Thursday, 24 March 2011

Jeff Randall on 2011 Budget

Between 2000 and 2010, there was a 53 per cent rise in real-terms government expenditure, but GDP went up by only 17 per cent. Jeff Randall clearly explains Labour's deficit overspend in terms that Greek, Irish and Portguese voters will understand.

Ed Miliband preaches the virtues of the "British promise", an unwritten pledge that "each generation will pass to the next a life of greater opportunity, prosperity and wellbeing". Explain to me how this can be achieved if we allow tomorrow's debts to soar so that today's benefits can be funded on tick. There is only one answer - denial.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Budget 2011

So who's being hit in today's budget to finance cuts in fuel duty, 50,000 more apprenticeships and pro-growth business reforms? The bankers through increases to the bank levy, long-term non-doms who'll be paying £50,000 instead of thirty thousand, north sea oil companies sitting on massive profits as a result of huge rises in crude prices and lastly people who are avoiding paying tax. Same old Tories eh?

Blue Labour

People have to take responsibility for their lives but they can't be responsible without having more power says Maurice Glasman in an interesting Analysis program for Radio 4 on Blue Labour. This is the lunacy of the Thatcher and Labour years - we'll do everything for you, you're not going to have any assets, you're not going to have any power at work, you're not going to earn enough to feed your family, but you've got to be a responsible, patriotic citizen. He continues, so what we want is a redistribution of power to people where they live and where they work - and that requires statecraft, it requires the state standing back and trusting people to sort out their problems together.

Sounds like Big Society to me. But in an extraordinary passage he adds I want to return to the Tudor state model where there's a conception of social order, a balance of interests, where there's statecraft, where there's robust, autonomous institutions that defend the good.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Labour's blank sheet of paper

I can make no commitment to do anything differently says Ed Miliband  at a press conference designed to launch new economic policy initiatives yesterday. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls went further Ed Miliband and I are clear on this; no commitments to reverse these changes, they would be irresponsible.

So, hold on. With all these cuts, all this noise, all these headlines, all these policy launches, Labour can make no commitment to do anything differently writes Matthew Hancock. Why, then, should we listen to a word that any Labour frontbencher says? After all, they can make no commitment to do anything differently.

The Government meanwhile, is embarked on radical reform. Things may appear difficult right now, as each vested interest makes their voice heard. But the Coalition are dealing with a huge number of long-standing problems in the national interest - a record deficit, reforming welfare, education, health, pensions, the police, supporting enterprise, and taking millions out of income tax. These reforms are not easy. The benefits will be felt over time. But the contrast is stark between the empty opposition of Labour, and the Government taking on the difficult challenges we face.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Alice Miles on NHS reforms - Go to Cumbria

Rejected by the BMA, the Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Surgeons, physiotherapists, unions, health charities such as DiabetesUK and the British Heart Foundation, not to mention Shirley Williams and the patients themselves writes Alice Thomson in today's Times(£) about the Coalition's proposed NHS reforms. A pretty convincing 'no' you might think. Not quite. Go to Cumbria she urges.

Mr Lansley has been unable to express his plans clearly but in Cumbria they are already working. GPs have control of budgets, they have virtually abolished primary care trusts and, crucially, patients receive better service.

The reforms in Cumbria came about because of a huge funding crisis several years ago when the local primary care trust ended up £37 million in the red. It planned to close all nine of Cumbria's community hospitals to make up the deficit. But then a woman named Sue Page was appointed as Chief Executive and she decided on a new approach - allowing doctors to get involved in decision-making so that they could keep patients out of the two main hospitals and save money.

Putting GPs in charge of a patient's progress allowed more treatment at home and less in expensive hospital beds. Slowly GPs took charge of the local hospitals and finances and by next month they will manage 97 per cent of the £800 million primary care budget. Since they took over there hasn't been one case of drug-resistant clostridium difficile in the nine community hospitals and the average stay has dropped from 36 days to 10.

One GP, Peter Weaving, says: "Its gold standard service on your doorstep, cheaper and better." He is convinced that when his colleagues see the benefits, they will understand the changes.

The first really convincing piece I have read about the Coalition's NHS reforms.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Online delusion?

Do we exhibit distinct 'e-personalities' when online? Research from Stanford University's Elias Aboujaoude suggests we behave like drunks. And not the fun kind, but boastful, bullying and self-pitying drunks. "We binge-shop on Amazon and eBay because it's so easy, we routinely lie about ourselves on Facebook and Myspace and get into nasty fights in chatrooms, where the insult is the default volume because we are anonymous". Interesting piece in The Sunday Times News Review section (which I can't link-to because its an ipad app). Sounds familiar to me.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Prejudice and the ECJ

Do we really want decisions on what our laws should be to be taken by officials who cannot distinguish discrimination from prejudice, or actuaries from Nazis? asks Alastair Palmer in today's Sunday Telegraph. He is talking of course about this weeks ruling by the European Court of Justice that insurers are not entitled to take into account the differences between men and women when charging for policies because it 'discriminates' against one group.

The judges made an elementary mistake about the meaning of the word “discrimination”, confusing the unacceptable practice of manifesting prejudice against groups of people with the perfectly legitimate process of drawing distinctions between them on the basis of well‑attested evidence.

No sane person thinks that by charging them more to insure their cars, companies are treating young men in the way Germany treated the Jews in the Thirties. Faultless logic, perfectly argued.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Charles Moore interviews Mervyn King

If the banks face no risk we shall all go down writes Charles Moore in an excellent piece for today's Telegraph. On the financial crisis, he says that greed and foolishness were rewarded and prudence was punished likening the banks to the powerful but malign vested interests of the 1970's - nationalised industries like British Leyland, the Coal Board and unreformed trade unions: their power lies not in the good they can do, but in the havoc they could wreak pointing out, in Mervyn King's perceptive quote, that the banks are global in life, but national in death. He concludes, I'm glad someone (Mervyn King) is speaking up against a world where morality has simply turned upside down. Well worth reading.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

This is not the end of history

As domino's fall across the Middle East depriving the local bully-boys of their Ba'thist power bases, the BBC talks of 1989 and the velvety-end of communist Eastern Europe emerging chrysalis-like into the sunlit uplands of democratic freedom. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What the Ba'thists celebrated as Arab nationalism, long ago turned into brutal autocratic dictatorship - led by Iraq where the silent witnesses to Saddam's despicable regime are still being discovered in mass graves in the Mesopotamian desert - often without a tongue. Police states run through fear and repression, from Iran in the East to Morocco in the west; Egypt in the north to Yemen in the south. A deep wound on the face of democratic freedom and progression, they are the reason I gave my consent to the invasion of Iraq. I did not do so lightly, nor will again without exacting a much greater level of circumspection.

I note that each domino knows just what they don't want - the current autocrat and their nasty little siblings - but none can articulate exactly what they do want. Tunisia has already reverted to the status quo ante - minus the figurehead who has already fled with the country's wealth. Egypt reverts to rule by an army council - difficult to see how septuagenarian defenders of the former regime are the likely candidates for democratic reform.

What is really needed is a precursor to democracy, a change in culture that allows democracy to seed, grow and flourish. One that presages the end of history - a free press that speaks the truth, an independent judiciary able to stand up to the ruling elite and an end to the corruption that so destroys people's hopes. Only then can we again consent for something so precious as democratic freedom. This is not the end of history and these are not the last men.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Matching Labour's spending plans

Plenty of tribal abuse for George Osborne in yesterday's Guardian from his article called Labour's reality deficit. One argument often used against him on economic policy was that the Conservatives pledged to match Labour's spending plans up until 2008 - the implication being that the Tories were just as complicit in the economic meltdown as Labour. 

But if you look back to Michael Howard's election campaign of 2005, the Conservatives were quite explicit about cutting public spending, albeit by a paltry £2 billion at that time - although Howard Flight and Oliver Letwin appeared to have other ideas. He also committed the party to formally managing immigration in an attempt to engender integration after the years of open-door immigration as well as addressing the widening democratic deficit so apparent across the EU and its institutions. Precisely the issues that have become most problematic for Labour.

And the result? A massive outcry from the left that the 'same old tories' were intent on dismantling the state for ideological reasons (sound familiar?) or are 'institutionally racist' to talk about immigration (remember Gordon Brown's 'bigot-gate' moment?) or are just a bunch of swivel-eyed xenophobic bigots, obsessed by Europe. Although it seems the first unintended consequence of the Lisbon treaty is now going to cost British women around £35bn in additional motor insurance.

Michael Howard lost the election and the easiest way to neutralise the issue was then to accept Labour's spending plans - just as Gordon Brown had accepted Conservative spending plans going into the 1997 election before embarking on a spending spree that our children will still be paying for - through off-balance sheet PFI costs - in thirty years time. What will be interesting to see, is what Labour commits itself to in the next parliament for reducing the other half of that record deficit it racked up whilst in office. It seems that Labour did indeed find a very successful way of binding the hands of its successors.