The Bankers’ Budget

Nobody would expect a fair budget from George Osborne. The Chancellor was never going to give a budget that benefitted the many over the few, or one that put the realities of everyday life above right-wing economic dogma. Expectations suitably adjusted, we can perhaps take small comfort from the 50p tax band “only” being cut to 45p. Ed Miliband gave a sterling speech in response, and I raise a glass to the intern who wrote the jokes. Professional hacks will be casting their own analysis; what follows is my personal take on some of the details.
The Chancellor’s big spin on this budget is that it “rewards work”.  We already know that under-18s are to endure a cut in the minimum wage. In the UK it is possible to work a 40-hour week and still live in poverty. The way to make work pay is, surprisingly enough, to actually make work pay, by implementing a proper living wage. Today we heard no commitment on improving the pay of the low paid. It would be naive to ever expect one from a Tory Chancellor. Increasing the income tax threshold seems reasonable, but not when even the poorest are still hit by VAT, and duty on fuel, alcohol and tobacco. What Osborne gives with one hand, he takes several times over with the other.
Projections for economic growth and for a fall in unemployment are welcomed.I only hope they hold true. As far as I am aware the budget made no specific commitments relating to the latter. I fear that further cuts to the Department of Work and Pensions will only result in more inhumane box-ticking and the harassment of the vulnerable. The Government – as ever – has put all its faith in the hands of the wonderful private sector.
On the 50p rate, the detail most comprehensively leaked, news was always going to be disappointing. Having endured two years of the government chaffing on about deficit reduction, one could at least have assumed that they intended to maximise tax revenue. Basic maths will tell anyone that a 50p rate will raise more by its presence than its absence (“Laffer Curve” / wishful thinking / pseudoscience aside). Osborne himself stated that the rate raised around £1 billion. To me a lot, to him “next to nothing”. Cutting it will cost £100m. That’s a lot of disabled children who will have to go without.
The moral case for the 50p rate is even more clear cut – there can be no reason why someone “earning” in excess of £150,000 per year needs a penny more. Greed can be the only motive, and the one which leads to tax evasion and avoidance. It will be argued that such non-payment means that the tax rate might as well be cut. Just apply this same rational to other crimes such as burglary and murder – “You’re never going to catch every criminal, might as well legalise it!” – to see what a fallacy it is.
Tax evasion is “morally repugnant” according to Osborne. It is hard to shake off that dirty feeling that comes from agreeing with him – especially given those are often my own words. Tax evasion, and avoidance, are both morally reprehensible. They are as much a theft from the community as your typical off-licence robbery, in scale perhaps more so. The problem is that Osborne is the last person I would expect to do anything about it. I fear that despite pledges to the contrary, he will be all talk and no trousers. Every spending decision taken thus far by the government has convinced me that it is a government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.
Miliband’s best line came when he challenged the government front bench to admit who among them personally benefit from the budget. Furthermore it is worth considering how many prominent Tory donors will also benefit. Such borderline conflict of interest makes a mockery of democracy – and will certainly not be reported in the Tory press. The headlines will trumpet crumbs from the rich men’s table, and ignore the widening inequality that will be a direct result of Osborne’s decisions.
Labour should commit to restoring the 50p band, and to actually getting serious on tax fraud, just as we should commit to renationalising the NHS. Anything less will be to continue to concede to the rightward drift of our national political discourse.
By Chris Nash

Ich bin ein Trot

In the past week the “progressive” mask of the Tory party has all but disintegrated. Once again, boggle-eyed theories of “the enemy within” have been aired. By now most people in the country will be aware of the morally repulsive government scheme that is workfare. Anyone with a heart and a social conscience will be opposing it.

According to Grayling and IDS though, we opponents are just a tiny “unrepresentative” bunch of extremist “trots”. Ah yes, “trots”, meaning trotskyists; because if you can’t counter an argument with logic, reason and facts, then why not descend into slurs, name-calling and ad homninum? I have used the term “trots” in the past to refer to left-wing opponents. It was wrong of me then, being both ignorant and a lazy and knee-jerk form of argument. All in all its use by the government signifies an intellectual unwillingness to engage in the issues.

Yet what can we expect from men who so clearly do not know the difference between right and wrong? Already they have lied through their teeth about the “voluntary” nature of workfare. Government documents are, even now, being fabricated or hidden from official websites. The DWP, as always, peddles its Orwellian propaganda. Everyone who has first hand experience of the Job Centre and these schemes knows that Grayling and IDS are open liars. When brave individuals like Cait Reilly have dared to stand up against workfare, they have been mercilessly slurred and slandered in the Tory press. Now there are threats of a heavy police presence at future workfare protests – presumably to intimidate the vulnerable into compliance.

I am against workfare because I believe in a fair days pay for a fair days work. I oppose businesses exploiting the free labour of the unemployed. I oppose the unemployed being punished for economic circumstances beyond their control. I oppose undermining the wages of paid employees by working for free. I oppose already rich individuals and shareholders profiting from forced and unpaid labour.

According to Grayling and IDS, all this makes me an “extremist” and a “trot”. This being so, all hail Comrade Trotsky!

By Chris Nash

The old fetish

Chris Riddell 11 December 2011

Friday was the day the old fetish returned. The day Cameron delved into nostalgia. And the day he set Britain at odds not only with the other 26 EU member states, but rationality itself.

What we saw on Friday was a Prime Minister with his hands tied by dogmatic backbench MPs. But not to worry, it seems Cameron had unveiled his all powerful ‘veto’. The only problem with this is that it’s not a true veto of any sorts. Negotiations will still be ongoing, the remaining 26 EU states will still formulate an agreement and Britain will not be present to have any say in the talks.

This is catastrophic failure for Cameron who has severed any attempts to help salvage the Euro which is not only in the EU’s interest but vital in Britain’s interests. In the words of a Facebook update by my own brother:

Tory lol. Blame the economic problems on the Euro crisis, then veto the plan to save it knowing full well that the the EU will cut you out and essentially get rid of any say you have in determining the future of Europe, and by extension, Britain

Some may call it Bulldog spirit, I’d like to call it naively dogmatic.


That Old Chestnut

David Cameron has a nerve. Not only has he U-turned over his pledge in opposition to hold a referendum over the UK’s terms of membership of the European Union, but today he had the temerity to force Nicolas Sarkozy to back down and accept his presence at key Eurozone talks to try to deal with the Greek debt crisis on Wednesday.

Once again, only one year into the new government, a Conservative prime minister is becoming about as stable on Europe as Edwina Currie is on her feet. We all know deep down he is a staunch Euro-sceptic, so why doesn’t he have the guts to come out and be frank with the British people, and say that he would love us to turn our backs on our continental partners, but that he also loves us to lecture and patronise them on economic policy, despite the fact that UK growth is anaemic at best, and backwards at worst, thanks to his policies.

A referendum on EU membership now would of course be absurd, but having called for one in opposition, the PM should stick to his guns and create a disunited and discredited government, and do us all a favour by breaking up the coalition and triggering a general election. You can’t have your bun and eat it, and you can’t be half in, half out, of the EU – leaving the Eurozone (or more accurately, Germany) to do all the hard work and then turning up to talks this week to act as one of the key players while facing a referendum proposal at home from your own backbenchers is hypocritical and downright embarrassing for Britain.

It was Ed Miliband, incidentally, who called on Cameron to give up his trip Down Under and attend the meeting, therefore whether or not you agree that Cameron has a right to be there, it is clear that the Labour leader is ahead of the curve on this one, as he was on phone hacking and as he was at PMQs this week.

It might sound like a cheap shot from the comforts of opposition – and we all know Blair and Brown disagreed over the Euro – however it is clear that yet again the Tories are divided over Europe. Europhile or Europhobe, this is one of the few reliable constants of the European project.

The problem with listening

Chris Riddell 10 April 2011

If there’s one thing politicians need to do above all else is listen. Listen to experts, listen to other opinions irrespective of political allegiance and most importantly of all, listen to the people. Naturally then, I do welcome the pause in the break to the NHS reforms to allow Ministers to listen. Now, I’m not going to go onto the NHS reforms themselves as I’ve mentioned them enough on previous blogs. But, what I will blog about is the listening exercise itself.

After the Royal College of Nurses voted in favour in a vote of no confidence on Andrew Lansley a few days ago, the Health Minister claimed “I’m sorry if what I’m setting out to do hasn’t communicated itself…Listening to the vote this morning, if I’ve not got that message across then I apologise.”. Usually, I welcome apologises. Rather than showing a sign of ‘weakness’ they actually show a sign of humility and maturity. However, this so-called ‘failure to communicate’ is nothing less than patronising. What this is really saying is that we have failed to simplify the argument enough for you to understand, but we are still right and you are completely wrong. This don’t forget was just after 99% of delegates at the Royal College of Nurses conference deciding to vote in favour in a motion of no confidence in Lansley.

If the Health Minister is truly arrogant enough to believe that the Royal College of Nurses are too stupid enough to understand his proposals, he really has another thing coming.


To AV or not to AV? That’s not the Question…


So the eagerly awaited and oh-so exciting AV referendum is now in sight, with Ed Miliband today setting out the Labour leadership’s opinion on one side, and many other Labour MPs and party members saying why they will be rejecting the proposal on the other. It does seem that the party is split down the middle – not a great position for an opposition party reassembling itself after electoral defeat. Incidentally, it is perhaps not the most shining example of ‘new politics’ or maturity when our leader refuses to unite with Nick Clegg because of his new status as Public Enemy Number One – surely there would be less cynicism in the electorate if we as an opposition party took each issue exclusively, instead of pointing the finger at the Tuition Fees Bogeyman.

The arguments for or against the Alternative Vote aside (I’m personally in the ‘Yes’ camp for want of something marginally further down the road to Proportional Representation), what strikes me the most after the disheartening advertising tactics of the ‘No’ camp (I’m sure you’ve seen the baby-in-incubator and soldier billboards) is the lack of interest amongst the wider electorate. Today I asked a friend of mine whether he had yet considered which way he would vote, and the reply was that it would make no difference to the political scene, so why should he bother? I wanted to answer his rebuttal, but found to my horror that I couldn’t. Whether or not we stick with First Past the Post or adopt AV will have little bearing on electoral outcomes on a national scale, only at constituency level (where AV would make elections far more interesting, as those who witnessed the Guild election results will testify), therefore the best we can hope for is the lesser of two evils, while those running for office continue to make vacuous or downright deceptive pledges in their election manifestos e.g. the marketisation of the NHS and tuition fees.

The real question on the ballot paper should not be ‘AV vs FPTP’, nor even the far more deomcratic ‘AV vs FPTP vs AV+ vs STV vs AMS…’, but something which reads less like a mathematical formula and more like a choice between two fundamental democratic frameworks that disillusioned voters can really get their teeth into. We need a choice over whether or not we want to overhaul the House of Lords (a process which has thus far taken a century); whether or not we want to de-throne and de-robe the monarchy; whether or not we want to reduce the stranglehold of the elites over our economy; in short, whether or not we want a new constitution. That is not to say the previous government had a gleaming record on constitutional affairs, although devolution and removal of hereditary peers were a good start. But by throwing a bone for the Lib Dem poodle in the form of a paltry referendum on AV, the Tories have got away with it again, whichever way we vote on May 5th.

The case for AV

As I noticed on the BUCF blog today, they have made their position clear on the upcoming referendum, no guesses what side. Now this is the first nation-wide referendum since the 1975 referendum on whether the UK should stay in the EEC, but, BULS officially doesn’t have an opinion on the matter. Now unlike the Lib Dems Youth Society and BUCF, BULS is a far broader church in regards to electoral reform with all forms of voting being supported by individual members, FPTP, AV, AV+ and STV. However, I’m pleased to officially announce that this may well change, as on (probably) the 24th March BULS will have an internal debate and vote on the direction of support for the referendum with “Yes”, “No” and “Neither” being BULS’ final decision on the referendum (ironically using an AV system). This blog is where I’ll put the case for a “Yes” vote for BULS.

One of the great myths of AV is that it fails to produce strong and stable governments. If you look to Australia  and its AV system since 1910 there have been only two hung Parliaments, 1940 and 2010. Comparing this to the UK’s FPTP system where we have had hung Parliaments twice in 1910, 1929, February 1974 and 2010, not to forget almost hung Parliaments in 1950, 1964 and October 1974. While in Canada where they also use FPTP, there are more less permanent hung Parliaments.

The second is that people who vote for minor parties get two votes, which simply fails to acknowledge one of the simple aspects of AV. Candidates who are eliminated also have any first preference votes they received eliminated also. So no, people can’t vote twice.

And thirdly is that AV is not tried and tested unlike FPTP. For those in the “No” camp from the Tory party who fail to remember that AV (or at least a similar form of it) was used in the 2005 leadership election and if FPTP had been used, David Davis would have been elected leader of the Conservative party. AV is also used to elect people in charities, businesses, trade unions and even MPs electing their speaker. Hypocrisy is consequently laid bare for some politicians and political party members who oppose the referendum.

AV represents a change to end tactical voting, MPs appealing to a narrow section of their constituents and wasted votes. I’ll be voting “Yes” on March the 24th and May the 5th, I hope you can do the same on at least the latter.


p.s. This is my 200th blog(!) making ‘Ramsay’s F Word’ the largest single category on the BULS website!