fragile recovery.

The cuts may be "only" £6billion, but there seems no logical reason to take even that amount away from the planned public service provision with such unwarrented urgency. (And that doesn't include the multiplier argument, i.e. that increased unemployment costs a "double whammy" as more is paid out in benefits while less is gathered in taxes.)

Anyway, read the report, look at the position of UK finances, and make up your own mind.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Vince's Newsnight Cringe.....

Priceless Paxman interview with Vince Cable...

On Newsnight last night, Paxman asked Vince Cable a few gentle questions about when he changed his mind about the £6bn cuts announced by his partners yesterday, and about how friendly he is with George Osborne.

Cable, looking like a man who would rather be tied down naked in a pit full of stinging ants, replied with a complete lack of conviction that he was convinced by a first glance at the books and by the eloquence of the Governor of the Bank of England, and of course he and George had a perfectly good relationship....

Given that he is a Keyneseian and is deeply worried that early cuts are a real risk to the recovery, that he fears that we have cut too early and will cause a double dip recession, and that he regards George Osborne as practically economically illiterate, it's no wonder that poor old Vince looked grumpy and ill-at-ease.

Before the election he opposed early cuts because of the potential economic consequences for unemployment, growth, economic capacity, the availability of credit and its potential to damage us in the eyes of international money markets. For a politician who made his reputation on being right, being honest and being outspoken, swallowing his words is  a real dent to Cable's self-esteem. Being asked to publicly defend the cuts by a sneering Paxman must feel like torture.

It is obvious that Cable still believes what he said pre-election, that he fears the risk that is being run with the economy, that he has been blocked by Osborne in his bid to regulate the banks and that he instinctivley flinches with obvious Tory relish at the cuts.

Expect more dissafection from Cable.

Friday 21 May 2010

Tory Fault Lines

Progress Online has a good post on the Conservative approach to the NHS, and how it reveals fault lines in the Conservatives basic philosophy. Basically, the drive to sell-off, to marketise and privatise is in conflict with the drive to "conserve" elements of society which has always been at the root of collective and individual conservatism.

I have always believed this to be the case, especially since Margaret Thatcher adopted a harsh "free market" and individualist economic and social model as her Government's basis of policy making. It seemed to me that selling off the family silver and trashing the "old ways", as the Thatcher model demanded, was in serious conflict with the urge to conserve tradition and institutions which was the basis of real "conservatism" (large C and small c) as I had previously understood it.

Thursday 20 May 2010

Income up, Poverty Down, in 1stYear of Recession. Thanks to Labour...

George Osborne said today that the ConDem Coalition will keep Labour's target to halve child poverty by 2010-11. Thanks in the main to the policies of the outgoing labour Government, progress continues to be made in the fight against poverty.  Figures released by the Department of Work and Pensions reveal that, even during the recession, wages continued to rise and poverty continued to fall.

These outcomes are welcome, if suprising, but they did not happen by accident. One abiding feature of Labour since 1997 has been the focus on ensuring that the impact of events on the poorer in society were understood and combatted where possible. The target to eliminate child poverty by 2020 was a real commitment and the aim of policy and energy over many years.

The last time the Tories were in power poverty doubled and child poverty tripled. If they are really serious about adopting and achieving Labour's targets they will have to engineer a change in their basic philosophy of selfishnesss and letting markets rip, and they will have to change their policy stance on benefits, targetting and the place and legitimacy of trades unions in the worklplace.

The reductions in poverty over that last ten years were a lasting achievement of the Blair/Brown era, and they were caused by real policy initiatives and real focus on the problems of reducing poverty. The Tories will have to undergo a sea-change if they are to achieve anything like the Labour successes in this area. I hope they do, for the sake of the low paid, pensioners and children living in poverty and for the good of society as a whole.

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Nick's Great Reform "act"

I listened to Nick Clegg's "biggest shake up since the Great Reform Act of 1832" speech on the radio today.

I was astonished to hear him reveal ...

..... all of the intrusive and unnecessary laws that inhibit your freedom.......Our democracy has suffered at the hands of encroaching centralisation and secrecy for decades...citizens' rights: eroded by the quiet proliferation of laws that increase surveillance, quash dissent, limit freedom...executive authority: consistently increased by successive administrations to the point that we now have a neutered parliament and government that enjoys almost untrammelled control .....
...that we had been living in an oppressed and enslaved sub-soviet enclave until May 6th.

Little did we know...freedom and liberty curtailed and cramped to such an extent that criminals could be photographed and identified on CCTV and apprehended by merely leaving their DNA at the scene of the crime.... affront to Liberal Democrats everywhere..... no wonder the people revolted.....

How Nick and Dave bravely overcame the politburo and the commissars to sneak into samizdat (but posh, obviously) fee paying education and then earned an illicit living through the underground economy. To chose to work in such defiantly decadent and deliberately effete anti-soviet occupations such as PR and Parliamentary Lobbying must have taken every fibre of courage they could muster. It'll be a grand tale for their memoirs in the blissful freedom of the post soviet era.

Thank you Nick for that insight....

Or did you just go a wee bit mad...?

As I said, I heard the speech on radio, but revisiting the text confirms first impressions: it's full of generalisations, inanities with a leavening of unintentional humour.



This government is going to break up concentrations of power and hand power back to people, because that is quite simply how we can build a society that is fair.
Easy to say, but how? identifying a "problem" is easy....George Osborne was so enraged by the number of quangos that his first act was to set up a quango to tell him what to do next....

Landmark legislation, from politicians who refused to sit back and do nothing while huge swathes of the population remained helpless against vested interests. Who stood up for the freedom of the many, not the privilege of the few.
Is this meaningless drivel, or is droit de signeur ended at last....


..... citizens' rights: eroded by the quiet proliferation of laws that increase surveillance, quash dissent, limit freedom.
That'll be the Tory dream of repealing the Human Rights Act, will it Nick?

The whole thing is hyperbolic, bathetic, arrogant and vainglorious.

Actually, quite an accurate character study of Mr Clegg himself....

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Boris Breaks Cover....Redwood Agrees...Davis Dives In. Coalition Blues.

The first cracks in the Tory support for the ConDem Coalition have appeared and, surprise surprise, they come from the direction of Boris Johnson, John Redwood and David Davis.

Two of the attacks are about finance and taxation.

Johnson, the Tory Mayor of London, professional buffoon and Cameron's most obvious rival for the affections of their party, is enraged by the coalitions plans, not yet clearly defined, to somehow curtail the activities of banks and the City of London in the wake of the banking crisis and the resultant recession. Boris isn't just politely dismissive, he thinks it's "nuts"...
I think it is completely nuts for people to want, as a matter of public policy, to attack the financial sector.
John Redwood, convinced neo-con, comical mimer to Welsh anthems and serial  unreconcilable, has revealed that he has organised a group of Tory MPs and Peers to oppose the ConDem Coalition's Capital Gains Tax plans.

Redwood says that ...
...Conservatives and Lib-Dems had deeply differing views on tax. Deep in Lib-Dem DNA is the Robin Hood principle — tax the rich and give to the poor.... It is superficially popular, and gives believers a feeling of moral superiority. Deep in Conservative DNA is the belief that society and the economy work better if you allow people to be successful and to pay their own bills....
Davis takes a diferent angle, voicing his concern over the proposed 55% threshold for the dissolution of Parliament. In Davis's opinion ..
...we could have a government in parliament which could command 45 per cent, or 45 per cent plus one, of parliamentary votes, but no more, and therefore couldn’t deliver a budget, couldn’t deliver its manifesto, couldn’t deliver its normal legislation and yet couldn’t be thrown out either......a government in parliament which could command 45 per cent, or 45 per cent plus one, of parliamentary votes, but no more, and therefore couldn’t deliver a budget, couldn’t deliver its manifesto, couldn’t deliver its normal legislation and yet couldn’t be thrown out either.
It has been clear that many Conservative grass-roots activists are not happy at the Cameron/Clegg beterothal. So far they have been content to grumble in private and wait and see. But the emergence of such pointed criticism from the upper echelons of the party, so soon after the election and in the persons of such eminent and instantly recognisable Tory heavyweights might push the unease into the open.

It certainly cannot be helpful to Cameron/Clegg and their Conservative Coalition. It must rate as the shortest honeymoon period for any government in modern times.

Monday 17 May 2010

Why the Tories Have Lost Scotland.

Iain Dale's diary has a post by a "Scottish Conservative" which bemoans the fact that the Tories are unable to make any progress north of the border.

It has this opening sentence...
You know that bit of land that if you forget to turn off the M6 onto the M55 for Blackpool, eventually becomes visible through the rain. The land where some parts of it largest town have worse statistics than Zimbabwe. Where snouts in the trough "socialist" crooks run councils with expertise that the Cosa Nostra is jealous of. That place where the Labour Party has its lair, where evil thugs train as the Tartan Taliban to destroy any prosperity in England. Where Macqueda spin against anyone (including their own side) who does not fit the mould. Even those nominally appearing to be English have names like Campbell and McBride.

If this is typical of Scottish Conservatives and their opinions of their country and countrymen, it's no wonder they cannot persuade their fellow Scots to go along with them.

Ignorant, bitter, deluded, in denial. And the contributor apparently cannot see it....nor does Iain Dale nor many of the contributors on his blog.

Labour is facing a lot of soul-searching in the wake of its defeat in the General Election, a necessary cleansing will undoubtedly follow.

The Tories have been wiped out in Scotland in four successive elections: it's time they woke up and had their own heartfelt review of the reasons for this failure. Starting with the attitude expressed and finding ways of rooting it out of their party would be a good route to understanding why they fail so consistently in Scotland.

Sunday 16 May 2010

The 55% Stitch Up

Much has been written about the ConDem coalition's intention to legislate for a threshold of 55% of Commons votes to dissolve Parliament.

Currently, if a PM loses a confidence vote by 50%+1 of the MPs, he has to go to the Queen and ask for a dissolution. Now they want it to be 55% of MPs voting for a dissolution. The fact that the Tories have 47% of MPs is just a co-incidence... isn't it? So the Lib Dems could leave the coalition, the Tories could lose a vote of confidence, (50%+1) but the other parties combined could not get the 55% for a dissolution.

Convenient, is it not? For Dave it is.. V. Convenient....

There has been a lot of discussion on the blogs, in particular here...

But they all seem to me to miss a simple point. The 50%+1 formula is a part of our unwritten constitution. It is obeyed by all PMs and all governments because it is a constitutional requirement. It means that if  a government loses the confidence of the House, that government falls, no question and no wriggling over percentages.

But the ConDem alliance wants to take it out of the constitution and make it law. The problem is that once it is a law or regulation, any succeeding government can change it in any way they want. They can make it 60% or 80%, whatever suits their particular need. And the ConDems will not be able to object, because they started it: they took it out of the realm of constitutional requirement and put it into the every day legal arena. And no Parliament can pass laws to bind any future Parliament, and any law can be changed by a simple majority.

Once again the so-called "Conservatives", who like to portray themselves as guardians of our traditions are playing games to suit themselves. And once again they fail to think it through, to the detriment of the constitution and the future functioning of our democracy.

Thursday 13 May 2010

Am I just being a grumpy old man?

Watching and reading the media, you could get the impression that a new dawn has broken in ConDem Britain. According to the journalists, all is smiles and nods and winks and pictures of betrothed Clegg and Cameron swooning in each others arms, happy politicians slapping each other on the back and "historic" cabinet meetings with ministers grinning towards the cameras.

But is it really so? Has a new dawn really broken? Is it all milk and honey and sweetness and light across the land?

Not on the streets, IMO. I may be wilfully obtuse, but I don't see this bonhomie stretching to the actual population. It seems to me that the people I meet, while not exactly sullen, are not chirpy either. Wary is the mood, cautious, waiting. We'll give this lot  a chance to show that they are better than the last lot, but I wouldn't hold my breath, is the feeling of the people.

The majority did not want the Conservatives. In fact many people voted Lib Dem precisely in order to keep the Tories out, and now they have a Tory government, they're not quite sure how it happened, and they are not happy.  The population is not rebellious yet, but you get the feeling that it will not take much to get them to see the fault lines in the ConDem Coalition.

And then the waiting might just turn to wailing....

And I'm not really that grumpy, I like  a laugh as much as the next man... listen here

Wednesday 12 May 2010

All changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born....or is it?

UK politics, we are being told, has changed beyond recognition. The coalition of Tories and Liberal Democrats is historic and things will, if we believe the commentators, never be the same.

Whether you buy that analysis, and whether you think that the Tory/Lib Dem alliance is a good or bad thing, or if it will work, is a matter of choice. At the moment nobody really knows what is going on, how the arrangement will work out, and what impact it will have on the parties and the country.

But one thing hasn't changed, and that's the ability of our Liberal Democrat friends to fool themselves and the public about their "caring" policies. During the negotiations with David Cameron the Lib Dems made a big thing about protecting their policy of raising tax thresholds above £10,000 "to help the very poorest", which is, on the face if it, a laudable aim.

But it seems that they have got their sums wrong, or their policy. Tim Horton and Howard Reed of the Fabian Society have conducted an investigation into the policy and its effects for the blog "Left Foot Forward".  

Horton and Reed conclude that the policy fails by;

- Ignoring the poorest

- Giving less to poorer households and more to richer households

- Increasing inequality between the bottom and the middle

According to their report;
the Liberal Democrats’ proposed tax cut fails the fairness test.

Spending £17 billion on increasing the personal allowance is a very poor way to help those on low incomes. It could actually harm the welfare of low-income households by increasing inequality and relative poverty
In fact the Fabian team conclude that the policy, which costs around £17 billion, is really a mechanism to distribute money from the well off to those on middle incomes. The bottom 10% of earners will benefit least of any earnings group.

Left Foot Forward has a more detailed report ....

£17 billion pounds is not peanuts, and already the Conservatives admit to having a problem about how to find the cash to pay for the Lib Dems promise.

I suspect the Tories will be quite happy that the policy is not nearly as redistributive as is claimed. It's the low earners (and those who care about them) who voted Lib Dem on the strength of this promise of improvement in their finances that are bound to be disappointed when they open their pay packet after the first coalition budget and find that, in fact, not a lot has changed.

Monday 10 May 2010

Adam Boulton and Alistair Campbell in on-air punch up.

what are we up against...

Adam Boulton, doyen of political commentators, most respected TV interviewer and star of Sky TV, loses it on air...

Actually, p.s. it looks like an ongoing spat.. Adam Boulton calls in Kelvin MacKenzie to "prove" that Sky is unbiased....???!!!  

Sunday 9 May 2010

The Lib Dems Dirty Secret (part the first)

As I write this, there are two public schoolboys carving up politcal power in Westminster. Eton and Westminster (and St Pauls, but we won't mention the oik), and Oxbridge combine, as so often in the past, to tell us what is best for them, and therefore what is best for us. So much for the "new politcs".....

And so far so ancien regime. But, as Nick Clegg struts his hour upon the stage, his party harbours a dirty secret that the press, for some reason, has ignored and kept the lid on. That secret is that the Liberal Democrats, the kingmakers and believers in "fair" politics, are not really a national party at all: in some areas they hardly exist as an "on the ground" organisation.

In evidence I give my own experience: the Lib Dem candidate in our constituency did not attend the count. Strange enough in itself, you might say, for a party that boasted of having 100 seats and maybe even being the biggest party in Parliament, for the candidate not to turn up at the count. But it's worse than that, much worse: the Lib Dem candidate did not appear in the constituency at all during the campaign. Not once. And no leaflets or statements were sent out by the Lib Dems, to my knowledge. I received none, and I know of no-one who did.

Even more shockingly, this is not the first time this has happened at Westminster and Scottish elections. The Liberal Democrats have put up a "ghost" candidate on at least two recent occassions in this seat. Far from being "fair", I believe that this shows a distressing contempt for the voters and the political process.

So as Nick Clegg dictates the terms of the next UK government, flexing his political muscles and flashing his six-pack, he conceals the the weakness of his organisation to deliver any agreement that he might make with the Tories. Nick's dirty little secret is that his party is not all it seems.   

Friday 7 May 2010

It Was the Sun Wot Lost it!!

Yesterday Trevor Kavanagh (67), veteren Sun journalist, wrote this hysterical piece predicting riots in the streets of London if the voters were to defy the Sun and support anyone but Dave. If you don't do what we tell you, says the Super Soaraway Sun, Greek style chaos would ensue.

But, you know what?.... the people defied Trevor and the Sun. They refused to be bullied into electing the Conservatives, and they refused to be rushed into buying the whole Cleggmania package and they gave us a hung Parliament.

So, amid all the political furore about who will do deals with whom, and what shape a new Parliament will eventually take, one development is in danger of being missed: the print media is one of the big losers in this election.

Seven national papers supported the Tories, two supported the Lib Dems, and only one, The Mirror, supported Labour (two if you include the Mirror's Scottish sister, The Daily Record), but theTories failed to get a majority, and the Lib Dems failed to get any improvement in their vote. Given all the media support of the Conservatives and the supposed unpopularity of Gordon Brown, this is a massive failure of the political influence of the UK press.

But this situation was not entirely unpredictable: in February, when the Sun ran a campaign against Brown on the way he wrote and addresssed letters to bereaved relatives of military casualties, the resultant pressure on Brown was viewed as illegitimate and massively unfair. The paradoxical outcome was that Brown got a huge sympathy vote, his personal ratings improved and the beginning of the Labour recovery in the polls was established. The Sun's attacks were counter productive, producing the opposite effect to the paper's intentions.

Similarly when the print media, in the Conservative interest, attacked Nick Clegg with charges of Nazism and other nonsense, the Lib Dems consolidated their improvement in the polls and Cleggmania was off and running. Once again the public told the press where to get off in pushing an agenda that the people did not buy.

So the print media, previously so powerful and dominating, so used to dictating to Prime Ministers and government departments, has failed in its stated aims of forcing a Cameron government on the people.  The Sun, the embodiment of this hubris, the newspaper above all others which has arrogantly assumed that it rules the country and that politicians must bow to to the will of Rupert, has lost the plot and lost the power.

After the 1992 election, the Sun ran a famous headline which boldly claimed that "It Was The Sun Wot Won It!". In 2010 the matching headline would have to be "It Was The Sun Wot Lost It!".

Monday 3 May 2010

Gordon Wows London Citizens ..... with Extras!!!!

Gordon Brown today made the speech of the campaign at a "London Citizens" event. Articulate, compassionate and full of energy and commitment, the Prime Minister gave the lie to those who say he is dull, lacks passion and understanding of the concerns of ordinary people.

Watch, listen and enjoy GB at his best....

And then there's this.....