How to tell when a reform wouldn’t really change a thing

When Tories support it. Wholeheartedly.

Gosh, that didn’t take long, did it?

Advertisements

George Osborne Is Still Not Fit To Be Chancellor

Today’s Guardian has this story about inconsistencies in George Osborne’s claimed savings from raising the male pension age:

The NIESR said Osborne’s team had made a mistake in their calculations, misreading a paper written by the thinktank earlier this year. Osborne aides originally based their calculations on a NIESR document in the House of Commons library. After his speech the thinktank sought clarification of his assumptions. It has recalculated the figures and will present them at a conference on Monday.

The NIESR aren’t, of course, the first people to wonder whether everything about Osborne’s plans really adds up; the Lib Dems’ very own Work and Pensions guru spotted this one a few days ago, commenting:

The only other explanation is that this is a figure for a whole Parliament – ie an annual saving times 5. Presumably in the 2016 to 2020 Parliament you could save over £10 billion from this measure, and then you are not far off the Tory figure. But the impression they seem to want to give is that this is a huge and specific cut, when, in the context of a Government deficit this year forecast to be in excess of £175 billion, £2 billion saving on pensions starts to look a lot more modest. Surely they can’t be trying to mislead us??

Why yes, Steve, they might just be. Not quite the fiddle you guessed, instead they are quoting the figures to us not in today’s money, but in 2020 money:

A spokesman for Osborne said the £13bn savings included inflationary rises between 2009 and 2020.

This, despite NIESR’s judgment that “There is no way of knowing how much it will save except in today’s money,” adding that (in today’s money) “the package that the Conservatives are proposing … will only raise £4bn [in 2016]”. The savings the Tories are talking about will only really fill out in about 2023. Not really going to help much with the deficit in the meantime, is it?

As our own Lord Oakshott comments in the Guardian’s piece: “This saga of incompetence and dishonesty shoots to pieces his claims to be a responsible chancellor.” Coming hot on the heels of a conference where the Tories main aim seemed to be to polish up George Osborne’s reputation and make him look chancellor-like, this is a bit of a problem for George. After all, it doesn’t look great for the NIESR to be holding a conference on Monday at which they essentially mark George’s work, and give him a “must try harder”.

Like Matthew Oakshott said at conference, Vince is a professional, George is an amateur. Not only do we realise it, not only do most people in business and finance realise it, but the Tories know it. Deep down. I watched the conference coverage of Tory conference on BBC Parliament. Ignoring, for a moment, the rather sullen response he got to some of his speech, lets talk instead about how many veiled criticisms were voiced from both the floor and the stage about Osborne’s lack of experience. On the afternoon when Ken Clarke spoke, the session which he lead was full of comments to the effect that people without any business experience shouldn’t be running our economy, to warm applause from the floor. All very well when you’re pointing up some of the experience of the Tory party’s business team, many of them parachuted straight from industry into the Lords, but it rather falls down when you remember that Boy George has done almost nothing in the world of business either.

Wikipedia offers us this summary of George Osborne’s experience before going into politics:

Osborne’s first job was to provide data entry services to the National Health Service to record the names of people who had died in London. He also briefly worked for Selfridges. He originally intended to pursue a career as a journalist, but, after missing out on a position at a national newspaper, was informed of a vacant job at the Conservative Central Office.

Brilliant. OK, so that’s not necessarily a sympathetically written description. But even the Tories’ own website can only manage this:

After a short spell as a freelance journalist, George joined the Conservative Research Department in 1994 and has since dedicated himself wholly to politics.

It doesn’t exactly suggest the kind of background experience that was repeatedly called for at Tory Conference, does it? I might as well throw in, for good measure, a quick reminder: Vince Cable was Chief Economist for Shell. Just mentioning.

The Tories hoped, following a decent conference turn from George, that these waverings might be dying away. George has come of age, they said. But it’s not just this, we’ve also recently had George’s imaginary secret documents. It’s quite clear that George still hasn’t learned to read those details properly. Many more revelations like these, and I’m not convinced that he’s quite so secure in his position as people assume.

And if he stays, and the Tories are serious about installing him as Chancellor, then we all ought to be very worried.

How Shropshire Voted… And What It Got

Well, as I sit here awaiting the trickle of Euro election results, I’ve been doing a spot of number crunching for my local council in Shropshire, a newly created unitary. You can see the results in the chart below. In light of the reputation of Lib Dem bar charts, I thought I’d go with a pie chart. On the outside, you can see the votes cast, and on the inside, you can see the makeup of the council that those votes produced.

As you can see, the wonders of FPTP have struck again. Thank goodness FPTP produces strong, decisive governments. I would hate to think of a party who attracted under 50% of the vote being rewarded with anything other than a stranglehold over the council.

I will console myself with the knowledge that in Shrewsbury & Atcham, we comfortably pushed Labour into third place, with Labour seeing their share of the vote going down by over 14%. In 2005, the county council elections saw Labour in second place, so this could well be an important development for Shrewsbury. In the rest of Shropshire, the Lib Dem vote is more than three times the Labour vote.

Hopefully, this means that, in four years time, if the Tory administration is unpopular, we will be the natural anti-incumbent vote in much of the county.

Open Primaries: An Alternative Answer?

Looking at the Tory talking heads on the news this morning, it appears that, in an attempt to head off electoral reform at the pass, their response to the public wanting a way to chuck out their MP at the ballot box is…. open primaries, USA-style.

Well, it’d be a start. The difference between that and multi-member STV, of course, is that is retains the idea of a party safe seat, but it does indeed allow the public to chuck out one particular person. It’s not, actually, as bad an idea as AV+, which I think would just give electoral reform in general a bad name. But it’s not great. If this gained a bit of momentum, though, and turned into a wholesale debate, along party lines (Labour: AV+, Tory: Open Primaries, LibDems: Multi Member STV), then obviously we’d be in the right, but if it came down to it, we should probably support the Tories over Labour (assuming the policies I posit above, of course).

Daniel Hannan, Guido and the American Right

Guido is terribly proud that Daniel Hannan’s speech, straight out of the Guido playbook of diagnosing Gordon Brown’s “pathologies” and wrapping himself in libertarian bollocks, has become something of an internet sensation. Noting that the clip has attracted the attention of such illustrious organs as the Drudge Report, he declares:

Cometh the hour, cometh the man – we are all ditto-heads now; Rushies and the Co-Conspirators.

He slightly surprises me with his eagerness to take up the mantle of “dittohead“, but it fits like a charm. After all, doesn’t Guido’s blog have exactly the same right-wing echo chamber effect as Rush and Fox News do for the US? Isn’t his comments thread full of the same brand of half-sentient hate-spewing twats that call Rush? Guido seems to be embracing the comparison before any of his regular critics really articulated it properly, just to block off that particular line of attack.

Anyway, on to the clip itself. Since it was released on Tuesday, it has become remarkably well exposed; yesterday it was the most watched clip on YouTube. So is it all that remarkable? Well, to be fair, it’s well crafted, to the point, snappy, and clearly expresses Hannan’s position. What’s more surprising is that it achieved this without much exposure at all from the MSM in the UK. Interestingly, Hannan has become something of a hero to the US right, with Rush Limbaugh (de facto leader of the Republicans) endorsing his words, Fox News cheerleader for the markets Neil Cavuto interviewing him, and well known crazy person Glen Beck inviting him on his show too.

Why, then, are the UK Conservatives not more proud of him? Hannan seems to be viewed by his own party as a slightly loose cannon, being one of the more headbanging eurosceptics in the party, a cheerleader for joining the loony fringe of Europe, and in fact he’s already been expelled from the EPP himself.

In many ways, the interviews with the US media are rather more revealing than the speech itself. In the Cavuto interview, he pretty much takes ownership of being the”do nothing” party (look at about 3 mins in), and answers “yes” in response to the question “in the same situation [of the US banking crisis], would you have said “Let ’em rip”?”.

I have to say, watching those videos is quite entertaining in at least one respect: the right wings of both our countries are currently maintaining that their particular screamingly socialist government is taking their country to much lower depths than are to be found anywhere else in the world. The result, when you bring the two together, is a pissing contest. Witness much claiming to have it worst from both sides of the pond.

The most amusing bit, though, is this big stompy red quote from Guido: “It is the speech that many Republicans wish they had someone to deliver to Obama“. Um, no. The Republicans have plenty of populist ranters who could deliver a little mini-speech like this. Trouble is, none of them could say it with a straight face, because unlike Gordon Brown, Barack Obama hasn’t been in the driving seat for the last ten years. He’s been there for three months. If the Republicans tried to pull this, they would rightly be derided, because it was George Bush who turned a surplus inherited from Clinton into a deficit.

Daniel Hannan is said to be somewhat perplexed at the traction he has achieved in the US. Let me help you out, Daniel: It’s a distraction. Like so much that the Republican noise machine does, it’s a talking point to try to prove a point from a country with different circumstances to those of the US, and then import the “take home message” to the US, without people noticing the bait and switch they’ve just been offered whereby something that reflects badly on the Republicans becomes the fault of “socialists” over there in Yerp. There’s a reason they’d rather talk about the backstory in someone else’s country: it’s because they’ve only been the opposition for three months, and most of that backstory in the US is their backstory.

David Cameron’s Homophobic New Friends

Paul Waugh at the Evening Standard has pointed out that the parties that the Tories are proposing to ally themselves with in the European Parliament include the Polish Law and Justice Party. He points out that one of the party’s MPs made the pretty interesting remark: “Obama is an approaching catastrophe. This marks the end of white man’s civilisation.”

Their founder is also a climate change denier, quoted as saying that “Global warming is a false myth and every serious person and scientist says so.”

A quick scout round the internets produces some more interesting information. The co-founder and current chair of the party, Jarosław Kaczyński, has, for instance, been quoted as saying that “The affirmation of homosexuality will lead to the downfall of civilization.” This, just to be cheap for a second, from a man who is unmarried and lives with his mother.

Meanwhile, the Tories have been hiding behind Kaczynski’s twin brother Lech, who is the current President of Poland, pointing out that he has disowned the remarks made by one of their MPs about Obama.

Maybe, but the charge of a homophobic party is rather less easily shrugged off. Lech Kaczyński himself, on a state visit to Ireland, was quoted as saying that the human race “would disappear if homosexuality was freely promoted”. In march last year he broadcast a video of a gay American couple’s wedding on Polish national television, to warn the nation that supporting the Lisbon Treaty, and therefore the EU Charter of Human Rights, would mean that same-sex marriage could come to Poland.

Make no mistake, this party has made homophobia a centrepiece of its identity.

If the Tories think it’s unfair that people are mocking them for leaving the EPP Group in favour of joining forces with Europe’s nutters, they’ve got some explaining to do.

Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: , , . 2 Comments »

Cameron Tries To "Nudge" His Way Out Of Recession

The Tories have announced a plan today to give companies National Insurance breaks on employing people who have been unemployed for over 3 months. Detail on their website, but the gist is this:

It costs the government £8100 per annum in benefits payments and lost income tax receipts to support an unemployed person. So their proposal is as follows:

Private sector employers, who hire someone who has been claiming unemployment benefits for more than three months (13 weeks) and who has not previously worked for that company in the previous year, would receive a credit against Employers National Insurance Contributions. The credit would be worth £2,500 for full time jobs of 30 hours a week or more, or half that amount for part time work of 16 hours a week or more. It would be phased out beyond the higher rate tax threshold so that only basic rate taxpayers would be eligible for the full amount.
• To prevent companies making people redundant in order to replace them and claim the tax cut, the payment would only be available to companies that had made no redundancies in the previous three months, or for three months after claiming the credit.
• To limit the amount given in tax cuts to companies who are already growing rapidly, the tax cut would be limited to a maximum of 20 per cent of the workforce of any one company.
• The credit would be available for one year after the employee starts their new job.

David Cameron doesn’t believe you can borrow your way out of a recession, it seems. Instead, he seems to intend to Nudge his way out of one. It’s a pity, then, that in the words of Nick Clegg, “Cameron has drawn the fly on the floor”. This doesn’t help anyone who is already in a job. It doesn’t help businesses who are struggling to keep employing the people they already employ. It doesn’t seem likely to boost consumer spending all that much. It doesn’t even seem likely to genuinely get all that many people back into employment. All it really does is tip the scales in favour of people who have been unemployed for over 3 months.

Let’s look at this from the point of view of the people it’s aimed at: employers (and note, in passing, that the last two Tory tax announcements – VAT delay, and now this – have been aimed at helping business, not people in the most direct sense).

To employ someone on minimum wage full time costs them about £11,000 (depends what hours they’re on, so no point being too precise here). £5682 of that is above the Earnings Threshold, so National Insurance is paid on it, to the tune of 12.8%, or £727. So overall it costs the employer £11,727 to employ someone on the minimum wage. The Tory credit reduces that to £9227. Essentially, the Tories want to reduce the price of employing someone on minimum wage by 21%.

The significance of these credits only gets lower the higher the wage you’re talking about. Someone on £20,000 costs their employer £21,891 to employ. That becomes £19,391, a cut of 11%. Or if you’re on £30,000, it costs your employer £33,171, becoming £30,671, a cut of 8%. Much beyond that, the credits stop under the plan in question. So the jobs this is likely to have most impact on is those at the bottom end of the pay scale.

Fair enough. But now ask yourself this: Are you, a struggling company in the middle of a recession, going to set yourself back £9227 a year to employ someone who is currently unemployed out of the goodness of your own heart? I suggest that the answer is no. I suggest that most of the companies who are going to be taking people on in the next few years are the ones who had a pretty good chance of employing some extra people anyway: businesses who are just filling gaps left by employees leaving, or who are recruiting people they would have needed anyway. The Tories themselves admit that this would be true to some extent; the £2500 figure is based on an estimate that only ~31% of the jobs that would be created under this scheme wouldn’t have been created anyway. I suspect it would be rather less than that, depending on how bad the recession gets.

Is it too cynical of me to suspect that this isn’t really a Tory prescription for the recession at all? I reckon what this is is a bit of policy they had on the back burner as a remedy for long-term unemployment, which has been tweaked a bit and packed up in a shiny new box that says “Tax Cut!” on it, to cover up for the fact that the Tories, and specifically Gideon Osborne, don’t know anything about the economy, really, and it has only become obvious to them relatively recently that the “responsibility … sharing the proceeds of growth … no irresponsible tax cuts” line wasn’t going to cut it any more. Everyone else is talking tax cuts now, but they’ve got nothing much to announce, and the fiddly bits and pieces they’d come up with so far (Council Tax “freeze”, Marriage Bonus, Inheritance Tax threshold to millionaire-friendly level, etc) were looking a bit shabby and tight-fisted in comparison. Hence today’s policy.

It’s a good job we’ve got an economic team who were able to beat the rest of the parties to it, despite the slowing effect of the Lib Dem policy ratification process, isn’t it? We’ve had a revenue neutral package to really help people on low and middle incomes for over a year now. The way to create job growth is to give everyone a significant amount of their own money back. Spending goes up, jobs are really created, etc. Today’s Tory plan does next to nothing to mitigate the recession.

Go back to your drawing board and try again, Gideon and Dave.