George Osborne: Political Mastermind? — July 9, 2015

George Osborne: Political Mastermind?

Even George Osborne’s staunchest critics couldn’t help but admire the political genius of yesterday’s Budget. Osborne announced key measures that were straight out of the Labour Manifesto, including headline policies of a new Living Wage and a crackdown on Non-Doms. His political mastery came by announcing the Living Wage, whilst cutting in-work Tax Credits, which will most likely have a zero-sum impact on take-home pay for low-paid workers.

The Tory Press have lauded the introduction of the Living Wage as a milestone for low-paid workers. Whilst critics have lambasted the changes to tax credits, meaning that the Living Wage isn’t a “Living Wage” after all. Pressure groups should continue to campaign for those at risk and the impact of these changes.

However, the Labour Party has fallen straight into George Osborne’s political trap. Two so-called “front-runners” and “Blairite” candidates for the Leadership have clearly missed the point of this trap.

 

The Tory spinners will lambast Labour for attacking the Living Wage, a policy which they campaigned for (at a lower rate) in May. The Tories have given the nation a pay-rise and if Labour want to gain any political capital they cannot attack this policy.

The attack line has to be solely on the changes to tax credits and where the Tories have chipped away at people’s incomes – not at the Living Wage.

It may be a very subtle point, but it will speak volumes with electorate. 

Labour candidates and supporters seemingly once again need reminding that there are voters outside of the “Westminster Bubble” and the “Twitter Echo-Chamber”

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The Reality of a Tory Majority — May 14, 2015

The Reality of a Tory Majority

Last week, the British public went to the polls and a shock result propelled David Cameron and the Conservative Party to a 12 seat majority in the House of Commons. For the first time in over 20 years, the Conservatives are governing alone. Let’s look at their priority new policies.

Introduce a “Snooper’s Charter”

Yesterday David Cameron said:

For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone’

He actually said that.

Take a minute to think about what he is saying here. If you obey the laws, the British Government will still come after you if it doesn’t like what you are saying. The plans include allowances for the Metropolitan Police to vet/snoop anybody’s internet communications – regardless if you have broken any laws or not. There’s more detail to be found here.

This is an affront on Civil Liberties and whilst the “I’ve got nothing to hide” brigade weakly relinquish their rights to privacy, the rest of us should fight to protect our rights.

As a CHALLENGE: If you think you’ve got nothing to hide, please feel free to post the past 90 days of your browsing history as a comment below.

Repeal the Human Rights Act

Following on from disagreements over the deportation of Abu Hamza and the wrangle over “prisoner voting”, the Conservative Party has decided it wants to do away with the Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights. Can you tell me which of the Human Rights below should be “done away with”? Here’s a summary of misconceptions to help!

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Repeal the ban on Fox Hunting

Admittedly I’m not a huge animal rights activist and maybe I should be, but I don’t believes there is any hypocrisy in despising hunting animals for sport and eating a Sunday Roast.  Fox Hunting is cruel and an unnecessary blood sport in 2015. If the only kick you can get in today’s society is by rounding up blood-hounds to chase foxes on horseback, I worry about you and feel sorry for you. This is exactly the type of policy David Cameron should be avoiding as he continues to attempt to “detoxify” the Tory Party away from the “Rich Nasty Party” cliché.

I wrote about why the Conservative Party was a resting place for liberal voters here – if nothing else, I’m almost glad they’ve re-affirmed this opinion.

For 5 years the Liberal Democrats blocked all of the above, after being punished by the electorate last week their membership has surged by 10,000 new recruits. There’s only one Party who is willing to stand for Liberalism – join the Lib Dem fightback at http://www.libdems.org.uk/join

The Return of the Nasty Party — May 9, 2015

The Return of the Nasty Party

The pollsters and commentators got it wrong, horribly wrong. A Conservative majority was unfathomable in the run up to the 7th May 2015, so what happened? The Labour post-mortem is well under way. (here & here). One popular suggestion is the that they massively underestimated the number of “Shy Tories” – natural Conservative voters who were too shy/afraid to admit their voting intentions. As a Liberal Democrat voter in the 2015 Election, I can understand why non-Labour voters didn’t get up on the rooftops and shout, especially given the media coverage and public opinion. But one reason the number of “Shy Tories” went under the radar was the belligerence, the self-righteousness, the arrogance and the mud-slinging on the new Nasty Party, the Labour Party. (Eloquently put over on The Independent too.)

Let’s take a look at some of the comments from my own Social Media timelines over the last 7 days (but could have easily been over the last 5 years).

  • If you vote Tory you are either:; nasty, callous, selfish, heartless or a c*nt.
  • If the Tories win, the public are morons.
  • The Tories have fucked over this country for 99% of us.
  • The NHS won’t be around in 5 years, so I best start saving in case I need a kidney.
  • Rupert Murdoch told the idiots how to vote, so they did – (I mean come on, this is the worst of the self-righteous drivel).

You’ve got to be a brave soul to stick your head above the parapet and argue with people who take such a tone and view the world as black and white. Unfortunately for these people, 37% of the voting electorate has and is entitled to a different opinion to them – it can’t all be doom and gloom.

The Conservatives haven’t got it all right, far from it, this isn’t a defence piece, but if you think the approach Labour voters took was correct, you’ve only yourself to blame.

If Labour voters took a pragmatic approach and candidly discussed the pro’s and con’s of the Conservative Party, rather than sticking the boot in for 5 years, maybe their belligerence wouldn’t have cost them the Election…

The day after the night before — May 8, 2015

The day after the night before

So, where do we go from here? Nobody saw that coming, nobody! A shock, Tory Majority victory that confounded pollsters and commentators alike, David Cameron must have been the happiest man on the planet yesterday. But, I was left confused, confused as to where to go next.

For those who know me and for those that don’t, I would describe myself as a “classic liberal.” I believe in a small state, low taxes, competition, the free market and hold individual freedom and choice paramount.

Over the last Parliament the country took significant steps forward introducing a raft of progressive, liberal policies, including (but not limited to), a higher personal allowance and equal marriage.

As a country, we are the most socially liberal we have ever been and Generation Y is set to continue this trend. Young people have abandoned the traditional/religious constraints of our parents, but now where do we turn? Let’s consider the options.

The Conservatives will piggy-back on key Liberal Democrat pledges, such as the personal allowance and the pupil premium and call themselves liberals. But there are key Conservative policies that are fundamentally illiberal – the so called “Snooper’s Charter” would allow the Government too much access to private communications, the repeal of the Human Rights Act in favour of a British version to suit public opinion again, illiberal. Core Tory voters were opposed to equal marriage, introducing plain-cigarette packets and entertaining minimum pricing on alcohol, all are an affront of individual choice – this isn’t a Party that can declare itself “the natural home of the liberal.”

The Labour Party remains in denial it spent too much. A Party addicted to spending and borrowing, its economic illiteracy had to play a part in the 2015 General Election. With an addiction to spending comes an addiction to public expenditure and a bloated public service. A large state, must mean higher taxes.

UKIP who famously declared they were a “libertarian party”, unless you were gay, Eastern European or voted Labour is again another Party in ruin. Nigel Farage played a significant role in the rise of UKIP, to some extent he is/was a cult of personality. They aren’t a liberal party, but again, where to do they go now?

I’m not ashamed to admit yesterday I voted for the Liberal Democrats. In a reality where you should vote for the Party nearest your own views, the Liberal Democrats won my vote for valuing and promoting liberalism over the past 5 years. But what now for the Liberal Democrats? In Blackley they secured a pithy 874 votes, they were wiped out in my new constituency and they were wiped out in terms of seats across the nation. The Liberal Democrats lost some of their best including Jeremy Browne (who had already resigned) and David Laws. With Tim Farron likely to take over from Nick Clegg, the left-of-centre will claim the Liberal Democrat voice once again. With 8 MP’s they have lost their platform and now they risk losing their liberal voice.

With no major party representing the classical liberals voice, what do I do now?

Would Britain benefit from more political parties? — July 17, 2012

Would Britain benefit from more political parties?

[EDIT: Consider this argument post-electoral reform, not under FPTP ~ Cheers for this guys!]

We’re at a stand-still in British politics, cynics will call it the “mid-term blues” but I think it goes further than that. There is huge political apathy in Britain, voter turnout is continuously falling and the expenses scandal, combined with nearly every other scandal since has done nothing to disprove that all MPs are as “bad as each other.”

Britain has been a two-Party state now for long over 70 years, with many scholars and authors talking about a post-War consensus between the Labour Party and the Conservatives. You can debate the validity of such an idea until the cows come home (I know, I wrote 3,000 words on it easily!) The undeniable fact is that we live in a two-Party state, with no other Party seemingly able to make a significant impact. This is exasperated by the fact that the main Parties have rushed to the centre-ground in recent years, not really daring to be radical (seen as a dirty word) or too different from their opponents, in fear of losing votes. The 2010 General Election threw up an anomaly, allowing the Liberal Democrats to hold the key to power, but it was far from an election victory for the Party in the grand scheme of things. So, just how do we break the two Party stranglehold on power?

Split them up.

There are obvious divides with in all three major parties, with MPs and grassroots members forever moaning at their executive or backbenchers. The Labour Party remains divided and has been since 1994, even his name irks the Left of the Party. Tony Blair and his Blairite followers have been sidelined by Ed Miliband and the Unions, perfectly demonstrated by the attack on Progress (a “Blairite” think tank). So the Labour Party could easily split, with David Miliband leading a Blairite Labour movement. Allowing Ed Miliband to revive the Left and take his Party back to electoral abyss (or not, who knows what the electorate want)!

In the Tories the divide is as glaringly obvious. Cameron has attempted to modernise the Tories, and people within the Party don’t like it. Let Cameron start the New Conservatives, a more socially liberal Tory Party. Nadine Dorries and her socially backward friends can continue to conserve society, heck she might even bring back Feudal law or make Priests all powerful. We will call this Party the Dinosaur Party, complete with socially conservative members, incapable of moving on from 1872.

There is of course a split in the Liberal Democrats too. We’re far too often accused of “infighting” and not focusing on the other two Parties, but I’d say we’re guilty of it no more than other Parties. The Social Liberal Forum exists to promote just that, social liberal society, but for some (including me) that isn’t enough. They are happy to allow for the state to grow and support higher taxation and Keynesian policies. The “Orange Book” liberals, or classical liberals ‘run the Party executive’ and annoy the SLF with our all-round liberalness, including our economic liberalness (smaller state, lower taxes). The SLF could continue as the Liberal Democrats, headed by Tim Farron (the epitome of a “Lefty-Liberal”) and the [Classical] Liberal Party could be spear-headed by David Laws/Jeremy Browne.

Heck, even UKIP are divided. Their older, (slightly) xenophobic wing exist solely to leave the EU and berate life in general. They have a more socially liberal, even libertarian wing in the YI. They want an even smaller state than many of the “classic liberals.”

So instead of a two-Party state, we could have a real democracy with 6/8 smaller Parties. The great benefit is that people can choose a Party that really fits with their views, rather than having to settle into a Party that often conflicts with their ideals. Nobody agrees with every decision their Party makes, if you do, you are either a loyal MP, or a moron, incapable of engaging your own brain.

Here’s a (wild) estimation of where the Parties would exist on Political Compass.

Two quick polls:

Education, education, education! — July 3, 2012

Education, education, education!

*Warning, this is purely a theoretical argument*

The education system in the UK is clearly not perfect. The evidence of this is abundantly clear, we have over 1m young people unemployed, many with no or little qualifications or real skills for the working world. So how do we change this?

One radical idea would be to overhaul how we place students in classes. Currently classes are essentially determined by what year you were born in. Anybody born between September 2002 to July 2003 are placed in a Year group. For some reason, it has only just dawned on me how bizarre this notion is. Here’s what Shadow Secretary for Education, Stephen Twigg said on the matter earlier this year:

“On a conceptual level, many schools are still organised like factories. The workers down tools when they hear the bell ring, and are strictly separated into production lines, focused on building the constituent parts of knowledge, maths, science etc. At the same time, students are rigidly separated. Taught in batches, not by ability or interest, but by their own date of manufacture.”

“Taught in batches” seems to ring very true. Why do we teach people based on their age? In what part of the working world are people separated by age, not ability?

It is high time that we change this structure and begin classing people by ability. In my own education I was moved into “Year 6” classes when I was in “Year 4” to help keep me interested, and it worked, so why doesn’t every school do it?

Classes based on ability would help everybody. More intelligent students could be placed in classes with students on their intellectual level and pushed further than they are now, without the distractions of students who either a) don’t want to be there b) don’t understand the topics, and therefore act as a distraction. This could really help our brightest students and stop their progress from being stunted which occurs far too often in our current system.

It also works towards helping students who are “less intelligent.” They are no longer in classes with students who find subjects easy, which can be demoralising for students (I’m sure everybody can understand that feeling, when you are struggling and the person next to you finds the task a breeze.) They would also be given more attention by teachers who can help them progress. “Less intelligent” students also suffer from distractions from other students, I admit that when I was in school I was a distraction for many, when I finished work I’d mess around, because I didn’t have anything else to do. We need to keep students of all abilities fully engaged with education.

The only drawback would be the social side of things, which is why I would suggest that this idea would be for secondary schools only. There should be no stigma in being in higher/lower classes, it is a harsh reality, that some students are brighter than others. That doesn’t mean they are better than other students. Not everybody can get an A*, but everybody should be able to aspire to achieve the best they can.

It would also be tailored for individual subjects, so just because a student is good at Maths, doesn’t mean they should be placed in higher classes in English.

We already have “sets” within Year groups, and I believe it is high time to open the education system up. Classes by ability, not age.

How to win votes and alienate people? — June 25, 2012

How to win votes and alienate people?

*This post is focused solely on David Cameron’s “plans post-2015” on housing benefit, not all his welfare reform speech*

There can be no doubt that David Cameron’s speech today on welfare reform shows how worried he is about his political life-span. It was a cry for help from the Tory right; a pledge to attack the “entitlement culture” in Britain; and the first sign of desperation from the normally perfectly assured Conservative leader.

Cameron is lost. Politically he doesn’t know where he stands, so he has done what any Conservative leader would do and has attacked welfare recipients, but crucially, YOUNG welfare recipients. He is seeking to perpetuate the myth that under-25s are lazy and feckless. We are far from it.  Why is he doing this? To win back the traditional Tory vote. His plan to slash housing benefits for under-25s (and save £1.8bn) is a perfect example of “conservatism”, it is a vote winner. Here’s the real killer, the vote he’s winning here is the over-60s vote, the key voting age (in terms of actual numbers). There is no doubt about it, cutting housing benefits for under-25s is the beginning of a vote winning series of policies from the Conservatives. Come 2015, they could be election winning policies.

The problem is, they are terrible policies. Ill-thought out, ill-timed and irresponsible. Anybody up for another round of omnishambles?

One million young people are unemployed, how is taking away £90 per week (on average) in housing benefit going to help young people? Removing housing benefit from anybody retrospectively is cruel. It is not the claimants fault that the Government’s expenditure has gotten out of hand, it is the Governments. On the one hand, the Government has said in the past ‘You clearly need financial help with housing, and we will provide £x to cover this based on your needs.’ They then turn around and say ‘People think you receive too much, we need their votes, so, sorry, but we’re taking it away, you probably still need £x, but oh well. Votes are more important than your housing benefit.’

The last Government and some of our pensioners are responsible for excessive spending and a housing bubble, which forced the average price of a home in the UK to over £225,000. Does David Cameron really think that the majority of under-25s can afford a 40% deposit? His idea is crazy.

The Government should be relaxing planning laws, and encouraging private enterprise to increase the housing stock in the UK. We need more affordable homes, with low interest rates businesses should be confident to invest, but our red-tape stands in their way.

Of course, there are disincentives within our welfare system that need to be tackled, but Cameron and the Tory-right are hoping that if they shout loudly enough and for long enough, people will believe them that benefit claimants are the scourge of this country. People are on benefits because they require financial help, not simply to “sponge” off the Government.  How about for once, we actually clamp down on tax evasion, instead of always focusing on demonising benefit claimants.

We spend £5bn on the universal benefit of a free bus pass for pensioners. Why not make that means tested and save the £2bn there, instead of attacking the next generation? Oh, because pensioners vote. How very cynical of you…

Why the Liberal Democrats were right on Jeremy Hunt — June 13, 2012

Why the Liberal Democrats were right on Jeremy Hunt

*Warning – this is a rant!*

I’ve seen a lot on Twitter today and in the news about why the Liberal Democrats were wrong to abstain today. Labour types everywhere have got their knickers in a twist over Jeremy Hunt’s handling of News Corporation and the BSkyB bid. Yes, he acted inappropriately. Yes, in an ideal world the Liberal Democrats should have forced David Cameron to refer him to the independent commission because he *did* break the Ministerial code. However, there is a lot more to the matter than that.

Firstly, are Labour so tribal that they are simply forgetting how close they were to the Murdoch’s and News Corp? For them to pretend to be so morally righteous is ludicrous, bordering on insulting to the memory of the general public.

Secondly, it would be wrong for the Liberal Democrats to openly go against their Prime Minister. It is a Coalition and we are the junior partner, we have to remember that. We don’t have an equal say in matters, we don’t deserve one, we only won 57 seats after all. However, we have one and we have a strong foothold in the Coalition and should be proud of our record so far. This whole story will be irrelevant come 2015, to use that famous phrase “its the economy, stupid!” This wasn’t worth breaking up the Coalition, far from it. We backed the Prime Minister and rightly so. Would Labour happily throw the country back into economic turmoil and political stability, simply over how close Jeremy Hunt was to Rupert Murdoch and his staff? I’d hope the answer was no, but with some of them, I’m just not sure.

Today, we didn’t do the right thing for our Party, but we did the right thing for the Country, and for that, we should never apologise.

Viva La Republic — June 4, 2012

Viva La Republic

Well that was an interesting weekend, thankfully it is over. Royalist supporters littered the streets of London to sneak a glimpse of the Queen and celebrated sixty years of her Majesty’s reign. What a load of nonsense!

Liberalism has a long and intertwined history with Republicanism, the modern social contract theorists such as Hobbes and Locke were concerned with arbitrary coercion from monarchy and put forward their arguments for an alternative. The two ideologies, inevitably seeming collapsed into each other and this is why I find it bamboozling that Liberals are so keen to celebrate a history of unelected, hereditary monarchy. Liberalism is founded upon the notions of democracy and accountability, something that a monarchy cannot even think to offer.  There are three often cited arguments to keep the monarchy.

The first is the revenue provided by tourism is good for the British economy. My objections to the monarchy are purely ideological. I’m not concerned with the arguments that the Royal Family costs tax payers £xyz or that they bring in £xyz in tourism (despite this being the most defunct argument a Royalist can have. Do we need to bring back the Gladiators to the Coliseum? People would come and look at buildings all the same.)

The next defence I so often here is that the Royal Family is a proud British tradition and that republicans are anti-British culture in that sense. Once upon a time, engaging in widespread trading of slaves was a proud British tradition. This is 2012, we cannot rely on tradition as a defence for anything, we should be always looking to progress and evolve.

The final objection to a republic is that the Queen currently provides “checks and balances” to the Government. Elizabeth II has NEVER used her veto. It is a ceremonial role with virtually no power. She serves no purpose to the politics of Britain. I’m not hugely in favour of having an elected President who would most likely simply replace the Queen in a pointless ceremonial role.

If people believe in the power of democracy we should seek to scrap the monarchy. Why do we need a President? We have a fully, democratically elected House of Commons and a (hopefully partly-elected) House Lords which provides the “checks and balances” to ensure we do not have a tyrannous dictatorship of Government.

I’m not being critical of the Royal Family in the slightest, I understand the great work the Queen does in her role and she has undoubtedly worked tirelessly in the name of Great Britain. But it is time to take of our Union Jack print sunglasses and wake up to the idea of a democratic republic.

Pupil Premium & Meritocracy — May 30, 2012

Pupil Premium & Meritocracy

As a new member of the Liberal Democrats, I thought it was about time that I came out in a real defence of one of their policies. One of my favourite policies is the Pupil Premium. The policy pledges £7bn towards giving the poorest children a better start in life.

Education is becoming a bit of a bug-bear of mine at the minute, ironically as I come to an end of mine. There is still a worryingly low number of “poor” students who end up going to university. Now I’m not advocating that all students should go to university, far from it, but it is shocking that in a developed a country such as the UK that we suffer from such terrible social mobility. The money is given directly to schools and they are not directed specifically on how to spend it, but of course is aimed at helping the poorest students. For more click here.

So why is the Pupil Premium a good idea? Well, its a perfect application of John Rawls’ difference principle. Which of course, makes it brilliant. It also negates the issue of meritocracy.

“Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage, and (b) attached to positions of offices open to all.” Rawls places a lexical priority on (b), ensuring that this part must always come first for the principle to be upheld. Point (b) offers an equality of opportunity.”

The Pupil Premium encourages an equal opportunity for all. It helps those from disadvantaged backgrounds compete with their wealthier counterparts. Why is this a problem for the government? Surely university should be based on merit, and therefore we should allow education to be solely based on meritocracy? Er – nope!

Rawls on meritocracy

Rawls’ argument starts at the “luck” of birth. The luck of birth is the idea that people have no moral claim over the attributes they are born with. Rawls wanted to nullify these effects and allow for equal opportunities. The rhetoric of equal opportunity still isn’t good enough for John Rawls; whilst it negates the issue of the randomness of birth it still doesn’t mean we are equal. Whilst everybody is in the ‘race’ for the job/university place, they aren’t starting at the same point.

The solution to this would be to ensure a ‘fair’ starting point for individuals. The Pupil Premium is part of a ‘fair equality of opportunities’ scheme, the policy increases spending per pupil for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Rawls would remain unsatisfied with this solution. This may remove some of the fundamental socio-economic restrictions “but it still permits the distribution of wealth and income to be determined by the natural distribution of abilities and talents.”

Rawls argues that a meritocracy in its purest form is flawed. It all depends on what an individual can claim credit for, the luck of birth plays too much of a role in life to abide by a meritocracy. Effort doesn’t really matter when discussing meritocracy and this is unjust. A crude example shows the problems of not rewarding effort, a small man could build a house in three days and try harder than a man who can build a house in one day, who would you reward the most? The main principle behind meritocracy is contribution and ultimately we aren’t totally in control of how much we can contribute.

Are we entitled to claim that our “assets” belong to us?

“Rawls’ response is to invoke the distinction between the self and its possession in the strongest version of that distinction, and so to claim that, strictly speaking, there is nothing that ‘I’, qua pure subject to possession, have – nothing that is attached, rather than related, to me – nothing at least in the strong, constitutive sense of possession necessary to a desert base.”

Rawls argues that all things considered, we don’t “own ourselves”, we can defend our rights as declared in the first principle but we do not own our abilities and talents. “No one deserves his greater natural capacity nor merits a more favourable starting place.” Rawls argues that our starting point is arbitrary, but what we should seek are fair institutions to mitigate the arbitrariness of birth.

“The natural distribution [of abilities and talents] is neither just nor unjust; nor is it unjust that persons are born into society at some particular position. These are simply natural facts. What is just and unjust is the way that institutions deal with these facts.”

Rawls continues to further strengthen his argument. Even if we did have self-ownership and we value effort and (to some extent) contribution, we have no control over the market in which we sell our attributes and talents. For example, The Beatles sold millions of records in the 1960/70s, but would they do the same in 2012? We have no control over the condition of the market, which further adds to the moral arbitration and limits what we can claim to morally deserve. We are entitled to reap the rewards of a society which values or attributes, but we are not morally deserving of them, and to claim otherwise is foolhardy.