Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Denying prisoners of the vote can only cause social and political harm

I have been following the developments of this issue since the very start when the Coalition took office in May 2010 and must say that on balance it is wrong to deny voting rights to prisoners serving short sentences.

But let us be realistic, the government’s commitment to ensuring prisoner’s voting rights are kept away from them has proved highly popular, but it seems that what the Coalition are doing over this issue is more consumed with garnering a much needed boost to popularity, rather than to bring about any positive change.

Why is it worth all this effort? The government have been at loggerheads with the European Court of Human Rights for several years now. Is this part of a wider agenda of being seen to repatriate powers from Brussels and other such International institutions? Or do they believe it will make a meaningful difference in the criminal justice system, worth all this hassle?

Politics aside, the denial of  the vote from prisoners can only cause harm, rather than good. It can only further disenfranchise criminals and unnecessarily disrupt their integration back into civilised, law abiding and decent society. It certainly will have little crime-deterring or retributive effect, as very few prisoners are inclined to vote anyway.

What the government always have to do with issues of this nature is get the balance right between retribution and rehabilitation. It seems on balance to me, that the Coalition have got it very wrong on this issue. 

What we are talking about is not the voting rights of murderers and rapists here; we are talking about shoplifters, drug dealers, burglars and other ‘petty’ criminals tried at a Magistrates’ Court. What possible positive effect does this elicit?   Criminals need not be given any legitimacy for feeling hard-done-by and disenfranchised. The State must not risk giving further ammunition to apologists who explain away the causes of crime as being the fault of the wider law-abiding majority. The Coalition ought to set the standard to which prisoners should abide, and this is by the standards and practices of the law-abiders in society. This includes voting.

Universal suffrage is the bedrock to any developed democratic system In which all can succeed or fail based on the own endeavours. Disproportionate legal discrimination against certain sections of our society is against the grain of a One Nation government. To use in vogue language, never must we risk, through statute, the development of Two-Nations. One of law-abiding and civilised people, and the rest being of another Nation: that of chronic and an unwelcome Underclass.

I used the term ‘underclass’ because non-voting is a defining characteristic of people who are in this ‘Underclass’ that is the uneducated, the long-term unemployed and in general, the persistently and permanently impoverished. It is a crime to trap these people in poverty through disproportionately comfortable welfare subsistence, taking away any incentive of the individual to improve their condition (both financial and social) through finding work. Such welfare encourages dependency which strips them of any hope of the dignity of self-sufficiency., Likewise though, it is a crime to take away the suffrage of a prisoner, making their sense of disenfranchisement and resentment of the law-abiding majority ever more ingrained, trapping them in a culture of crime by taking away the incentive of being part of civilised society, which for these people within this culture, is already the far tougher option.

Should this whole issue be dictated by the EU and the European Court of Human Rights? No, if this is purely a matter of political principle, then I'd back the government's stance on this, However, viewing the issue at hand as a principle in itself, then for me I have to disagree with the government.

However, where the issue is complicated again, is in the politics. Cameron is not campaigning to take away the vote from prisoners, rather he is fighting to stop prisoners being given the vote, and at that, by an external institution, undermining the democratic will of Westminster. Whilst I think prisoners on short sentences should, as a matter of principle, be able to vote, democracy (ironically) dictates that the motion shall never be supported by government. It is however, and probably shall remain, an oddity in our free and democratic country that we don't reserve the taking away of civil rights for only the most serious of offenders.

Public turn out in numbers as series of Kent PCC hustings gets underway

The race for Kent Police and Crime Commissioner is an election that for months now has been hotly contested but of late, after attending two recent hustings, it seems that the people of Kent, contrary to what the media says is general apathy nationwide, are also very much engaged with the process. 

People in their vast numbers have attended these two debates on the University of Kent, Canterbury campus and at Midkent College, Gillingham, in which all six candidates took part  This in part I think is a credit to the candidates, who of varying success have campaigned all around the cities and towns of Kent, but this is also because the people of Kent are aware that whoever wins this election has a huge task on their hands in order to coordinate the protection and prevention of crime in Kent which has disrupted far too many people.

Whoever wins this will have control over a £225 million budget and where this is spent, or not spent will have a direct impact over the safety of all in Kent. There shall be no time for bedding-in period for whoever wins on the 15th November. Whilst the role is new, the job of Police and Crime Commissioner is not one for a novice.

In Kent, under the traditional responsibility of unelected, target-obsessed and detached bureaucrats in the Kent Police Authority (KPA) over 70% of crime in Kent went unresolved. 84% of burglaries and 82% of car crimes have gone ‘undetected’, drug problems and the general influence of the Black Market over the lives of Kent residents are rife. This is before the impact of a 20% reduction of the police budget is felt. The move towards a more accountable police service, with a democratically elected Commissioner cannot be more timely and welcome.

Candidates Ann Barnes (Independent), Dai Liyanage (Independent), Craig Mackinlay (Conservative), Steve Uncles (English Democrats) , Piers Wauchope (UKIP) and Harriet Yeo (Labour) all attended the two recent hustings in which all put forward their own cases for becoming the first PCC of Kent. I was struck by the range of candidates on offer in Kent. Far from a bunch of career politicians, we have Harriet Yeo, a proud trade unionist, Craig Mackinlay, a local Magistrate and accountant and current Councillor, Dai Liyange, a former Liberal Democrat member and Mayor of Medway, Piers Wauchope, another Councillor, Steve Uncles, an activist within the English Democrats, and lastly Ann Barnes, formerly of the KPA. This variety is refreshing and shall only improve general attitudes to the newly formed PCC role at a time when public faith in traditional politicans in Westminster is at an all-time low.

The big issues which came up in both hustings were firstly drugs. All candidates conveyed their hard-line approach to drugs in Kent. All were in agreement that illegal drugs have no place in civilised society. Mackinlay and Yeo in particular, spoke candidly on the issue. Mackinlay, as a Magistrate in one of the most challenging wards in the whole country, reiterated that the overwhelming majority of crimes have a drug element to them, in which most of these criminals have a drug habit. Harriet Yeo challenged the notion that drugs are of no harm to society when she talked of how a helpless parent, which she met whilst on the campaign trail, could do little to prevent the damage of the fumes, spread from a neighbour from reaching her 3 year old child. A reminder that it is those around the drug user that suffers at the hands of illegal drugs. Mackinlay also supports drug rehabilitation programs as the way forward to help hooked users off the habit.

Another issue that was prevalent was fears of privatisation. Again all candidates appeared to agree that privatisation of the front line is not on the agenda. Harriet Yeo attacked Ann Barnes for her record on privatisation on the KPA. Yeo called for Mrs Barnes to be upfront about the private companies she oversees to carry out Kent Police roles.

Craig Mackinlay however was more realistic on the issue. Mackinlay reiterated that ‘capital P’ privatisation is something he will never bring onto the front line provision of the police, however he explained that for back-office functions, private companies can carry out functions at a cheaper cost to taxpayers whilst providing more effective service.

Another issue was an apparent dissatisfaction with the lack of police presence on the streets of Kent, meaning that police officers become detached from the public, who lack community ties with their local officers. Craig Mackinlay offered hope to Kent's rural communities, who many claim to have not seen a police officer 'in years'. Mackinlay's promoted his rural manifesto's six-point rural crime policy, emphasizing the need for increased police interaction with rural communities, the need for more Special Constables and better use of intelligence to combat crime in rural Kent. 

However all candidates defended the closure of police stations in Kent. Ann Barnes acknowledged that they were too expensive to maintain. Mrs Barnes said that her policy would be to provide 'mini mobile police stations' to combat the 'emotive element' of station closures. Mackinlay said that the rise of technology and its widening distribution and usage meant that Police can be more responsive now, through the use of technology, meaning that the  police stations purpose and effectiveness was diminishing.

Another issue in the forum was over the salary for the role. On a show of hands at Midkent College, very few believed that the position justified the £85000 annual salary. Dai Liyanage claimed he would only accept a salary of £40,000, whilst committing the rest of the allocated amount to police technology research.  

Interestingly though, Mrs Barnes, Chair of the Kent Police Authority, whilst in her six year tenure oversaw a rise by 45% to her six-figure salary, this for her work in unelected position. This authority shall, come November 16th be abolished and replaced by the elected PCC . The salary for the role shall be significantly less than what Mrs Barnes paid herself whilst Chair of the KPA with taxpayers money in these roles. This salary for a new, elected and democratically accountable person seems far fairer than the previous regime and whilst at the same time as reducing salary cost, shall also increase democratic mandate and representation in our police force.

Craig Mackinlay in Canterbury led the concern at rising bureaucracy costs under the previous KPA, at a time when the police budget is being cut by central government. Candidates Yeo, Mackinlay, Liyanage, Wanchope and Uncles all expressed concern of this trend. Mackinlay said that these ever-increasing costs were unnecessary and , if elected he would ensure that the money allocated to admin would be spent on protecting the front line. Dai Liyange agreed that these costs will have to be brought back down under control.

Consensus on the issue however did not quite form around the podium. Ann Barnes, believed to be a front-runner for the job, defended the tripling of back office and admin costs spent by the KPA in the space of only six years, this whilst front line officers have been made redundant in Kent, conceded that she could not promise that these costs won’t continue to increase from the £1.5 million she already administers.

So as the event drew to a close in Gillingham, attendees at the forums will have much to ponder when it comes to their crucial choice in 22 days time. Each candidates respected campaigns shall no doubt step up in intensity as election day on the 15th November approaches. How the new Police and Crime Commissioners will impact crime and the police agenda is something that will be of much interest in the coming months and years. But for now, the elected Commissioner is here to say and it is essential that Kent selects the right one.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Don't even think about it: Why backbenchers must back off Cameron

Last month it was alleged by backbencher Bob Stewart that he had been approached by colleagues to form a leadership challenge to David Cameron. With ‘Borismania’ the centre piece of this year’s Party Conference, talk of an pending challenge has been filling the political gossip pages for weeks now, not helped by Boris’ regular public disagreements over government policy. What such a challenge would represent is highly detrimental to the Party and it begs the question over whether some in the party have learned the lessons of the past.

Not many of the core supporters or those of the grassroots would say that this frontbench is representative of their views or interests everytime, nevertheless overthrowing this leadership, without democratic mandate from the public would come at a massive cost to the Party going forward.

What those disgruntled on the back benches must remember, before pressing the issue of a change of leadership, is the context in which David Cameron assumed the leadership.  

The Party was left toxically divided by the ruthless casting aside of Thatcher throughout the difficult years of Major’s Premiership. This disunity continued after 1997 by the rise of popularity of so called ‘New Labour’, this marginalised the Tories, especially the unfashionable Right faction of the Party, leaving us simply unelectable.

Poor choices out of a poor selection of leadership candidates simply made this part of our history even more harrowing. What David Cameron, whatever his flaws may be, picked up in 2005 was a shambles. A broken Party, broken by the best part of 20 years of disunity, infighting, scandal and perceived ‘outdated’ and ‘out of touch’ principles. What Cameron did in his years in Opposition was modernise the party, reclaim and reach out our appeal to the electorate. Cameron, with the help of the incompetence of Brown in Number 10, put the Conservative Party back on the map and this is where we must stay.

Cameron’s change in approach and claim over the Centre Ground, paved the way for our return to Government, albeit not in triumphant fashion, with the failure to secure an overall majority. This return to power paved the way for Michael Gove’s excellent education reform and Iain Duncan-Smith’s welfare changes. Cameron’s gestures of modernisation, such as ‘hug a hoodie’ , ‘liberal conservatism’, support for gay marriage and ‘Web Cameron’ made a significant difference to the Party’s image, making us again credible and appealing to the wider public.

So where has it all gone wrong for Cameron? Ultimately this stems back to a poorly presented Budget and various ministerial scandals. But these issues have had such an exacerbated effect due to frustration over the slower than expected economic recovery, making such scandals further irritable to an already agitated public and Conservative backbench. But a change in leadership now would make the matter so much worse. Again, we would be a party rife with vicious division. It would be reminiscent of the Post-Thatcher era of infighting and detachment from reality. To the public it would appear that we would have learned nothing from this forgettable episode. But we cannot forget as the only winners here would be Labour and no doubt we would again be punished by the electorate.

So how can Cameron ensure this scenario no longer threatens to become reality? This all said it is the state of the economy that really matters. Not just for the public, but to those inside his own party.

Cameron and his inner circle of “metropolitan elites” must, of course oversee an economic recovery, bought by the public. They must do this by maintaining their sense of mission in wiping out the budget deficit. But they must also successfully turn their attention to growth. All efforts must be committed to presenting a credible set of policies to bring about growth and private sector jobs. Moving Michael Fallon to the Business department is long overdue and is a masterstroke to  change public perception that this Government has growth at the top of its agenda. This would surely sooth disgruntled backbenchers.

The frontbench must also, if they can reflect backbench opinion more in Government. If they can, given that it is a Coalition, they could bring more core conservative principles and policies to the agenda. But what the Right of the party must remember is that it is the moderate Centre which has a democratic mandate, not the Right. Anything beyond this is simply party politics.

Cameron cannot be judged by his backbenchers solely by what he does in Coalition, all effort and energies must be committed to securing a landslide majority in 2015. Then, Cameron must get the balance right between appeasing the Right of the Party and staying in touch with the moderate public. Cameron’s ability to assert himself is limited inevitably, by the presence of the Liberals in the Government. How Cameron would fare as the Leader of a majority Conservative Government is a question for the Party post-2015 and not a day before.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

National debt and public spending increasing: Is it time for the government to consider the case for a negative income tax?

Despite the mandate of this Government being derived from its commitment to whipping out the structural deficit by the end of a five year period, the Coalition is somehow on the path to failure. Whilst the targets are the right ones for the UK’s economic credibility, the means have been counterproductive and badly thought out.

With the forecast that the official national debt is due to rise by £605 billion over the course of this parliament alone (from 53% GDP to a staggering 76% GDP) it is clear that the Coalition’s commitment to a sustainable economy has been thrown off course. This increased borrowing has not been evoked as a desperate attempt to restart business and provide growth, rather it has actually gone mostly on meeting the demands of an increased welfare bill, fuelled by the sharp rise in public sector unemployment. This clearly isn’t sustainable.

The Government’s agenda was to make up the downsizing of the public sector with increases of jobs in the private sector. This has not happened for two primary reasons. One being that it is unrealistic to expect to make it up over a short period of time. Secondly, and most worryingly of all, it is because they haven’t provided the policies conducive to growing private enterprise. Putting this agenda on the back-burner for now, one way in which the government can bring down public spending, and therefore the structural deficit and national debt is to consider something very radical to bring down welfare costs. The negative income tax could be the lifeline this Government needs.

The reduction of the deficit has been made up mostly by tax increases and cuts to investment programmes. This simply won’t do as it is a short-term strategy, it is an ill-thought out way to meet the immediate goal of eradicating the deficit.  This, even if it were to work, may succeed in giving the government credibility in the eyes of the public, but long-term doesn’t sort out the structural problems with the UK economy. Growth aside, one of the biggest of which is welfare costs.

Before the Coalition took office, the cost of welfare under Labour exceeded tax receipts by almost £25 billion annually. This model was indicative of a government attempting to grow dependency and therefore its own power rather than growing a healthy economy. Osborne took the pragmatic approach in his first budget of raising taxes to meet this unbelievable short-coming. Whilst this was understandable, especially because of the Tories fixation on reassuring the public of the earnestness of their centrist agenda, it was a mistake.
The answer isn’t to raise taxes, as common sense perhaps would dictate. Taxes were too high under Labour already. The real problem was that the extortionate costs of welfare dwarf the issue of high taxation. Cameron and Osborne should not have been trying to meet the demands of increased welfare, rather they should have been looking to remedy the problem of this unsustainable public spending.

The conventional methods are limited. For instance simply cutting the provision doesn’t resolve the problem of dependency culture.  It simply scapegoats and points the blame at dependent individuals and punishes them, fuelled by populist demand, for their ‘moral’ failures. This doesn’t offer any kind of redemption for individuals in such circumstance. It only aids social disenfranchisement, rather than encourages them to engage in employment which in the process helps both the individual and the rest of society.

Another method practiced is increasing the provision. This method is perhaps even more damaging as it enables and validates a culture of dependency and inactivity. It takes away any remaining incentive to work, and therefore the need to develop skills which make them more employable. Rather, increased provision traps them in poverty and therefore makes them ever more reliant on state hand outs. This method takes away the human dignity and freedom of such individuals. This sentiment is the primary cause of an Underclass which is so prominent in modern social life. This of course is unacceptable. Although advocates often have forgivable intentions which aim to solve such social ills, it creates vast social problems and tensions.  The means to this end is wrong.

But, if the government takes away the reasons not to work, leaving only the incentives of work for dependent individuals to ponder, this can go a long way to ease this problem. However, the real issue of dependant individuals is not the amount of welfare administered to them, rather it is the very principle of welfare that it is a deterrent to finding employment, no matter how little or large. Therefore dependency alone does not explain away the increasing welfare costs. The biggest problem economically is its flabbergasting inefficiency. Perhaps it’s time the Government considers a negative income tax in the place of this highly flawed and detrimental system.

Critics, including myself (ideologically speaking) may argue that the negative income tax does take away many of the incentives to work. In addition, it also advocates ‘something for nothing’ benefits. It fails to eradicate the notion that if one wishes not to work as hard, they can still be subsidised by the State through taxation of hard-working tax payers. But in reality welfarism is something that will not be resolved any time soon. Accepting this, the negative income tax is far more efficient and cost-effective to the tax-payer as it requires an inevitably much lower welfare bill to individuals who do not make up the income required for a minimum standard of living. Taking this pragmatic approach will surely bring the cost of welfare down to realistic standards, whilst ensuring it always pays to work. This is because the negative income tax would be ideally introduced in conjunction with a flat rate income tax. Guaranteeing that the State never penalises hard-working successes, whilst on the other hand rewarding idle failures, will remove the problem of Government discrimination, inherent within a ‘progressive’ tax system. It would ensure that every individual is treated equally in the eyes of the State, the bedrock to a just democratic society.

Another possible problem a negative income tax could encounter is the validity and fairness of the figure estimated to be the ‘minimum standard of living’ wage. The Left, if ever to enter government, would of course be inclined to increase this rate of entitlement. This would allow for increased allowances. What this would do is hugely damaging. It would ensure that tax payers are lumbered with a system that disproportionately rewards failures and inadequacies.  It would lead inevitably to abuses of a system which was introduced purely for good intentions. Furthermore, socialists may even increase the level of negative income tax, over Friedman’s recommended 50%. This again disproportionately takes away the incentive to work, making the system pointless. Certain legislative powers must therefore be enacted, such as ring-fencing of the rates, to ensure the system always remains effective in rectifying the problems it sets out to cure, rather than adding to them or causing new levels of deep-rooted State dependency.

Those critical of the negative income tax feel it would lead inevitably to the withdrawal of welfare altogether. The temptation to libertarians may be to withdraw spending in welfare areas such as health and education, with an expectation that individuals are fully responsible for paying for their own services. This of course may be true and whilst this argument cannot be dismissed, the truth is no sensible or right-minded Government would believe that having no role to play in the provision of welfare would have no negative impact on the workforce which wealth generators employ. The risk is that it may lead to generations of infirm and uneducated individuals. This causes a vast range of social problems which of course aren’t amenable with market forces. Furthermore, an unhealthy and unskilled work force holds back the economy. A Government surely realises its greater vested interest of ensuring a strong, healthy, educated society as it enables a strong, efficient and skilled workforce, essential for maintaining a strong economy. The negative income tax must not be used as part of such an ideological agenda. The implementation of a negative income tax must be viewed simply as the means to the ends of a) making welfare vastly more efficient and b) Making the tax system simpler and fairer.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Why Conservative MPs are right to rebel on House of Lords reform

The telegraph today reported that 70 Tory MPs are leading a rebellion to defeat the Bill. Clearly Cameron is putting his leadership on the line over this issue, at best, in order to appease the junior partners across the cabinet table. Or at worst, because he actually believes an elected House of Lords serves the best interests of the country. Either way it is foolish for any government to attempt constitutional reform without the consent of the public. It is more foolish to do so without first ensuring they are carrying the  party with them.

Cameron conceding House of Lords reform  in the coalition agreement is unforgivable. Constitutional change is something which should kept out of back-door negotiations between the two parties. Democratic institutions must be protected from politicians playing party politics. The legacy of such reforms is permanent and impossible to reverse. Whilst electoral reform was borderline inexcusable, at least it was put to the public, in the form of a referendum, to decide whether or not AV was something the country wanted. The conduct of the Coalition over Lords Reform however, has nothing to spare any integrity.

Clegg was able to justify an expensive referendum for changing the electoral system in 2011, yet doesn’t see fit to put the biggest constitutional change the country has seen in modern times to the vote. This is ludicrous hypocrisy and demonstrates pure political opportunism in order to force through changes to the Upper Chamber which nobody really wants, other than liberal dogmatists, taking advantage of their rare opportunity in government, who hold only a simplistic understanding of democracy.

It is astonishing that Cameron has failed to intervene and stop this proposal going any further. Lords reform is something that nobody is calling for, least of all now. The pursuit of an elected House of Lords is something which is alienating Conservative voters and members. Cameron has failed to gage the mood amongst his own backbenchers who have been put in the undue predicament of putting the Governments unity in jeopardy, and his own premiership on the line.

Government rebellions are never taken lightly in the Conservative Party. This is more the case than ever with the reluctant rebellion of Nicholas Soames, a Tory MP who has only once in his long parliamentary career, voted against his own party. This is indicative of the mood of Tory backbenchers whose patience again is being stretched to the full by Cameron’s leadership. Cameron is playing with fire with his own backbenchers. This is something a leader can only get away with so many times before it comes back to haunt them. Not even Tony Blair was immune. Cameron is clearly not in touch with his own party over this issue if he believes he can come out of this unscathed.

Never before has a government attempted such drastic constitutional reform. Therefore Cameron is on unchartered territory. Whether or not it gets passed remains narrow, but either way, Cameron is surely putting his standing within the party in danger.

Attempting constitutional reform, without being put to the electorate, represents a clear betrayal of the public. Never should a government attempt to change the goalposts over the countries democratic system without the mandate of the British people. Therefore out of principle, all MPs must realise their abuse of power and oppose the Bill.  This is unlikely to be the case, but what upholders of democracy can hope for is a sufficient tory rebellion.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Local Council Elections: Why only conservative policies will win back Conservative voters

Local election results are a harrowing punishment for the Coalition’s last couple of turbulent months in Government. An ineffective Labour Party under weak leadership have claimed council 713 seats, whilst the Tories have made a dramatic loss of 378 seats and surrendered the control of 12 Councils. These results are completely unacceptable for the Conservatives and such a substantial loss could have been avoided.

Those on the Left will exploit this defeat and explain it, incorrectly and misleadingly, as being allusive to the countries anger at austerity measures. This is simply not true. Every indication and poll reveals that the public do accept the need for cuts.

Rewind to this time last year in the Local council elections, despite high unemployment, hard-felt cuts and protests, The Conservatives actually made significant gains of 86 seats and 4 councils, an outstanding achievement for a party of government wielding painful cuts. This is reflective of how competent the Conservatives appeared at the time. Fast forward to this year and it’s a completely different story.

Of course the underlying reason behind this embarrassing defeat is the perceived sheer incompetence and corruption from the leadership in the national party. This all started with the poorly handled Budget in March. Alone this would probably not have proved so costly come elections, but the event was not one in isolation. This has been followed up but bleak economic forecasts and political scandal which has highlighted poor leadership. In short, the elections couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Coalition.

The Conservatives have lost touch and appeal to their traditional voters. The Tories attack on the elderly through the ‘Granny tax’, a product of a poorly presented Budget, is a betrayal of our loyal supporters.  No real Conservative government fails to look after our elderly. The truth is that many, and far too many to be politically forgiving, are disillusioned by a government that tries desperately to appease everyone and succeeds in looking after nobody whilst taking the concerns of our core voters for granted,  because this isn’t a government of principle, it has become a Government of apologists.

The support of House of Lord’s reform is a classic area over which Cameron has led the Tories into the pockets of liberals. Too conscious to appear ‘modern’, Cameron is supporting reform that will see our Upper Chamber taken control over by a bunch of career politicians, under the thumb of their leaders in the Lower Chamber. What’s more is that he and Nick Clegg want to do this without putting it to the public in a referendum. If Cameron wants to claim back our supporters then he must climb down over this policy, which conservative voters feel threatens our parliamentary democracy. This is not a Conservative policy.

Cameron and Osborne must too ease the tax burden of our supporters. The Coalition has failed to do anything to this extent. Those who earn in excess of £25,000 are substantially burdened by high tax demands. Those that earn an income of £50,000 pay a massive £15,000 of hard earned money in tax.  Under no interpretation is this a Conservative tax system. Especially during times of austerity, these policies are an unforgiving attack on our aspirational and hard-working Middle England. To ensure we don’t lose these votes to Labour again, we must not exploit them through unreasonable taxation.  

But the issue that directly affects everyone is the economy. It’s only through Ed Miliband’s weakness and Labour’s serious lack of any credibility over the economy that has seen Cameron and Osborne get off so lightly. When compared to Labour, The Coalition appears business friendly, but in reality they are not pro-business and inadequately Conservative. Osborne’s failure to see through an even lower corporation tax, as well as the top rate of income tax is sheer weakness. This is a party that got elected on a mandate that it will make the tough decisions necessary to recover the economy, yet caved in over the budget out of fear of being branded a ‘Party of millionaires’, which those who they feared would say this, did anyway.

The only threatening opposition to this Government is coming from their own Conservative back benchers and voters. Labour are up to nothing, yet are being rewarded for the Coalition’s own failure. This must be addressed before going into General election in 2015. The only small chance of Labour winning will come from Cameron throwing it away through turning away the genuine conservative vote.

Cameron has to give up the idea that he can appease the left with anything short of socialism. Third-Way social democratic policies only succeed in putting off Conservative voters and the aspirational. Desperate stunts to appear ‘modern’ are work of a party in opposition. Cameron is not in opposition anymore, he is leader of a Conservative Party in government. These Local Council results one would hope can only remind him of this. The only bit of good news is the imminent re-election of Boris as London Mayor. Whilst Boris has retained his supporters, Cameron is leading the national party away from his. This could prove very significant if Cameron’s leadership comes under threat. And it is only by listening to his voters that he will avoid a leadership challenge.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Britain back in recession: The key to growth that the coalition is missing

So the UK is technically back in recession, not as worrying as it sounds but nevertheless remains concerning and alludes to the government’s failure to generate wealth and therefore growth.

The key to this is not to reverse austerity measures. They are necessary in order to lower the absurd debt run up over past years. What the government need to do is something about the policies that obstruct growth and enterprise which deter business coming into the UK.

Firstly the government need to lower corporation tax. Osborne lowered this in the Budget earlier this year from 26% to 24% but as I argued in my post on the Budget, this is not competitive enough. Corporations are essential for economic growth, therefore we must work with them, and not against, in order to alleviate us out of recession.  Director of the Centre for Policy Studies Tim Knox is one of numerous business voices who make a compelling argument to lower corporation tax to something nearer 10-15p. What a much lower rate of corporation tax will do is ensure that the UK is one of the fastest growers in the world. We need to attract the business confidence of foreign wealth generators.

Another crucial area of policy that needs to be addressed is employment legislation. The power of Trade Unions over political life may have substantially curbed thanks to Thatcher, but whilst Labour did not reverse this trend, they instead committed to statute the regressive will of the Unions. The rise in compensation culture and other disproportionate legislation has had the knock on effect of deterring businesses from expanding their work force. Whilst public sector employment is largely due to the impact of sector cuts, unemployment has become such a problem due to the lack of jobs generated in the private sector. Attracting and supporting business in these areas is the only way of resolving this unemployment.

The minimum wage also needs to be examined. In theory this protects workers from exploitation but actually in practice the policy has failed to do this. Labour neglected to link the minimum wage in line with inflation, therefore it contributed to the depression of wages, making the policy meaningless. Leaving this to the market is a way of resolving this. Many would pay more competitively if not for the government endorsement of a low minimum wage. The market knows best when dictating wage levels.

And what about retail? One of the least business-friendly policies in the Budget was rise in business rates to 5.8pc. This is no way to grow an economy as it burdens all businesses on the high street, especially small and local businesses yet was not addressed in the Budget. Business rates are a means used by local councils to generate funding, but what the state are in practice achieving with this policy is first and foremost, obstructing business from generating wealth which then has a knock-on consequence of ensuring that councils collect less taxation, due to lower profits. A lower business rate would, in reality see Councils collect more taxation from a larger pool of profit. This would also contribute massively to the overall national economy. Business rates must be addressed.

There is a common theme running through these problems with government economic policy.  That is when the government does less, they are in fact doing more. My concern with what the coalition is doing in respect to the economy is not with what they aren’t doing, but with what they are doing too much of.

This has even permeated to their austerity measures in the form of VAT. VAT is impacting disproportionately on ordinary people whom make up the majority of consumers. The rise of VAT to 20% has hit people and businesses alike very hard. High VAT by the government is a lazy, short-termist measure of generating revenue when in fact what the government needs to do is assist business in generating wealth. They can do this through addressing the obstructive policies that I have talked about. The state deterring consumers from purchasing in this respect is indicative of too much government in the day-to-day lives of citizens. Government must not  put the breaks on prosperity. This clearly is not in consumer interests, neither is it a policy conducive to business.

The government therefore must do less, if they want to do more. Very simple in theory, but is evidently politically challenging to a coalition. The government can’t afford to be afraid of making unpopular decisions. What the public need from the government is the will to generate growth and concern themselves less with  shaking off the image of being “posh boys”.  The public will be forgiving in the long term if the government takes the tough decisions in order to sort out the economy. That is the mandate from which Cameron was elected. But what the public won’t accept is pain without a clear end goal in sight which promises better times. Cameron can afford to be unpopular, but he can’t afford to fail.

Friday, 20 April 2012

House of Lords Reform: How an elected Chamber will fail democracy

Ever since the Parliament Act 1911, reform to the House of Lords has been an issue, with varying priority, to our mainstream political parties. However what the coalition appear committed to achieving is to the detriment of democracy in the country.

But only inflexible, dogmatic liberal purists who have little more than a romanticised ideal about democracy advocate a fully elected chamber, that and opportunistic politicians in the Lower Chamber who appear to be using this populist issue to centralise their power over the Lords. This is very dangerous.

What an elected Second Chamber would do is pave the way to inevitable formal party politicisation of the House of Lords. Currently governments attempt to do this informally by appointing an overwhelming number of Peers for their own party in order to help ease their legislation through the Lords. Not only would an elected chamber endorse this, it would go much further than that into genuinely dangerous territory. At the moment, Peerages can’t be removed, so future governments can rebalance the Lords through appointment of their own Peers, but what this kind of reform would do is see all lords lose their permanence.

Purely speaking, this doesn’t sound too bad, but like all things with this debate, in practice it would prove counter-productive to democracy. Peers under this kind of system would be under far more pressure to toe the party line. This is because it is the leaders of the Lower Chamber who would have control over the party list of candidates. What politicians in the Commons want from an elected chamber is ‘yes’ men and women. Peers, who have a history of showing independence and therefore doing their job of scrutinising Bills, will inevitably find themselves taken off the party list, come the next election.

If the Lords have their hands severely tied when it comes to scrutinising legislation, due to this threat, then what do they really offer to democracy? If they can’t adequately hold government legislation to account, if they become mellowed to effective status of Select Committees, then having a Second Chamber simply becomes an expensive waste of time. Legislation may as well go straight from the Commons for Royal Assent under such a system.

Another inevitably from such a reform is that the quality of our Peers will woefully decline. Instead of experienced public servants with expertise in various areas, we will have a second Chamber of career politicians, who have no real world experience or recognised expertise in any field. Not only this, but they will be second-rate career politicians. What aspirational upstart would chose to run for the House of Lords, stripped of all its prestige, in favour of real power in the House of Commons? The answer is only those whose options are limited by their own inadequacy.

Understanding democracy as only being about elections is far too simplistic. Mussolini, Franco and Hitler held elections. Fixation on this element, whilst ignoring others, leads to effective “elective dictatorship”. Lord Hailsham’s use of ‘dictatorship’ is no exaggeration. If the government is able to pass their legislation, which often lacks direct mandate from the public (especially a sensitive area for the coalition) with ease, not only through the Commons but also through the Lords, what such a political system would do is lose all credible scrutiny, therefore it ceases to be democratic. It would be the final nail in Parliament’s coffin and would complete the project of consecutive government’s agenda to further centralise their power. This must be prevented.

Conservative Back benchers, over to you…

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Why both Kinnock and Cameron failed to win open-goal elections

Easter Monday and the 1992 General Election is treading on Twitter. This struck me as very odd. I soon discovered that the BBC was airing the footage of election night on their Parliament channel. Whilst I still don’t quite understand its festive significance it has certainly made for fascinating viewing, twenty years after John Major, against all odds and polls surged to a late majority to bring home a fourth consecutive election victory for the Conservatives.

A running theme in the coverage is the concern at the somewhat forgotten recession of the 1990s. The Tory victory undermined the election success Giant of “It’s the economy, stupid”. This alludes to the fact that the economy is the central issue going into an election. If the government get this right, then they get rewarded however if the economy goes pear-shaped under the governments watch, then they are punished by the public. Surely John Major’s government couldn’t have won yet they did. The question for politicians at the time was ‘”why?”. Understanding of this in 1992 is no less relevant today.

The truth is the Conservatives were there for the taking. The economy was in trouble, the party was much divided and was led by a man who had already governed unconvincingly for several years without a direct mandate or approval from the British public. This prima facie ought to have been enough to secure electoral humiliation and a Labour victory. This however proved no more than a pipe-dream for the Left.

Where Labour ultimately missed this open goal opportunity was ensured by their failure to secure economic credibility. Whilst Kinnock’s reforms to the party were noteworthy, he did however fail to shake off sufficiently the influence of the socialist left and the trade unions over Labour. Labour had not yet got to grips with the fundamental principles behind the country’s dramatic economic renewal. This was through enterprise, growth, prudent public spending and most significantly of all low taxation.

Labour need not have waited until 1997 to claim power from the demising Conservatives, had they accepted these principles then they could have won confidence. However what undermined Labour was their stubborn, constitutional dogmatic commitment to socialism, their willingness to encourage government dependency, their inability to adequately stand up to the trade unions and their determined subscription to unreasonable taxes. What this meant was the public could not trust them and this was translated electorally in what was one of the greatest election underachievements in our history.

This was all impressively addressed going into election in 1997 by Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson with the birth of ‘New Labour’. This demonstrated that the Labour Party could be rid of the stigma of loony leftism and was capable of forming a credible alternative to the Conservatives.

Now let’s examine the greatest underachievement in election history. The Conservative failure to secure a majority in the 2010 contest. Gordon Brown was the most unpopular Prime Minister in a very long time, the party was hugely divided and riddled with scandal.

Cameron won the argument in respect to achieving public recognition that spending cuts were necessary. This was candidly achieved with lines such as “We are only asking to cut 1p in every pound”. Whilst this was true, in Chancellor Polls of Vince Cable, Alistair Darling and George Osborne, Osborne actually had the lowest public confidence whilst actually Vince Cable had the largest. This shows that in 2010 the public were more convinced that we needed to get Labour out of power than we were that the Tories were the right party for governance.

Where I believe Cameron and Osborne failed was in their failure to relate to the people. Where Kinnock went into election armed with many policies, albeit wrong ones, Cameron kept his cards very close to his chest. The centre piece of the opposition years was the Big Society agenda. This failed to really talk to people. What is meant by the ‘Big Society’ is still unclear today but this was even more the case back in 2010. Nobody knew what the ‘Big Society’ meant. Where Cameron could have won the election was to go further. Winning the debate on austerity was not enough. You can’t win an election without any policies, no matter how unpopular the government were.

What Cameron needed was commitments to lower taxes. Labours tax policy under Brown moved away from the fiscally prudent New Labour approach. ‘Big Society’ sounds great but was too airy fairy. It does not directly affect the individual lives of voters and their families. Commitments to lower taxes do. Bringing the lowest paid people out of income taxation, lowering the crippling tax burden on Middle England and an alternative to Labour’s unsustainable welfare policies ought to have been the clear and simple message that gets the public on board. This alongside their success in shaping the economic debate towards austerity would no doubt have won over the British people.

What the 1992 election shows is what we already really knew. The public flirted with socialism in 1992 in desperation in order to get the Tories out, but just about resisted and waited for Labour to return with a much more realistic proposition in 1997. Thatcher well and truly got the country on side in terms of moving the country away from the post-war consensus era. Ironically it was in the years following Thatcher's departure that arguably ensured the prospects of socialism had well and truly died.

Labour lost 1992 because the public couldn’t trust them and their economic policy. On a slight variation, Cameron failed to win outright in 2010 because his economic policy was not explicit enough, voters understandably did not want to take a lurch into the unknown. The lesson for Cameron was that what the public want from a government is a degree of certainty as to what they will get from a party if they win, not only that but even more crucially the voters have to like it. Perhaps this is something that Cameron and Osborne did not trust.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Cash for access: The scandal that won't go away but threatens for the future of party democracy

The latest episode of the party funding-related saga is rife. It is a potent reminder of the problems political parties in the country face in how they generate funding. It must be remembered that this practice is nothing new and neither are any of the arguments for reform to funding to our political parties.

The scandal is at least 20 years old. The Conservative government under John Major was tarnished with sleaze, this trend continued under Blair's Labour government yet still the problem still persists today. 

Membership to political parties has dramatically decreased over the past 30 years. This has had the effect of creating a deficit in party funding from the ordinary individual. This is something that everyone agrees is a big problem as it runs the risk of parties being unable to practice their democratic functions. The question is how to resolve this.

Personally I am very much against notions to make this the duty of the state to fund political parties.This is bad for very obvious reasons, namely that it forces the individual tax payer in to funding extremist and out of touch parties such as The BNP, The SDP and the SWP. Furthermore the system is democratically regressive as funding would likely be determined proportionately to how people vote. This in practice would be the state wielding an attack on small parties and thus entrench the status quo in our political system. Either way, the state has no business either lending support to, or obstruction to the interests of a political parties in this respect, as long as it is legal.

I am equally resistant to the idea of introducing a donation cap. This is very wrong, certainly when there is no plans to make up the cuts to the revenue of political parties with innovative alternatives to fund our parties. What this simply does is leave our political parties further deprived of financial resources which, without cannot carry out campaigns, research, and hold the government to account, among many other vital functions. This therefore would be the worst possible solution if it does indeed build momentum. We cannot afford a knee-jerk reaction that would prove detrimental to democracy.

What I suggest is far more sensible and it's two fold. Parties need to get away from dependence from generous and rich donors by reaching out to the public for increased party membership. For whatever reason this has morbidly declined and is bad for political citizenship and involvement. Political parties have to  reignite interest in their activities by making ordinary people feel that their input makes a difference. There needs to be more effort to achieve this. It can be done at a local level with prominent members of political parties guest speaking at regular events. At the moment politicians only seem to come to the public when they want their vote. This simply isn't good enough. This whole problem is closely related to the loss of public faith in the political class. Politicians must do more to reclaim such credibility.

Of course this will still probably not provide enough financial clout to parties. Therefore at the other end it is important not to put off wealthy people from donating to political parties. Big donations do more good than they do harm as our political parties will be crippled without the support of these individuals.They are a necessary evil. It is vital that the government respond with much consideration and do not bow to populist demands that could profoundly harm our democracy

Friday, 23 March 2012

Osborne's Budget leaves much to be desired

As George Osborne was presenting the much-anticipated Budget in the House of Commons on Wednesday I was particularly interested to discover just how far he would go in delivering on his pledge to support business and thus get the UK economy growing. It is an understatement to say that I was left disappointed.

Whilst measures like acknowledging our successful industries such as medicine, science and technology and reinforcing them with targeted efforts and the confirmation of the credit easing plan for a National Loan Guarantee Scheme were better than nothing, what the budget does not however do is go far enough in making Britain internationally competitive in attracting corporation confidence, nor does it do much to support the cause of struggling small businesses.

The cut in corporation tax from 26% to 24% for one is not enough. The economic argument advocating a move to lower corporation tax to a much more competitive rate of 15% is far more compelling. The underhand measure of the intention to reverse the Supreme Court ruling on Vodafone and bring in a tax amendment is one even more detrimental to our prospects of attracting much needed corporation confidence. This will do little to bring in essential corporation investment in order to increase Britain’s relevance in the world economy.

In terms of smaller businesses, it seems to me that the budget overwhelmingly supports its larger competitors. The Conservatives under Cameron and Osborne, in rhetoric champion small business yet land measures such as a 5.6pc rise in business rates. This is a particularly crippling policy that will undermine and marginalise the role of small businesses in rebooting the economy. This flies in the face of the government agenda to revitalize Britain's rapidly declining high street. Consumer spending in retail is currently not growing in line with inflation- a humbling indicator that people are tightening their belts and cutting back on spending, to the detriment of the well being of the overall economy. This urgent situation is not reflected by Osborne’s budget. Action on these business rates is paramount. Increasing business rates only makes this cause ever more difficult in an economic crisis in which money is scarce as it is.

On a related theme, the budget also fails to cut through the bureaucracy of employment rights which act as a huge disincentive to businesses looking to expand and employ more people. This partly explains unemployment figures. This has a knock on effect on consumer confidence and consumer spending. If a large section of our society is unnecessarily struggling on low unemployment benefit then they the lack spending power which is vital for the prospects of high street retail. Curbing employment rights legislation will have the effect of expanding the work force and taking people out of the lows of unemployment. This will also cut need to increase government borrowing which jeopardises the UK’s credit rating.

In short, this budget fails to deliver adequately in these key areas. It is apparent that the government caved in to populist demands to appear not to be the government of ‘millionaires and ‘fat cats’’. This will prove reductive to our long-term national interests unless Osborne and co get their priorities right and prove themselves serious in wanting to ensure economic growth. This can only be achieved by supporting business and enterprise. Politically challenging, granted, but nevertheless necessary in taking the country out of economic crisis.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Why a detailed tax statement is a fantastic idea

Recently there has been a suggestion that Chancellor George Osborne intends to unveil plans in Wednesdays’ budget to provide every taxpayer with an annual statement revealing exactly how much tax they pay to the state and where it is spent. This strikes me as a fantastic idea.

One of the largest conflicts within public life is the balance between desire to buy into the notion of welfarism and the individualistic instinct to prioritise yourself and your family; To bisque in the right to exercise economic freedom over ones hard earned income. What I believe  this detailed statement will do is provide a reality check to those who call for ever more public spending, who do so with little thought for what this means in practice.

The truth is it is very easy to advocate more social spending and to complain about the status quo. To deliver social improvement usually requires more public spending. Where this romanticised spending comes from is the pockets of tax payers-and usually those who are struggling themselves under the demands of an unreasonable tax system. What articles in The Telegraph and The Daily Mail highlight for me is the extent to which ordinary earners are asked to delve into their own pockets to deliver these misguided ideals.

Those who earn in excess of £25,000- by no means anything more than a modest salary, are substantially burdened by high tax demands. The Telegraph reveals that those earning £50,000 pay a massive £15,000 in tax, leaving them with around £35,000, not much more spending power than those who earn a salary half of this. What this represents is the injustice and the disproportionate approach that the political system takes in this country to taxation of our wide-ranging ‘Middle England’. Those at the lower end and upper end are faced with very distinct levels of taxation, despite both being relatively in the same boat. This is very unfair on hard workers on the upper end whom, due to current taxation policy, cannot experience the just benefits of a higher salary that those at the lower end. There comes a point where ‘progressive’ taxation becomes unjust and furthermore, provides an attack on the wrong people.

What the tax statement will help to bring is a sense of reality to notions for greater public spending. It will provide a poignant and tangible link between social ideals and how they impact on their own tax bill, which I expect, will shift the public debate away from resistance to public spending cuts and reignite the country’s realisation that there is no alternative to spending cuts- in spite of however painful they feel, in order to achieve meritocratic justice and economic stability, as was the case going into the election in 2010. It is also my hope that this increased transparency will provoke irresistible demand for overdue tax reform in Britain.