Monday, 29 November 2010

Lonely furrow revisited

A promising leader in The Observer about fair pay contained the sentence 'There are valid questions to be asked about the scale of public spending under Labour, whether taxpayers got value for money.' It depressed me more than perhaps it should have done because, as usual, the taxpayer got name-checked as the arbiter of right and wrong.

Am I the only person who hates the tax payer? Well, no, actually, most of the neo-cons hate them as well as they feel they shouldn't exist. I'm a big fan of tax, especially income tax and am more than happy to pay it most of the time but I can't ever feel on the side of the taxpayer owing to his/her apparent allegiance to every petty minded argument against fairness and equality.

Now, The Observer article was actually right up my strasse. It made the points they I'd make if I was barely literate and able to pronounce or spell 'phenomonen' without laughing. The Liberal Democrats seem unable to carve themselves a role and are fast disappearing as a political entity but the article could direct their future path if they would but dare. The current political future is being shaped by the meritocratic ideas of an unelected elite using the past as the justification for their policies. The past owned by New Labour. The LibDems seem to agree. I don't and here's why. The Labour party didn't mismanage the economy, they ignored it. As long as the tax revenues kept rolling in, they were free to pursue their chosen policies, accepting the credit for a buoyant housing market and all the credit it stacked up. You can see what I did there.

The Tories want a return to housing led boom but I predict they wont get it, at least I'm pretty sure they won't. They may have a resurgent economy to crow about as we come back from the abyss but we avoided the abyss by bailing out the banks, not by creating a Big Society. We're not sunk but we're going to have to wait quite a few years for the wind to pick up. It will eventually of course, and the Government in power in five years will probably take the credit for that. We'll all be busy little ants again.

I think the Liberal Democrats should stop the Coalition now before it's too late. Clegg and Co are no longer acting in the interests of the country, they're acting in the interest of elitism and vested interest. The LibDems are being lobbied out of existence. If we really are partners in Government then we should stop cleaning the doorstep and start ordering breakfast. The Labour party used the wealth of increasingly disinterested big business and the credit  boom to prop up their regime. The Tories want to lead us back to that but with less of the obvious benefits. I want to enjoy life, not by being rich but by being happy and safe - is that not a slogan to begin again with? I want to live a life where I'm not running to keep up all the time and so do you, don't you?

Of course you could be on the side of the taxpayer, the alliance of joyless penny pinchers who begrudge the state every penny because it might do something good at their expense. The taxpayers are always hard working (work really hard on this and think of a job in Britain where you have to work really hard to good purpose, as oppose to working really long hours) and seem to derive no pleasure in life. They are the dead, as Wilfred Owen might say. Surely we continually work long hours because we have to, not because we want to? Shouldn't it be the other way round?

Personally I think we should be on the side of the individual, the one that wants to be part of something rather than against everything not designed to make him or herself materially better off. And I thought the LibDems were on that side once. They could be again, or they might be on the other side or they might, seriously, be on no side at all. And then they become just as sad as all the people who have sneered so publicly at them for all my years told them they were.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Out of the shadows

There came a time, in every series, when the Daleks passed through the confused ranks of the monosyllabic Ogrons and announced themselves as the real villains of the piece. The Ogrons shuffled off stage left without so much as a whimper. The same fate may befall the Lib Dems.

I haven't heard a lot from them this week. Instead I've enjoyed the 'firing' of Lord Young for saying what most supporters of the sick meritocracy we call the United Kingdom actually think (we've never had it  - so good!) and endured the pitter patter of Daily Mail speak from Grant Shapps on Today. "With five million on the waiting list", he stated, oblivious to the sad reflection on Tory policy, "we can't allow people council houses for life". And then presumably went off for a kipper and Bucks Fizz for breakfast.

I like to think that the Ogrons didn't think, just grunted and shrugged their shoulders as another invasion got underway without them. The Lib Dems presumably (surely?) do think and either agree or disagree with what goes on in their name. What filters back to me? Well, my email traffic is down if that's any guide.

Back in the days when I thought 'That Mitchell and Webb Look' was going to be great, the first sketch, I laughed uproariously, like an Enid Blyton character, as the Germans wondered, what with all their deaths head regalia and black shiny uniforms, whether they weren't actually the 'baddies'? Do Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have the same doubts? Do they look around at their team, notice Shapps, Redwood, Lilley, the ghosts of Thatcher and Tebbitt, Osbourne, Gove and think that they might actually be the 'baddies'?

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Iain Duncan Smith?

I received an email form Iain Duncan Smith today. At least I would have assumed it was from Iain Duncan Smith if it hadn't notified me that the sender was Nick Clegg. My confusion arose from the first paragraph which bears repetition so we all know the Deputy Leaders state of mind.

Our Universal Credit is a radical and liberal policy. It will simplify
and amalgamate the main welfare benefits into one single system; ensure
that work always pays; and alleviate poverty by boosting take-up and
encouraging people into work. It is exactly the kind of change that we
came into politics to make.

Now I may be reading the wrong articles and watching the wrong news programmes but I thought this was Iain Duncan Smith's big idea? The Tories like it, they think its a winner so they've claimed it as their own. Nick Clegg can tell the party 'faithful' it's 'our' policy but surely he doesn't think anyone will believe him? This policy is true blue spin, and talking up work without providing it is not the change I campaigned for on behalf of Nick Clegg. The single credit policy has been around as an idea for ages, the desire to make work pay the battle cry of successive post war Governments, I didn't hear Nick Clegg exhorting party activists to extol their virtues a few months ago, B.C.

Given the first paragraph is so depressing, it comes as no surprise that another great Liberal is dragged in to brighten things up.

We will return the welfare system to its historic mission, as articulated by the
great Liberal William Beveridge, to offer security but not ‘stifle
incentive, opportunity and responsibility’.

Well, no, actually Nick, I don't agree with your argument. Nothing anyone has talked about with regard to the welfare state has anything to do with stifling incentive, opportunity and responsibility. It has nothing to do with these and everything to do with saving money by inciting the prejudice of the population. Now is not the time to tackle such great welfare reforms and neither is it the time for Liberals to turn their backs on the millions systematically disenfranchised by the Tory governments of Thatcher and Major and largely ignored by Blair and Brown. Not only do these people deserve a better champion than Bob Crow, they deserve a system that really helps them by re-balancing society and gives them a light at the end of the tunnel. Millions more will soon be joining them as real jobs disappear in the public sector and short termism and insecurity haunt the economy.

Will Hutton , who is sometimes a bit, well, wrong, can also be totally right and today he wrote an article containing values and arguments so beautifully simplistic that I think Nick Clegg would do well to offer it as the new Liberal manifesto. Not all of it, just the last bit. He wrote, ostensibly about tuition fees:

'The message is explicit: you British are on your own. Buy a house, fend for yourself and now pay your tuition fees. Society is going missing.

It is the sense of being helpless, of being forgotten, of having the social settlement recast in ways that takes away while offering nothing in return, and above all, not being heard that so inflames not just students but huge swaths of the British'

Personally I'd put an 'e' in swaths to make it look better but there is a kernel of an idea there for those looking for a banner to fight under. Everything that has been done for the benefit of the rich has taken away something from the rest of us and more and more of us are aware of it. Iain Duncan Smith may be offering a brave new idea for a fearful world but he's not offering the help he suggests, just an idea to keep those people still treading water happy. That Nick Clegg should claim this pretence at justice as partially his idea to the dwindling band of loyalists outside the halls of Westminster is a sad reminder, if any were needed, of just who he feels his friends are.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

I'm not stupid, it isn't the economy

James Carville is credited, I believe, with getting Bill Clinton to the White House with the simple campaign  'It's the economy, stupid'. Mr Carville was/is a clever man with a brain a bit bigger than mine but I would like to think that his phrase, or his choice, has been used inappropriately for long enough. I may be stupid, but I don't think it was the economy.

Public pronouncements have a way of being hijacked by loud mouths. We probably all remember Cherie Blair suggesting it was possible to understand the motivation behind the mothers of Palestinian suicide bombers. Within hours the story ran that she was defending suicide bombers, a hopelessly inadequate assessment of a fair comment which should have led to a reasoned debate. Anyone suggesting it isn't all about the economy in public would survive for about five minutes as a serious politician so, thankfully, I'm neither a politician or a public figure. So let me explain myself.

My Liberal past, the one influenced by John Stuart Mill and William E Gladstone and a rag bag bunch of free thinkers, Galbraithian economists and talkative alcoholics led me to believe in the power of society. The seventy or so years we tread the earth should be as enjoyable as possible, the enjoyment derived from interaction within the society you inhabit and contact with the societies you reach out to or are touched by. I fear, though I'm not unbending in my belief, that social Capitalism may well be the best way to achieve this but my starting point was, and remains, that any economic or political structure should be aimed at supporting the ability of an individual to prosper without undue impact on the prospects of others.

On social Capitalism, I recently listened to an interesting debate (Start The Week) on Quaker Capitalism, the belief by founding fathers of major British companies that Capitalism wasn't just about making money, possibly very little to do with making money, but the more to do with the establishment of a welfare state. But I digress.

The economy, however it is driven, is vital in achieving the aims of me and my economic heroes but, and here is my point, it's what the economy does for you that is important. For some, this will be a house in Monaco, for others a desire to let go the restraints of the society that made them but for a goodly majority I think its the absence of fear, the confidence of security, the platform for life that motivates. If it's just about the economy, we could be China, India, we could perhaps go further and become the slave dealing states of ancient worlds or the Imperialist African hungry economies of early and pre-Victorian societies.

Without the means to realise goals we are doomed but without the ability to reach for them we are equally defeated. Like fire and water, the economy is a good servant but a poor master; if we base our future on achieving financial goals we dispense with the need for Government, we are lost. But if we plan for the best possible outcome for everyone we may take the economic decisions that restore our society to balance.

I don't think James Carville meant it was all about the economy to the exclusion of all else but I think many Tories do. I've always thought that. What worries me is that the Liberal party seem increasingly to be trapped into thinking that way, the way of social and economic Darwinists. It's the John Stuart Mill, stupid.

Monday, 8 November 2010

The shop window

I've been busy. I remember Jonathon Sachs explaining on the Today programme how he was taught to expect leisure time to expand as machines took the strain. Capitalism put a stop to that. I often wonder who these dreamers were who worried about excess leisure time, was our future ever so uncertain?

It came to me earlier that the Liberals may just be making a rudimentary error which, when pointed out, will have them back on the right track as soon as the first flush of embarrassment has faded.

Nick Clegg seems convinced that the Coalition is his chance to prove that the Liberal's can handle power when it is thrust upon them. It must seem so from the office of the Deputy Leader. Nick Clegg must think that if the economy improves, the powerless behind the throne will steal some of the glory. His gamble remains that the Coalition will convince voters that the Liberals are a party of Government.

My take on it is that the voters will recognise that the Liberals are able to adapt to retain influence. They might see it as a selfless sacrifice and a few votes may follow but basically, by merging with the ideals of the Tory party, the Liberals have been seen to believe in nothing more than power. And bang, there goes the USP. I see this as a schoolboy error for a party to make but, of course, the party didn't make it, the party leaders did, politicians with jobs and influence and a whole set of new friends explaining the way the world really works.

So, although it came to me earlier that the Ogrons will hold their hand up at some point, it now comes to me, a couple of paragraphs later, that they won't because the rudimentary error I made was in expecting individuals to care much about the aims and beliefs of the political party they belong to when the need to have aims and beliefs has passed. This turns the Liberals into Curiosity Killed The Cat rather than The Clash, corrupted by the seeming success of a mistaken public reaction. Fortunately, I was never in the Cat fan club.

So the older the coalition gets the harder its going to be for me to walk across to shake Clegg's hand and vice versa. We are falling out of love, each knew shock leaving us (well, only me really but that doesn't work for the analogy) betrayed by the depth of misunderstanding. In the Liberal shop window is the ability to rule without, it seems, the inconvenience of obligation. In my shabby corner shop window, the faith in my political and economic beliefs steadfast against the corruption of power.

The only thing perhaps we can both agree on is that the way things are, we may never have enough leisure time for Jonathan Sachs and his generation to worry about. I just happen to think that's a sad thing to contemplate.