Friday, 28 May 2010

How long it takes to pay your taxes

From the TaxPayers' Alliance.

Quite horrific really.

About time we got a grip on spending, cut it fast and cut taxes fast when we're able to.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Democracy Village

A bunch of anti-war protestors, led by Brian Haw, seem to be squatting in front of Parliament on the Square.

My first thoughts were that they should stay because of free speech and the rest of it, and that I'd like the laws restricting protest around Parliament repealed. But looking into it more, thinking through it, reading around, came up with a few things - but mainly that there's a difference between a protest and creating a squatter settlement on Parliament Square.

Yes, there's a right to protest, including in front of Parliament. But it's a bit difficult to protest when Parliament Square, as I read earlier, is monopolised by the Socialist Worker-types who oppose your protest and probably wouldn't be happy to see someone else protesting there. There's no space to protest. I think we have to differentiate between a protest and a sit-in settlement. Fair enough if the government has rigged an election, but it hasn't. It looks ugly, they are being disrespectful (pissing on statues and stuff), and someone should come along and (try to?) protest against the fox hunting ban or something, to see what they think.

It's not a protest - it's squatting. Protests yes, actually living in front of Parliament, no.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The power revolution and all that

So here we have it - the 'power revolution' as Deputy PM Clegg calls it. He wants to "transform our politics so the state has far less control over you, and you have far more control over the state".

Good start.

We have some good things here - repealing "all of the intrusive and unnecessary laws that inhibit [our] freedom" - his words, not mine. Seeing ID cards out, the DNA database something for criminals and not the innocent, CCTV regulated, ContactPoint gone - it's all very British and, indeed, very liberal. The devolution of power, the localism - "you know better than I do about how to run your life, your community, the services you use" he says, espousing the very socialist calculation problem that we conservatives have always fought against. Checks on the power of lobbyists that sometimes gives interest groups too much power, that ties up the same big business and minority interest groups up with big government - it's all very small-government.

There are the bad - he wants to make the tax system "fairer" rather than reducing the burden overall - power to people really involves giving them their money back to spend how they want, not for government to spend on their behalf on something that doesn't benefit them, is an utter gimmick, or when the individual could spend the money much more efficiently on something that would benefit them more. The rise in the income tax threshold to £10,000 is very fair and will get more people off welfare than anything else, but funding it by a rise in CGT will, as Lord Forsyth argued in the Telegraph today, actually stop the jobs that these people might go into being created. The idea of Redwood et al, to tax short term investment a higher rate than long term investment, is far more sensible; even more radical would be to scrap CGT altogether and to allow the investment to just take place without the distortions that CGT brings.

And surely this nonsense about allowing government ministers to vote in the backbench 1922 Committee can't go ahead. A government, saying it wants to encourage localism and democracy, who then tries to practically abolish the backbenchers' forum is purely hypocritical.

Clegg said earlier:

"We don't, unlike Labour, believe that change in our society must be forced from the centre.

Unlike the previous Labour government, we're not insecure about relinquishing control."

This government will be made or broken on whether it gives power back to people. Labour has centralised, put power in the hands of the state. If Cameron can revive classical liberalism, bring that out of the Lib Dems, really works towards making the state smaller, society stronger and individuals more powerful when it comes to their own lives, then this coalition will work. If, however, he sells out to the crazy elements of the Lib Dems (PR, 'fairness', 'liberalism' etc) then the internal coalition will rebel, and the government will fall.

We will wait and see.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Can schools be free and accountable?

Asks the BBC. The answer is yes.

The question is about accountability - and in their bureaucratic, state-holding-schools-accountable mindset they have forgotten the accountability of the market - parents taking their child (and money) elsewhere - so the good schools will get more children and more money, the bad schools won't survive, and yes, may have to shut down.

Inspections will help the judgement, but might some more market-based solutions come about? I'm talking not only inspection bodies themselves setting up, but even chains of schools, brand names, that incredibly important issue for any firm - and even for schools. And this is where the diversity of the market comes about - teaching techniques could vary from school to school (which would certainly have been to benefit to me these last few years - groupwork and Powerpoints every lesson has never worked) and the old word of innovation could make its comeback in finding best how to educate. Just as I know Snickers has nuts, a certain 'brand' of school could, for example, educate traditionally.

To make this accountability work - not exam league tables, but people actually recognising not just the results that come out of schools, but the skills, the type of person coming out of the school, the real knowledge, how ready they are for the real world....

And on that point, let's hope the policy works.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Economic recovery: the method

US public spending as proportion of GNP in the inter-war years.

End-of-war recession to 1920, Harding cut hard and fast, cuts in public spending and taxation, recovery and golden years.

Wall Street Crash 1929, Hoover increases spending, doubles the size of government (oh how laissez-faire - there's one myth debunked), causes Great Depression.

So the "taking money out of the economy" brigade are just plain wrong, especially when we're talking 1% of GDP (out of 48% of GDP government spending).

Cut spending and then taxation hard? And please don't raise in Capital Gains Tax, whatever loopholes there are, it's the worst tax to raise when the Laffer curve comes into play (above 15% has bad effects I've heard).

And it makes sense that less money spent on government bonds is instead used by banks to lend to individuals (since they've been told to have more reserves).

Government spending cut from 48% of GDP to 30%? Sounds good.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Could the Lib Dems split?

Over all these deals? It's already a coalition as it is (a merger of the old Liberal-SDP alliance) - so what if the Orange Bookers, the old Liberals (Laws et al) left and went across to the Conservatives, who share some of their Whiggism if we are to go back that far, while the lefties went across to Labour, who they seem to think are their "natural partners"?

And the UK returns to two-party politics, with no need for electoral reform?

Just a thought.

The best advert against PR...

...has been the last few days of coalition negotiations.

Behind closed doors, politicians decide on which parties join as a coalition (note to unhappy Lib Dems: you support every election having this result), who takes which Cabinet post, which manifesto pledges are dropped, and since Gordon decided to resign within recent minutes, which second consecutive unelected PM you get. Is this how the "more democratic" system will work?

Gordon Brown wants a Lib-Lab pact, despite his party being comprehensively beaten at the polls. Very democratic. Again, similar to what would happen under PR?

I've kept an open mind throughout this, but I think the whole episode has persuaded me that PR might be more representative, but at least with FPTP you know (normally) what you're voting for, who you're getting, and that you can kick a bad government out. And for those who say this election shows that FPTP doesn't create strong governments, people will remember it and will elect a strong government next time. Once in 35 years doesn't mean it doesn't produce them.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Bailing out Greece

So here we go again, talk of bailing out Greece etc. The UK's opposed, except

Euro-zone leaders are attempting to get round objections from countries such as Britain by invoking Article 122 of the Lisbon Treaty, intended to enable a collective response to natural disasters. This does not need unanimous agreement.

So like it or not, make the right decisions, stay out of the Euro, and you still have to pay up. Because that will stop countries making bad decisions in the future. No, it'll mean that we don't learn from our mistakes - that the Eurozone was never one of these "Optimal Currency Zones" that economists have talked about.

But that isn't what annoys me. The bit that says "intended to enable a collective response to natural disasters". Natural disasters. The Greek debt problem is not natural. Even if it's those evil speculators, as the left-wing press seem to be saying, it's not natural - in fact you could say it's even more artificial. It's of their own making - they borrowed too cheaply for too long in the good years, built up a massive budget deficit, are in a lot of debt, and can't afford to borrow because they won't pay it back. That's not natural, that's their fault, and they should pay for it. It's certainly nothing to do with us.


Labour MP Tom Harris gets it right. Read the whole post, but these bits stood out to me.

At least under FPTP, whatever its disadvantages, the party that’s elected has to implement the policies in its manifesto. And if it doesn’t, it can be kicked out. Not so with most forms of PR. Have you been listening to some of the arguments in favour of reform, particularly on the Left? Reform would mean a permanent centre-left coalition in this country, they say. But since when has permanent government by the same two parties been remotely democratic? This argument, to me, is the best reason not to go for reform. I’m a democrat. I believe that if we’re beaten by the Tories, they should form the government. It’s up to the electorate to decide if they want a change of government, not poitical parties.

But what’s wrong with coalition government? Nothing at all. In fact, I’m in favour of coalitions. We’ve had coalition government in this country for decades. Labour is probably a broader coalition than what already exists in some proportional European systems. Any party that can accommodate Frank Field (or me, for that matter) and John McDonnell and Dennis Skinner is a very broad church indeed. The same goes for the Tory party. Because FPTP forces parties to broaden their appeal, to be open to a far wider range of opinion than would be the case under PR. And our democracy is the better for it.

While I'm sympathetic to something like 3-member STV (like Ireland), the British way is wide coalitions of people with generally similar principles. Labour a belief in government solutions, Conservatives a belief in people and society making those solutions, Lib Dems......let's not go there, but they are possibly the widest coalition (where else would you have economic liberals and economic statists together?). A factioned political system is not the British way. I don't want to sound too dogmatic here about "the British way", but we don't do internal haggling - we put it to the voters, let them decide the path.

The coalition negotiations, behind closed doors, are a fantastic argument against PR, since it's exactly what would happen. The same politicians, the same minor parties in the coalition, the same ones you just can't get rid of.

I want a strong Parliament, that holds government to account, that has MPs who are actually accountable to constituents, a specific number holding one specific person to account. While something like 3-member STV might be a more proportional way while somewhat keeping to that, I think there are things we can do now that would make FPTP work better: boundary reviews that seem to be out of date and don't take it to account that we maybe have a 3-party system on our hands; open primaries; recall elections - that sort of thing. Then perhaps we can look at the accountability issue a few years down the line, see how it works, see how maturely people react to open primaries (judging by the moustaches on posters, I'm not optimistic) and so on.

So I'm not sure. Keep an open mind, see how things pan out, and don't do anything knee-jerk or silly (Labour supporting voting reform as they are about to lose an election is one such silly reaction).

Friday, 7 May 2010

Cameron should not form a formal coalition

No, no coalitions. An implicit deal, yes, but not a formal coalition. There are areas of common ground, the sort of legislation we can push through with the votes (or abstentions) of LibDems. Might help push an emergency budget through, since that being blocked could lead to financial meltdown.

Yes, there are disagreements, electoral reform being one of the major ones - why not put it to the House? We have legislators for a reason, they just aren't used properly enough. And in fact the 2010 Conservative manifesto had something of an old Liberal feel about it - might some Lib Dems actually feel comfortable with a good lot of what's in the manifesto?

As for electoral reform, I'll talk about that in a future blogpost. But it's probably worth Cameron going it alone, getting some stuff through, showing he's serious and he's taking the decisions, then calling a second election. But first, he also needs to sell conservatism to a sceptical public, sell the fact that government is not the answer to everything.

(in other news today, a load of youngish (7-11) kids decided to jump on me and make lots of noise because I said I voted Conservative. The poor souls seem to think voting Labour/Lib Dem is better for unemployment, or is somehow 'helping the poor'. They're young, I'll let them off.)