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.

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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.
It is time to bring back David Laws? — May 10, 2012

It is time to bring back David Laws?

Where to begin? David Laws is almost a cult of personality to many in the Liberal Democrats, and nearly as many in the Conservatives. For me his political beliefs are exactly what the Liberal Democrats should stand for. His beliefs are the reason I joined the Liberal Democrats. He is a classic liberal who wants small government and free trade. Described by a fellow Liberal Democrat as:

“An unreconstructed 19th century Liberal. He believes in free trade and small government. Government should do only the jobs only government can do. There’s no point in having a large public sector if the users of the public services are getting poorer.”

Laws is an unequivocal Liberal with a voting record to match.

Nick Clegg today in his web seminar with Liberal Democrat member said that he would love David Laws to return to the front benches of Government, something David Cameron has been on record saying previously. For me, it cannot come quick enough.

Before becoming the MP for Yeovil in 2001, Laws graduated from Cambridge with a Double First in Economics and had a successful career in the City. He became involved as an economic advisor for the Liberal Democrats and later became the Director of Policy and Research.

Laws co-edited and contributed to the fantastic Orange Book which became the blueprint for Liberal Democrat policy running up to 2010. Within it he wrote a brilliant chapter on introducing a National Health Insurance Scheme. The merits of which I have written about previously. Laws has argued that Gordon Brown’s tax credit system had created a dependency culture in which there were too few incentives to work. Then, as now, he wanted cuts in the cost of public sector pensions, housing benefit and incapacity benefit. (via Guardian)

In 2010 he acted as one of the chief negotiators when forming the Coalition. He wrote a fantastic and informative book entitled 22 Days in May on the matter.

On Ed Balls he wrote: “And I guessed that he would be difficult, perhaps even impossible, to work with in government – certainly if he was in any position of power.”

On joining the Euro: “Hurrah!, as I have never been a big fan of Britain joining the euro, and have never thought that there was the slightest chance of the British people supporting the euro in a referendum.”

On a coalition with Labour: “It was clear that if we went into coalition with Labour, we would not be establishing a new government, we would be chaining ourselves to a decaying corpse.”

I cannot recommend the book enough for an insight into what happened during those crucial days for Britain.

The book ends on a sad note for Laws, and for the Country. On the 29th May 2010 he resigned as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Laws had been caught up in the Expenses Scandal, claiming over £40,000 for a second home owned by his long term partner James Lundie. Prior to this Laws had kept his sexuality a secret. Laws immediately paid back his expenses in full with a full apology. Laws claimed that he did not intentionally break any rules and claimed that the rules he broke were open to interpretation. He was suspended from the House of Commons for 7 days.

The inquiry found that if he had attempted to profit from claiming expenses he could have claimed £30,000 more. here was claimed to be no loss to the taxpayer from the various breaches of the rules. The commissioner stated “I have no evidence that Mr Laws made his claims with the intention of benefiting himself or his partner in conscious breach of the rules.

The inquiry clearly found that Laws had not intentionally misled the Commission. He has served his “time” for his mistakes. There are some on the Left who are fearful of Laws’ return, he is a master debater and impressive intellectual. He is a huge supporter of the Coalition and their policies. They hide behind snarks about him “being a crook.” He would be a huge asset to the Treasury or any department he is placed in. It is a matter of when, and not if it is time for David Laws to return to the front benches of Government. Now come on Dave – give us a real reshuffle.

If anybody doubts that he has support in the Conservatives – George Osborne once attempted to convince him to join the Conservatives. Laws rebuffed him: “I am not a Tory, and if I merely wanted a fast track to a top job, I would have acted on this instinct a long time ago.”

Vote below:

Where do the Liberal Democrats go from here? — May 9, 2012

Where do the Liberal Democrats go from here?

It’s hard to avoid the kicking the Liberal Democrats once again received in the Local Elections last week. Lots of hard working Liberal Democrat councillors sadly lost their jobs. Many in Labour and UKIP are rejoicing and predicting (hoping) that the Liberal Democrats will be all but wiped out in the 2015 General Election.

Since switching from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats last week I have been asked to explain why I feel jumping to a sinking ship is a good idea. So here we go…

Firstly, it is silly to assume that the Liberal Democrats are a sinking ship. Anti-Government sentiment is a regular occurrence, this types of voting patterns are nothing new, nor were they exclusive to the Liberal Democrats. I firmly believe that in 2015 the Liberal Democrats will increase the number of seats they have in the House of Commons. David Laws succinctly summarises why in the Financial Times.

“The coalition still has the potential to be one of the great reforming governments of the postwar era. The changes we are making in education, welfare and pensions are radical and right. The country will judge us over our full term and not on the basis of a turbulent few weeks of “here today, gone tomorrow” headlines. But after five years, we must show we have made the right decisions on the economy and got Britain back on track. That must be the coalition’s overriding obsession in the year ahead.” ~ David Laws

As I mentioned in my last post the Liberal Democrats have a LOT to shout about come 2015. Policies such as reducing the tax burden for the poorest in society. Increasing pensions by inflation, earnings or 2.5% (dependent on which is the highest). The £2.5bn Pupil Premium. Ensured that costly and illiberal ID cards were scrapped. Today in the Queen’s Speech their policy to break up the retail and investment arms of banks was announced. If you want more then head to: http://www.whatthehellhavethelibdemsdone.com/ which shows the huge number of pre-election promises the Liberal Democrats have ALREADY met.

These policies are Liberal Democrat policies, inevitably the Conservatives will attempt to hijack them and call them “Coalition policies” but Liberal Democrat politicians and door-steppers must stress that these were Liberal Democrat policies.

The Liberal Democrats haven’t had the same type of ministerial experience that Labour and the Conservatives have had and we must seek to build on that. We have some fantastic politicians waiting in the wings for some real big positions. Obviously I’m a huge fan of David Laws, but there is also Jeremy Browne who is a similar, classic liberal who is one to watch. I am of course new to the Party and not as well educated about the beliefs of each MP – but this I look forward to finding out more about my new Party.

Come 2015 I hotly anticipate another round of Clegg-mania when he finally gets a chance to really stand up for the Liberal Democrats successes in this Government. When the electorate are given a chance to distinguish between Liberal Democrat and Coalition policy, I fully expect the Liberal Democrats to come out on top.

House of Lords Reform — April 20, 2012

House of Lords Reform

It is a bit early for Turkey’s to be voting for Christmas, after all it is only April. But yet, here we are once again debating reform to the House of Lords.

Reform in the Lords is a Lib Dem policy, one which I partly support, but many Conservatives do not. In fact, they are already lining up threatening to quit positions over the plans. Any suggestion to remove hereditary peers seemingly doesn’t sit well with the old stalwart Tories, or the far-right back-benchers.

Sadly for them, they are wrong. The House of Lords is in desperate need for reform. As a republican, it will come as no surprise to you that I don’t agree with undemocratic, land owning, hereditary seats in the House of Lords. We still have nearly 100 of these Peers.

The House of Lords is supposed to be a scrutinising body, filled with experts who can look deeply into the details of the bills presented to them. But again, sadly it is not. In one of the biggest debates in years, the introduction of the benefit cap, just under 500 peers voted, out of 788. Some members don’t turn up at all for debates, and many make rare appearances when it suits them. We cannot continue to allow the second House to be missing in key debates. Thankfully, this is one policy suggested by the reform, “lazy” peers will be the first to be booted out.

It is time we move on from the days of filibustering and peerage scandals and have a partly democratic second chamber.

So what do I suggest? I would have a partly elected and partly selected House of Lords. I would start the whole system again, allowing members of the House to stand. For simplicity I’d argue 25%/75%. But this could easily be tweaked in either direction. Anybody elected should serve a 8/12 year term to ensure that they are not worrying about constant re-election, but still allowing them to be democratically replaced. The other 75% I would have specially selected, consistent with the manner that occurs now. The idea of the Lords is to scrutinise legislature and we cannot expect that to happen without a specialised House.

The Lib Dem policy is to have it the other way round, with 80% elected. This would be disastrous in my opinion. The House of Lords has to remain a specialised body, and with 80% of its members elected, I sincerely doubt that we would keep such a high quality standard that we deserve.

Reviving Right to Buy — April 3, 2012

Reviving Right to Buy

David Cameron and Grant Shapps today announced the revival of one of Mrs Thatcher’s most popular policies – the Right to Buy. The Act allowed people living in social housing to purchase their home from the Government at a discounted rate (depending on how long they had resided there). At the 2011 Conservative Party Conference, Cameron had pledged to increase the discounts available. The idea is to encourage hard-working families to get themselves on to the property ladder, to join the self-sufficient middle classes. A step up in the world if you will. Cameron said:

I want many more people to achieve the dream of home ownership. In the 1980s, ‘Right to Buy’ helped millions of people living in council housing achieve their aspiration of owning their own home.

The scheme is fantastic in principle. But, and believe me I hate having to do this… As Polly Toynbee rightly pointed out ten years ago:

The forgotten fact is that although it was life-changing for many of the 1.5 million who have bought their homes, in many places – the nations’ property hot-spots – it has been a calamity now turning into a crisis because there was no policy to replace all the lost social housing.

The Government has to use the receipts to replace the homes taken off the market, if possible it should be done on a one-for-one basis. If we simply plod along with a repeat of the 1980s version and don’t learn the lessons then it will be a disaster. We shouldn’t favour an increase in social housing ownership over helping first-time buyers, we should be pushing the two together. The new scheme will create jobs in the housing industry which is good news, but the real drive in the industry has to come from the private sector, not the state.

Another issue is that the Government must change its legislation that allows the home owners to rent out their council house, the Government can be praised for aiding people into home-ownership, but the state shouldn’t be allowing people to profiteer at the expense of the majority of taxpayers.

Enterprising Youth? — March 22, 2012

Enterprising Youth?

Yesterday in the Budget one of my favourite announcements was the Chancellor’s proposal of a £10m enterprise loan scheme. Loans of up to £10,000 will be made available for people aged 18-24. It is being billed as the equivalent of a Student Loan for University students.

Why is this crucial? In the UK we have become far too focused on higher education. Tony Blair’s “education, education and education” mentality has fed through into society to the extent that going to University has simply become the norm. Students no longer weigh up their options, they simply plod along and get a degree.

The introduction of £9,000 tuition fees (which I supported) has made very little difference to applications from 18 year olds sadly. A degree is becoming worth less, even worthless to many. There will be scores of graduates who never pay off their student loans, never quite reaching the wage required to begin repaying their loans. It is time in Britain that we realise that not everybody can be a Doctor, a CEO or an MP and tackled the problem of university culture.

I’m not being a degree snob here, far from it. In fact I’d happily admit that as a PPE student I could have learned 75% of the stuff simply by reading in my own time. But I think its high time we remember that university is a privilege, not a right and we should only strive for excellence.

With that in mind, I’m thrilled to see that the Coalition are encouraging other avenues for school leavers. They have increased the number of apprenticeships and now are introducing enterprise loans. The trial scheme will offer 7,000 young entrepreneurs the chance to get a hand-up into the business world, and will essentially be a venture capitalist scheme – think Dragon’s Den but without the shoulder pads. It has been championed by Virgin tycoon Richard Branson, who has campaigned for young people throughout his career.

The loans would be paid back when the businesses start making a profit, or if the business fails, when the applicant starts earning a reasonable wage (similar to student loans).

It is time in Britain that we once again support the youth of today, rather than demonise them. With ridiculously high youth unemployment we cannot allow the rhetoric to continue that young people are idle and feckless. Far from it we are the future of this nation and we should be encouraging young people to take this step into business.

 

A budget for the millions; and the millionaires? — March 21, 2012

A budget for the millions; and the millionaires?

Here’s a VERY brief review of the 2012 Budget.

Overall, I was very impressed with the Budget. The biggest criticism I have has been how it has been leaked to the media in the past week. This needs to stop!

Today’s budget ensures that overall the wealthy will pay more in tax. Five times more in fact. They may be receiving a tax cut, but they will pay more overall in tax. But crucially it has taken TWO million people out of income tax all together. It is a budget for the millions.

Cutting the 50p tax rate

Osborne noted that £16bn had been shifted into the previous tax year to avoid the 50p tax band, and an additional £1bn had been avoided this year. Self-tax receipts were poor. He abolished the 50p tax rate and introduced a 45p band (from April 2013), which the OBR predicts will raise 5 times as much in revenue. Raising more in tax revenues is great news for everybody in society. (Read here for an explanation of the Laffer Curve.)

At the same time he announced a crack down on tax avoidance and an increase in stamp duty avoidance (up to 15%)

Stamp Duty

7% on £2m homes. That’ll please Vince Cable you have to imagine.

Raising the tax allowance

Osborne announced the largest ever increase in the personal allowance in history. A £1,100 increase to £9,205. This ensures that over 2 million people won’t pay income tax at all. It’s great news for ordinary workers as well, giving the everyday person more cash in their pocket.

Child benefit

Altering the current scheme, which had its flaws to ensure that child benefit to be reduced incrementally when one member of household earns more than £50,000. And that it will be removed completely at £60,000. Good news. Universal benefits are a shocking idea.

Sin taxes

A mixed bag here. No additional increase to alcohol duty, but then a whopping 5% increase on cigarettes. That’s 37p per pack. I’d like to reaffirm my belief that the Government should have no influence on what people do to their bodies, however much revenue it raises for them.

Corporation Tax

Cut from this April to 24% with future tax cuts in the years to come. This is a pro-growth and a pro-business move. It’s exactly what we need in the tough times we live in. It will also make the UK one of the cheapest places to do business in the G20.

Enterprise loans

Osborne is planning to set up an enterprise loan fund, similar to the student loan company for young entrepreneurs who need help starting up. This was an idea banded around last year and gained popular support from people like Richard Branson. Again, another good idea, we need to stop the university culture in the UK and encourage students into business and apprenticeships as well.

Welfare

Slashing £10bn by 2016 from the Welfare Budget. The welfare budget is incredibly high that’s for sure, accounting for 1/3 of public spending. It is unsustainable, we have to save money somehow on welfare, but the decisions on how to do this need to be looked at carefully. Scrapping universal benefits is a good starting point.

Miscellaneous

Tax credits for video games, animation and TV production in the UK. Another pro-growth and pro-business move.

Bank levy to be increased to 0.105% from next January, raising £2.5 billion a year. Taxing the banks, leaving Labour with nowhere to turn.

Where next for Labour?

Who knows? They cannot oppose a tax cut that will raise more revenue. They cannot oppose the personal allowance, the corporation tax cut or the bank levy. Worrying times ahead for Ed Miliband and co.

Tax cuts for the rich; pay cuts for the poor — March 18, 2012

Tax cuts for the rich; pay cuts for the poor

Same old Tories, ey? Well, only if you believe the spin that the Left are pedalling.

The 2012 Budget has caused a lot of debate already, and its not officially announced until Wednesday. But lets have a look at two policies that almost seem certain to be included in George Osborne’s budget.

Cutting the 50p tax rate

There has been a lot of speculation over the past month that Osborne is set to cut the 50p tax band. His reasoning for this is that en masse people have avoided paying the tax. To clarify, tax avoidance is legal. Now you can complain that those avoiding tax are morally bankrupt and avoiding paying their dues to society until the cows come home, but regardless, its still going to happen. The tax rate was introduced by the last Labour Government as a temporary measure to raise extra revenue for the state. And yet, it is rumoured that this isn’t the case. Rumours are that the Treasury is losing out on £500m a month due to tax avoidance. By lowering the tax rate, the Government hopes to recoup more tax, which can then be used to redistributed to those most in need. £6bn a year is a hell of a lot of money! Even if these rumours turn out to be unfounded, if it turns out the 50p tax rate is losing even a penny in revenue for the Treasury it should be cut. To keep the 50p tax band would be a shambolic symbol that we in Britain are against success, we envy the rich and we oppose wealth creation. So yes, it is a tax cut for the rich, but when the dust has settled it will be society who has benefited.

Ending National Pay Bargaining

On Saturday it was announced that the Government would end National Pay Bargaining. The Public Sector in the UK is a sacred cow, much like the NHS. Any reform is met with staunch criticism. Six million people are employed by the state, a figure that in itself is incredible. In some areas in the UK public sector workers are paid 18% more than their private sector counterparts. Inequalities between the two sectors causes tensions between people. The details of the policy are still very sketchy, but localised pay should be praised, not blindly opposed. Public sector workers in the South East need to be paid more than their counterparts in the North East, it is common sense. The costs of living between the two regions are diametrically different, so it makes sense that their pay should be separated.

So there we go, don’t believe the torrid nonsense about the same old nasty Tories, put your brain into gear and see what the policies are really about!

Sunday Trading Laws — March 13, 2012

Sunday Trading Laws

Vince Cable was caught out last week for having attacked the Coalition for lacking a growth plan. Vince has obviously forgotten that a) He’s part of the Coalition b) His department should be encouraging growth.

So I’ve thought of an idea for him. Scrap the Sunday Trading Laws! This a policy that won’t sit well with the “natural conservative” or religious types. But, frankly, I don’t really care. I understand their views, but I don’t believe in a world where the private sphere of Religion should be influencing the public realm of politics. So that’s one complaint dealt with quickly.

The weekend, the great bastion of freedom from the boring, slavish week of work, right? What do people do? They drink, they see friends and family and they shop. But bizarrely, they have to do the most of their shopping on Saturday’s, because we have state enforced opening and closing times on Sunday’s here in the UK.

Before 1994, the people of the UK couldn’t shop at all on Sundays. Now we’ve had “great progress” and we can shop for 6 hours, normally between 10am-4pm.

Surely I cannot be the only person to think that this is just ridiculous. If we scrap the bill, then people can fully enjoy their weekends and shop like they do any other day of the week. Sunday isn’t special to the large majority of people in the UK. It’s just another day, it should be their choice when to shop.