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”

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:

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.

Liberty versus Democracy — May 18, 2012

Liberty versus Democracy

Okay guys, a more philosophical post than usual. Definitely more philosophical than my last post about Football! I’m going to use this post as a revision tool for myself more than anything, but as ever I welcome, and want your feedback on my ideas. So here we go…

The title of the post refers to the fact that liberty and democracy are seemingly incompatible.

The two always seemingly go hand in hand, I am a member of the Liberal Democrats, and we in the UK would argue that we live in a Liberal Democracy. So how can the two ideas be so juxtaposed?

“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

While democracy has to do with the selection of rulers or policies, liberty refers to the freedom to engage in certain behaviours or to hold and express views without governmental interference. For example, the freedom to travel, to practice one’s religious faith, to look at pornography, and to buy and own property are measures of liberty rather than democracy. Democracy is about the ability to participate and have regular, free and open elections. Democracy in the minds of many almost presupposes liberty. We (wrongly) always assume democratic countries to be liberal countries. We have liberal checks and balances on our democratic institutions, based on the liberal thinking of people like John Locke. It is seemingly impossible to separate the two. But it is crucial that we do.

Government, and therefore democracy exists to limit a person’s liberty. Without Government we would exist in the infamous State of Nature. Whichever understanding of the State of Nature you take, be it Hobbesian, Lockean or Rousseau’s, life eventually sucks. Government is formed to protect the lives of its citizens, be it absolute government (a la Hobbes) or representative (a la Locke). The point is, people have to give up some of their liberty to have protection by the state. Which leads me straight into (brilliant) quote #1

“Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both. He who gives up freedom for safety deserves neither” – Benjamin Franklin.

We see a worrying trend of this happening in the UK and the USA. Be it the Patriot Act across the pond, or Terrorist Laws and snooping here in the UK. Democracy is curtailing liberty. It is the empirical slippery slope argument, will we ever get these rights back? Hell no. The Government will only further creep into our lives and erode our civil liberties in the name of security.

“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” – Thomas Jefferson

Here’s an explanation on what we mean, from a great article on the subject by Christina Annsley:

Democracy actively contradicts liberty. If 51% of the population voted to ban alcohol that is dictating to 49% what they can or can’t do with their own body. Likewise if 51% voted for more taxation; the 49% are forced to comply under a democratic system. Democracy is preferable to dictatorship purely because it is less likely that a significant mass of people will vote for insane policies; however, to those not in the majority, it is dictatorship all the same. For those who object to their legal right to do what they will with their own body and property being taken away from them, it won’t matter WHO banned alcohol or raised taxation, be it a majority of the population, a hereditary monarch, or an authoritarian dictator. It is essentially a collectivist system, ignoring the rights of the individual and prioritising the “public good”.

Democracy flies totally in the face of Mill’s Liberty Principle.

“In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence, is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

Government and democracy take a paternalistic role over its citizens. They claim to know what is best for their citizens, be it compulsory education, mandatory bank holidays, plain packaging of cigarettes or minimum pricing on alcohol. Paternalism as Mill understands it involves coercing someone against his will or without his consent, but any constitutional provisions, democratic or otherwise, will set the procedures within which consent operates and so will be to a large extent imposed on the citizenry without their consent. As Kant argued: “Paternalism is the greatest despotism imaginable.” Why? Because paternalism presupposes an Aristotelian good life. It presupposes that the State does in fact know what is best for its citizens. How can this be true? There are no universal rights and wrongs, the idea of right is subjective. Just because I believe X doesn’t mean that another person has to agree that X is also right. Paternalism makes people lazy and docile, they accept what they are told, without ever challenging what they are being told.

This gives me a great chance to use my favourite quote:

“If freedom means anything it must surely include the freedom to engage in activities which others may consider unwise. This includes smoking, overeating, not exercising, driving “off road” cars in cities, even winning goldfish. A Liberal society is one where people should be free to make their own mistakes.” – David Laws

I’m no fan of Ayn Rand, but this sums up the argument superbly:

“Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities – and the smallest minority on earth is the individual.”

It is high time that we stand up for liberty, and ensure that no further rights are curtailed in the name of democracy.

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.

Inheritance Tax – a “good” tax? — February 2, 2012

Inheritance Tax – a “good” tax?

Inheritance Tax is a politically divisive issue. The debate is normally caricatured by “rich, Tory toffs” versus “your average worker”, but ideologically its a bit more of a challenge.

I’m a big fan of John Rawls and his theory of justice. The key point in regards to inheritance tax is his idea of the difference principle. The difference principle is defined by Rawls: “Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society.

The issue becomes confusing when you apply the rest of Rawls principles to the debate. The issue of birth is so random, that nobody should benefit from it, however, whilst this is a noble idea it is of course a flawed one. Inequalities do exist, but it is to what level do they remain permissible?

If we had a 100% inheritance tax this would be a huge disincentive for people. Families work hard so that their children/family can “live a better life than they did.” A 100% tax is a frightful idea from a Liberal perspective, it totally undermines the work ethic, like most taxes. But, to what extent are those who are “entitled” to inheritance, really entitled to it? The luck of birth isn’t a strong claim to anything.

So am I in favour of 0% inheritance tax? No, not really. And neither is Rawls. Whilst “the unequal inheritance of wealth is no more inherently unjust than the unequal inheritance of intelligence” it must remain that allowing inheritance is to everybody’s benefit. So does allowing millionaires to leave their children all their estate eventually help the poorest, through tax and redistribution later down the line?

I’m not wholly convinced by either argument. But, if we are to have an inheritance tax; the purpose of tax, should not be to raise the government revenue, but to close the gap in personal wealth and capital ownership.

What do you think, is inheritance tax a good idea? Let me know below…

We must stick to Plan A — January 25, 2012

We must stick to Plan A

History never repeats itself, but it does rhyme.

Rising debt, a Conservative led government tackling a global economic crisis, an incompetent policy devoid Opposition and a war of words with Argentina. Yes you’d be hard led to believe we weren’t back in the 1980s.

Today’s growth figures are a mixed bag. A contraction of 0.2% in the final quarter is of course bad news. Manufacturing continues on a worrying declining trend and future growth forecasts are being revised downwards daily. To compound the misery the national debt yesterday reached £1 trillion, a highly symbolic figure.

But its not all gloom and doom. There are signs that Plan A is working. The overall growth for 2011 was 0.9%. The rate of borrowing fell and is ahead of target. And let’s not forget our interest rates on the international markets remain incredibly low, showing that the markets still have confidence in George Osborne’s plan.

Yes the cuts are beginning to bite, and yes the medicine is a bitter pill to swallow, but like any ill patient we must continue to nurse them back to full health.