Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Damian Green - Fallout

One of the things I am finding with blogging is that when there is a breaking story, bloggers respond instantly. Sometimes not all the facts are known, but people tend to go with their gut instinct for better or worse.

In my initial response to the Damian Green arrest I hedged a little, mainly because I did not think I had enough information to make a full assessment of what was happening. However I can see that most other bloggers went with their initial thoughts, most of whom thought it was an affront to democracy. That view now seems to be in the mainstream judging by the comment in the Sunday press.

Perhaps there is a lesson for me here to go with my gut as well on breaking news stories. One of the reasons I am involved in politics now is that I have a pretty strong core set of beliefs and political values and I am sure they will help guide me.

Anyway, for what it is worth I agree with the view that it is worrying for democracy that an MP would be arrested and held for 9 hours for what appears to amount to doing his job. The hypocrisy of Gordon Brown's position has been exposed by the fact that he made his name as an opposition MP through receiving leaked information but now he refuses to condemn the police for their behaviour. That seems to have been subbed out to Harriet Harman even thought she has stopped short of condemnation.

I also find it disturbing that the government at the most senior levels appears to have known nothing about this or at least that is what they claim. I am pleased to see that Nick Clegg has articulated his concern as well as other senior Lib Dem figures.

However I have to say that the howls of rage coming from leading Tory commentators and politicians seem a little bit rich. They were mostly crowing when Tony Blair and government advisers were having their collars felt 18 months ago and I do not recall them shrieking about democracy or TEH STALINIST STATE then.

Norfolk Blogger (a great blog by the way) also points out that the Tories often pursued and attempted to punish leakers when they were in power. He also links to this good post on Liberal Burblings.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

David Davis and the Arrest of Damian Green

I have been involved in a debate in a thread on another blog about why David Davis has not been on the media kicking up a stink about the arrest of Damian Green.

Apparently he has been at a speaking engagement and is heading for the Sky News studios now. I for one am looking forward to seeing him on this soon.

However the problem is that he will not be able to lead for the Tories on this as he foolishly (in my opinion) resigned his seat a few months ago resulting in him ending up on the back-benches once he was re-elected. This is his own fault and Cameron (and others) warned him about the consequences but he did it anyway.

I think David Davis is a very strong politician and it would be best for the opposition if he was leading for them on this but as things are this is unlikely.

Damian Green Arrested

The arrest of Tory Immigration Spokesman Damian Green today is reverberating around the blogosphere tonight. Iain Dale thinks that the public will be appalled and there will be dreadful consequences from this.

My view is that on the surface of it this does indeed seem to be worrying. I hope that when the full details emerge, there has been justification for this and it does not prove to be politically motivated.

I understand that Tories like Iain will want this to be unfounded but it is possible that Green has broken the law - we will need to wait and see what happens.

As for the way this has played out, I am not sure about the argument about MP's offices being out of bounds for searching. I cannot recall if Tory bloggers were as outraged about Tony Blair and various other members of the government being questioned by police last year (and in some cases also arrested). If an investigation is required, why should the police not search MP's offices?

Having said all this, the government is in dangerous territory here and they need to tread very carefully.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

18.5% Nonsense

I really can't understand why this is considered to be so newsworthy.

Of course the government is going to consider various ways in which to raise revenue later once the economy picks up. Frankly I would be surprised and a little disappointed if options such as a VAT rise had not been considered.

However what has happened here is typical of the way the Westminster echo chamber operates. Some bloggers have picked it up and expressed outrage, Cameron has chipped in with his claim that this is the government's secret plan. His claim that there is a "black hole" in the finances may or may not be true. Frankly at the moment, how the hell anyone has any idea what state the economy is likely to be in by 2011/2012 I have no clue. And neither do they. This is just being batted around for party political advantage.

This is one of the things that turns people off politics. The screeching from all sides about "black holes" and "tax bombshells" as well as "political opportunism" does nobody any favours.

I believe the government when they claim that they considered it and then dropped it. Would the opposition have preferred it if the government had not considered other options and just blindly picked the first thing they thought of?

There are much more substantial things for the opposition to engage with such at what actually was announced yesterday. Not what wasn't.

Monday, 24 November 2008

"Pre-Budget Report" Stuff

I have already said my bit about the VAT "reduction" and the 45p rate on previous posts. However I do have a few comments about things today.

Calling it a "Pre-Budget Report" is surely a massive misnomer. This was a full budget, in fact it was more full and wide-ranging than most full budgets. I can only assume that the reasons why it was not actually called one are:

  1. It is politically convenient for the government not to as it perhaps ameliorates the sense of crisis by not having to admit it is an extra emergency budget.
  2. It meant there was no proper debate afterwards (indeed Labour MPs started to leave as soon as opposition spokesman started speaking).
  3. It meant that George Osborne responded for the Tories and I suspect the government thought this would be better for them than Cameron (who would have responded had it been a full budget as is the convention). Osborne's response seems to have gone down quite well in the blogosphere although I have to say for me he was too confrontational, tubthumping and shrill. All that barracking from the Tories seemed misplaced. I thought Vince Cable had the tone just right (although I would say that wouldn't I!?).
John Redwood has also made the point about it being a full budget in all but name.

I am also concerned about the fact that some of the measures announced today seemed to have ramifications all the way through to 2016 (8 years away) in terms of getting the books to balance. Now I know we are in a very difficult financial situation at the moment but surely there is something wrong with the system if a government can constrain future parliaments to this degree. Whatever happened to not binding the hands of your successor as I remember learning about in A-Level Politics all those years ago?

45p Tax Rate

There are some right wing bloggers (e.g. here) who are kicking up a fuss about the possible future 45p tax rate which may be announced tomorrow. If the Tories squeal loudly about this (assuming it is true) then it will cause them problems.

It will be very easy for Labour to paint them as only trying to look after the rich. After all the money the mega rich have made in the last 15 years, to complain about a small increase in the top rate of tax for the very wealthy (and £150K + per year is unimaginable for most) will look extremely churlish.

The economic arguments may be correct (although I seem to recall a lot of people claiming they would leave the country if Labour got in and not many actually doing it) but the politics of this is all important and the opposition have to be very careful here.

Everybody is suffering at the moment and the very rich will need to be seen to be doing their bit if yet more resentment at them is not to be fostered.

Survivors - The Remake

I loved the original of Survivors from the 70's (I was too young to see it first time round but watched the whole thing a few years ago). The first episode of the remake was broadcast tonight.

I thought it was very good overall and a fair attempt at capturing the feeling of the original but updated for the modern day.

Good Things:

- Some nice nods to the original, e.g. "Please God, don't let me be the only one" being used in exactly the same way, having a well known actor who had been trailed as "starring" in it be one of the ones to die (Freema Agyeman in this one (and to an extent Shaun Dingwell), Peter Bowles in the original).
- Pacing was OK and the feeling of desolation was handled better than I had been expecting (although by no means perfect)
- The twist of having some sort of government silo with people contained within was a good idea which I did not see coming and which should provide an interesting counterpoint to the above ground action in the coming episodes. This was completely absent from the original.
- Nods to other apocalyptic dramas, "The Stand" with the way Max Beesley's character was nearly left for dead by a screw and "The Last Train" with the government facility being used for people to survive the catastrophe.
- Elements of Terry Nation's survivalist ideas coming through but the audience was not beaten over the head with it (in the original, characters were basically used as ciphers for Nations ideas in this area). It was done a bit more subtly here.
-Paterson Joseph!

Not so Good Things:

- The music was annoying at times (although that is de rigeur these days - I just wish they'd had the courage to tone it down). One of the great things about the original was the quietness of some of the scenes which helped with the feeling of desertion greatly.
- That "sassy" kid is starting to bug me already.
- The opening titles were not a patch on the original.
- The "Coming Next Time" thing is really going to piss me off as I really do not want to know for this series. I will have to be pretty quick with the remote.
- This is a real fanboy one but it would have been great for Peter Bowles to have had another cameo in this, maybe as a doctor or a government adviser, or even the Prime Minister. A real missed opportunity there although probably only about 50 people in the country would have truly appreciated it!

I suppose the only other thing for now is the decision already to muck around with the scheduling. I bet there will be some people who really enjoyed tonight's episode who will tune in next Sunday only to find it is on on Tuesdays from now on. It's almost like they are willing it to fail. I hope I am wrong.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

VAT's not the way to do it

So it looks like the government is going to announce a temporary cut in the rate of VAT from 17.5% to 15%.

My initial thoughts on this are:

  1. For the cost to the economy, this is not going to make a significant difference to people's daily lives. It will cost £12.5bn per year apparently (for as long as it is left in place). However let's say you are going to go out and purchase a massive plasma TV that would previously have cost £999. Well under the new proposals it will now cost you £977.74 (a 2.13% overall reduction). Will that really make that much of a difference?
  2. What are the odds that retailers will take the opportunity to not pass the full reduction onto customers? In the above example it would be very easy for the retailer to reduce the price to £979. It looks virtually the same at the reduced price but is slightly higher. I cannot imagine many people insisting to see the manager and demanding the full 2.12765957% reduction (assuming they even know what the previous price for the item was).
  3. VAT does not apply to things like (most) food, children's clothese, books etc. so quite a lot of the things that people purchase on a daily basis will be unaffected by the change. This effectively means that the change will benefit the richer more as they are more likely to have more disposable income to spend on discretionary goods that are affected by VAT. This is starting to have echoes to me of the 10p debacle that ultimately made the poorer worse off.
  4. I run a small business, as do lots of people in this country. At the moment our systems all use 17.5% as the basis for VAT calculation. It will not be a huge effort to change this, but it will take some and it is possible mistakes will be made. Now multiply this by all the millions of businesses that will be affected by the change and you can see there will be an administrative burden. To an extent, that's just the way it is for businesses, there is always red tape. However this is a "temporary" change, i.e. they are just fiddling and it is likely to go back up in a year or two's time. That's yet more changes later on and yet more administrative work.
  5. Relating to our business, this change is not likely to make much is any difference to our revenues as a business. Virtually all the VAT we pay is offset by the VAT we charge our customers.
  6. Robert Peston thinks that in order to pay for this VAT cut, the rate will eventually have to go up to 22.5%, the only question is when will this happen. However if/when that does eventually happen, that will mean a pretty large hike in the amount charged for goods which include VAT. Surely this will damage the economy. Oh, and it is also worth noting that aside from this (temporary) measure, VAT has never come down in the long term s it is a pretty safe bet that once it reaches 22.5% it will stay at that rate (or higher) for the long term.

Overall, I cannot see this change having that much of an impact. Given that the £120 basic tax rate hike from earlier in the year (a cobbled together fudge to mitigate the effect of the abolition of the 10p tax rate) that gave each taxpayer an extra £10 a month cost £2.7bn, a quick back of the envelope calculation tells me that instead of reducing VAT, they could have given an extra £46.30 per month to each taxpayer in the country. This would have benefitted everyone who pays tax equally and actually lifted some people out of paying tax altogether. There are doubtless even more equitable ways to do this to focus on the poorest most.

I think if this change goes through in the form I have seen reported so far then it will be a very expensive and possibly counter productive damp squib.

ID Cards and Labour/Tories

I don't really understand why this government wants to bring in ID cards given their view on this when in opposition. It seems like within a short time of being in power, politicians completely lose touch with the real world and suddenly decide they know best with authoritarian policies using the fig-leaf of "Terrorism" or "National Security".

The thing that bugs me the most is that if Labour were still in opposition, they would be opposing these policies from the highest rooftop. I remember Labour’s response when Michael Howard proposed something along these lines in the mid 90's.

That same thing makes me worry about what will happen if/when the Tories get in. Sure they oppose them at the moment but I get the feeling that the opposition is soft and once they have a year or two of government under their belt, suddenly the ability to track everybody's movements will suddenly not seem so bad after all.

David Davis’s campaign a few months ago seemed designed to lock the Tories into their current position but frankly he would have been better off staying in the shadow cabinet to ensure this happens. Now he is on the political fringes and I think most people (including himself) think that this was now misguided as he is likely to remain there.

I am just grateful for organisations like NO2ID who keep the spotlight on this policy and are excellent at things like fisking releases from the government on this.

Norfolk Blogger also has some thoughts on how they are a new Poll Tax.

Prostitution - Let's have a heated debate

Iain Dale recently posted that he was "Astonished" to see in a poll he did that 88% of his readers who responded (270) were in favour of legalising prostitution.

I got a bit annoyed by this as it seemed to be saying that right thinking people should not think this way. I was away abroad at the time and had not been keeping up generally with the blogs I usually read so I posted this message on the thread:

I am baffled as to why you express such surprise. I have been away and did not vote on this but would have voted to legalise (as I would with drugs).

It seems to me yet again that the political class (in which I am including you) are out of kilter with the views of activists and the public in general.

You lot have a habit of characterising any view that does not chime with the cosy political consensus as dangerous or maverick and thus easily dismissed. This is of course until it becomes clear that you are too out of touch and then the view is adopted by all of you and another consensus begins.

I am certain that in 30 years time all currently illegal drugs will be legal and this current period of prohibition will be looked back at with puzzlement and some shame by historians. The problem is that most of you in the PC do not currently agree with this view and if/when any of you put your head(s) above the parapet you are instantly condemned (by the tabloid press and also by other opportunist politicians) as SOFT ON EVIL DRUGS WONT SOMEBODY THINK OF TEH CHILDREN (etc.) without ever seriously engaging with the subject.

Just to briefly engage with the subject matter the poll was addressing:

1) People (men) have always done and will always use prostitutes.

2) If you inisist on making/keeping prostitution illegal then this will invariably keep it underground, unregulated and put the women involved in more danger than they need to be.

I don't really need to go any further than this. Political pragmatism and evidence based policy (anchored in the real world, not that of scaremongering tabloid headlines) would have caused a change in this area many years ago and shame on you for attempting to perpetuate the nonsense of the current position by trying to dismiss the considered views of a well educated and properly engaged audience (your own readership) as "astonishing".

Find some balls and start addressing these issues on the basis of the real world.

Iain then posted this:

Mark, When you scroll down the page you will go red with embarrassment and what you just wrote.

Which makes clear that he now thinks the time is right to legalise prostitution. I did respond further to this by explaining how I missed this, apologising for some of the views I ascribed to him that clearly don't apply etc. I also praised his courage as I know that publishing this will make his chances of being selected for a seat by the Tories that little bit harder. However for some reason he has not posted the second post so I was unable to set the record straight directly on his blog. Hopefully this post here will have done so.

I still feel however that using the word "astonishing" to describe the fact that most people are pragmatic on this issue and understand that making it illegal will just drive it underground is unhelpful and does attempt to paint the viewpoint (including his own) as a little extreme.

BNP List - My Thoughts

I have a few points to make about this whole BNP debacle that has occured recently. I have been away abroad on business so have only been dipping in and out of it.

1) I very strongly feel that it is a bad idea and dangerous to ban people from certain jobs because of their politcal views or membership of a political party. I understand that it is not illegal for BNP members to work for the police and that it is the police themselves who stipulate this rule but it is still a bad idea. Doing this will not prevent people with views that are abhorrent (to me and most others) from joining the police etc. It will just make them more furtive in their views and activities. And this way it will make it harder for others to engage with them and challenge them on their views.

2) I have heard people make the point about McCarthyism and also seen it casually dismissed but it is dangerous to dismiss the comparison so lightly. Of course we are not in a situation as extreme as the US with respect to Communism in the 50's but it is the thin end of the same wedge. Persecuting people because of their politcal views will not improve things. It will only make them worse and allow them to play the victim card.

3) I am a strong advocate of electoral reform as I have mentioned before on this blog (I favour the ERS model of STV in case anyone is interested) and have been active in and around the movement for a few years. One of the arguments used against reform of the current system is that extreme parties like the BNP may end up with seats in parliament (although that is unlikely with the ERS model but I concede it could happen in certain cases) if PR was introduced. There is a reticence to engage with this issue within the electoral reform movement in my experience and I have often heard things like "we can set a threshold so they won't get in" etc. I have said a number of times to others in the movement that as far as I am concerned, if 2% of the population of this country vote for the BNP, they should get 2% of the seats in parliament. This is a very unpopular view amongst many but I stick by it. The only way to change peoples views on this (over time) is to engage in debate. If this means allowing the representation and then taking them on then so be it. Gerrymandering the system to avoid the respresentation is anti-democratic in my view.

4) I would like to end on a personal note. One of my childhood friends who I am still in touch with is a long time supporter of the BNP's views. I am not sure if he is a member although I have certainly heard him talking about potentially joining them. He is an articulate intelligent middle class man with a wife and children. I profoundly disagree with his views in this area and have had a number of arguments with him over the years. I get the feeling his views have mellowed somewhat in the last few years but I think he still holds the same core views. However I am still his friend and I value his friendship - he is a great guy in a lot of other ways (funny, fiercely loyal, brave etc.). He is not a monster, or an idiot, he is just in my view very misguided in some of the views he holds. I am hopeful that he will eventually come around to my way of thinking but I cannot force him to and I will not ditch him as a friend because of these views he holds. I have many friends with many different views on many different things and I consider him falling within this rich tapestry.

I suppose some may say that I am in a fairly privileged, middle class position living in a nice town in the SE, good job, wife etc. and that I am being naive because I do not have to daily face the ugly reality and consequences of these sorts of views. I do not have to daily and that would be a fair point which I readily concede. However I would just come back to what is my core point that you don't win arguments by banning people from the table of debate.