Category Archives: Financial Times

Lib Dems: They Just Don’t Get It


There is now a Lib Dem mantra designed to show how Government has been materially improved becaus of its involvement in the Coalition. What we have, it might be supposed, is really a Lib Dem administration. The party can come up with a long list of its achievements. One by one Lib Dem policy dreams have been put into place. It is necessary  side for the purpose of this argument to recognise that there are   policies that those of us on the left can support: higher personal tax allowances, improvement of tax credits for the very poor. the triple lock on increases in the state pension, the Pupil Premium to help some disadvantaged poor children. Good on you, say I.

Do these policy changes make people less poor?  Yes, they do in a way. However, alas and alack, the imposition of VAT dwarfs these advantages and the poor will get poorer. I will not dwell on the LiB Dem opposition to any VAT increase in the General Election campaign except to comment the they were against it. We all remember the poster. They were against increases in tuition fees too and then suddenly they were not.

But what is the heart of the matter. Remember, the Lib Dems were against cuts in public expenditure on the scale propsed by the Tories. Now they are not. What they tell us now  is that these cuts are necessary and like Pilgrims Progress to the promised land they bring us all closer to full employment, rising living standards and sunshine. Trust us, you will see how wise we are it is said.

The Lib Dems no longer command trust. But are they right? Certainly the OBR has consistently produced economic forecasts that suggest they might be. We are days away now from a reckoning. The first quarter GDP figures for the for 2011 is soon to be announced. It may be that over the last six months the British economy may not have grown at all, or if it has it will be  at some miserable annualised rate. Unemployment may be rising not falling, inflation will continue to work its way up and not down and real incomes will be squeezed further. I do not know whether the OBR will be asked for a revised forecast but even if they are not asked, it is highly likely that some other respected forecasting institute will make a good fist of doing it.  And what will be observed? I anticipate it: a rising budget deficit and no chance of the Coalition’s economic objective of eliminating the deficit by 2015 being achieved.

Is this not the real charge against the Lib Dems? Not the cavilling  daily objections to their nonsense BUT one overriding error. On the essential and over-reaching issue of how to keep the economy growing and the public deficit falling THEY ARE PLAIN WRONG. The Lib Dems have sold their soul for a mess of potage to find it uneatable. The electorate will not forget it and a day of reckoning is close.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under BBC, Budget 2011, Cabinet, Coalition Government, Deficit, Economics, Ed Balls, Financial Times, George Osborne, IFS, Labour Blogs, Lib Dem blogs, Lib Dem Conference, Nick Clegg, OBR, Politics, Public Services, Rising prices, Spending Review, Treasury, University fees

Time To Get Real


On  29 November an updated report by the OBR will be published and George Osborne will give his reaction to it in the House of Commons. In July, when the OBR last reported,  Alan Budd was at pains to underline that his forecast was subject to massive uncertainy and that the Government’s policies to reduce the deficit had only a 40 percent chance of success. Despite these uncertainties commentators in millions of miles of typescript have confidently forecast the future  whether they were predicting runaway success for the Coalition  or double dip recession. Arguably, anything that has happened over the last six months should be written down to the Labour Government, credits and failures alike, but anything that happens from this point is down to the Coalition whose plans have been solidified. What will the OBR forecast reveal?

1. Uncertainty. Levels of uncertainty will be as great for our economic future is in the main determined outside the UK by happennings largely outside our control. World economic growth has slowed, currencies are in turmoil and British export growth is more precarious.

2. Growth and Employment. Alan Budd’s confident 2011 forecast of growth in the economy and high employment will be scaled back. In 2011 there will be no double dip but a churning along in bottom gear. Unemployment will rise in the immediate future before falling in later years.

3 As a consequence tax revenue will be scaled back and progress on deficit reduction  will be slower.

Here is a point then of realism.This is how the pigeons will , most likely, come to roost.  And what is to be done now after the gloss is worn thin? George Osborne will bluster it out. What else can he do? But  this call to reckoning is not for the Coalition alone, for eyes an ears will point at Labour. The electorate will wish to know what Labour would do if the Government. If Labour wishes to be pragmatic and oppositional and take things year by it must at least come up with a clear statement of what it would cut in 2011/2 and what changes in taxation it now supports.  Labour is in danger of losing public respect by obfuscation. It is time for Labour to be transparent and convincing behind a coherent policy agenda.

If Labour does this the electorate can choose. The lists will be drawn and the true battle begin. The economic future will remain murky but the issues will be rendered clearer. For Labour it is a call for Leadership.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alan Budd, BBC, Cabinet, Cameron, Coalition Government, Darling, Deficit, Economics, Ed Milliband, Financial Times, George Osborne, IFS, Labour leadership, Liberal Voice, New Stateman, OBR, Spending Review, Treasury

Coalition Symptoms of Madness


I am a social psychologist specialising in group behaviour and I have been asked to determine whether the Coalition government in its frenzied determination to make  deep and irrevocable cuts in public expenditure is mad. In the first place I would point out that the behaviour of a group as opposed to a single indivdual cannot really be described as mad. Put it this way, if someone you know insists he is Napoleon Bonaparte or a hatstand you might reasonably accept, on the evidence of bystanders, that he is barking: but what if 30 people came to the same conclusion? Might we not hesitate? It would seem unlikely but if thirty people with ordinary features and characteristics were to say so you might hesitate: perhaps, they are right and you are wrong. Still, I think you would come to the same conclusion.

Let’s look at it another way. I shall list some symptoms and characteristics that indicate madness in a group of people in a clinical sense.1. This group has been scorned and rejected for a long period of time and now comes into its own. They are right. They have always been right, yah boo!2. The Group has a divine right to act out its beliefs in public, whatever the evidence may say to the contary. 3. This divine mission cannot be changed to suit the circumstances and events of the time. God cannot be challenged and his mission is sacrosanct.4. Those who challenge the mission  are accredited agents of the devil. 5. God created group members in his own image. People like us, having been so created, are entitled to re-build the world in our own image. God’s values are our own and we insist upon them.7. Revolutionary methods are appropriate because the world has departed too far from God’s/our own image of it.8 The telling of whoppers in pursuit of our mission is justified. They have served God’s disciples well down the ages. 9. There is little time to waste. God’s tasks are challenged every day. 10 We have no fear of God’s verdict But it would be prudent to shift Judgement Day well into the future.

You might think that these ten points do describe the Coalition’s behaviour (it is not an acceptable objection to this conclusion to say, you must be talking about our darts team, social club or trade union branch). What you ask can be done about it?

Let us be guided by good literature. In Alison Lurie’s, The Seekers, God did not appear to an evangelical group at the time predicted. Members melted away and took up hobbies and one went clinically mad, although he might have been pretending. In Lord of the Flies a group of boys were rescued from a desert island in time to prevent a murder. If a group is mad events will not work out as predicted by it. Its members become demoralised and others come to the rescue. However, madness and mad behaviour can be harmful. Learn how to recognise it and resist, offer sane alternatives, appeal to the public’s good sense (well you have to believe in something!) Act at the earliest possible moment before irreperable damage is done. Touch wood before you go out to work in the morning. And good luck!

Leave a comment

Filed under Alan Budd, BBC, Big society, Cabinet, Cameron, Coalition Government, Conservative Home, Financial Times, George Osborne, Guardian, Labour Blogs, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Voice, New Stateman, Nick Clegg, Parliament, Politics

Coalition Illegitimacy


The  Coalition wishes to make significant constitutional and social changes. The process will begin this autumn. It cannot be argued that many of these changes have the endorsement of the electorate for no one voted for the Coalition or the patchcock coalition agreement. It might be argued that the Coalition partners received the votes of sixty per cent of the votes cast in the General election and that some of these  changes were foreshadowed in the General Election compaigns of both the Tory and Lib Dem partners. Surely, that suffices to claim a mandate? Well no, it doesn’t. Pushing through these changes relies on the doctrine of the sovereignty of Parliament: the majority in the House of Commons can do what it wants.

In such a situation it might be thought that the Coalition government should not embark on far-reaching changes that do not necessarily command support among the electorate as a whole; changes that a new government will find  difficult to reverse. Not so the Coalition is pressing on with unflagging zeal (indecent haste) to impose on us  its vision for the future.

Those who object will find it difficult to make headway. It is true that Coalitions are popular with the electorate to the very point of their collapse. The history of  20th century coalitions tell us that they invariabley commanded more than fifty percent of any poll. Today, even accepting the dire circumstances, it is true that the Coalition commands the support of 50 per cent of more of the electorate. It is open to the Coalition to pre-run elections where the weaker of the two coalition partners stands down for the benefit of the other. In a General Election campaign such an arrangement, if tolerable to  grass root activists, would save many seats. If this were to be a nationwide tactic the Labour Party would need over 45 % of the vote to win. A little political gerrymandering along the lines already put forward by the Colation parties might require an even bigger Labour share of the vote. No political party in recent times has polled half the vote.

Is it all hopeless then? Can the the Coalition literally do anything it likes, claim a mandate and win an election even if it is called early? I think not. In practice parliamentary sovereigny is a chimera and cannot be relied upon. The key to change lies with Lib Dem backbench MPs. If they decide enough is enough they can call halt the Tory gallop[ to utopia. You do not need a majorityof the House of Commons to bring down a government; a large scale desertion short of a majority will do. Is this what will happen? Well it might you know. It is possible.

Leave a comment

Filed under BBC, Big society, Coalition Government, Financial Times, Guardian, Labour Blogs, Labour Home, Labour leadership, Labour Ministers, Labour Party, Lib Dem blogs, Lib Dem MPs, Lib Dems, Liberal Voice, Local elections, New Stateman, Parliament, Referendum, Take Back Parliament, Voting reform

Mandelson and the Millibands


Contrary to many comments, Labour members have a choice at the coming leadership election; between a long term commitment to  reassuring their members and erstwhile supporters or winning new adherents to an appealing alternative programme to  Coalition budget cuts and an immediate challenge to its authority.

There is a case for either. What do we think will happen? Can the Coalition be swept aside by public repuganance to its programme. If Boy George is stupid enought to press on with 25-40% public expenditure cuts when the economic recovery is stuttering to a halt, public repugnance may sweep the Coalition aside and the Labour Party might achieve a majority in its own right in an early election. If you believe that there is no space for genuflecting to a pre-New Labour past, teeth-gnashing and confession. If you believe the first, you should  vote for David Milliband. As the person with the most serious, senior experience of Government, he is your man for a snap General Election. It is said that David Cameron’s nightmares are focussed on the possibility of a quick and bloodless Labour transition to David Milliband.

Labour voters have an alternative candidate in Ed Balls. If you believe that the issue of the economy will be the one and over-riding issue of this notional snap election then Ed Balls is your man. At his best Ed Balls has  Churchillian qualities: he is pugnacious, and combative and (with a little help on delivery)  the best equipped candidate to be convincing on the economy. But for the disasters of war, Churchill would not have found his way to power in 1940. Do we not have economic disasters of commensurate gravity now?

If you believe that the Coalition will last a full term, which remains the view of academic pundits and right-wing journalists, Labour does not need David Milliband or Ed Balls. Anyone will do. Why not the engaging and popular Ed Milliband. If the latter it is likely that good sense will disappear in a welter of apologies for the past and the party will cease to be relevant. Labour will risk being  out of power for a very long time.

I favour an endeavour to sweep the Coalition from power as soon as possible before too much damage has been done to British society. There is a military analogy. Can we summon up the blood and sinews (do we have the will and have we got enough money); can we few, when confronted by the many triumph, (although weak, do we have a winning  strategy and do our enemies have exploitable waeknesses), if we are prepared can we catch them unprepared (do not underestimate your enemy he has probably anticipated your coming).

The Coalition cannot be assured of the whole hearted support of its troops: there are weaknesses on the  left flank, some of who have deserted the field and others who are switching sides. After a period of negotiation a cavalry charge is required here.

So in the final issue the choice is clear. For Victory in an early battle choose one of two Generals David Milliband or Ed Balls; for a long and inconclusive guerilla campaign, select Captain Ed Milliband.

Leave a comment

Filed under BBC, Cameron, Churchill, Coalition Government, Conservative Home, David Milliband, Ed Balls, Ed Milliband, Financial Times, George Osborne, Guardian, Labour Blogs, Labour Goverment, Labour Party, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Voice, Mandelson, New Stateman, NHS, Nick Clegg, Parliament, Take Back Parliament

Austerity Without Impoverishment?


The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Few doubt the sincerity of Lib Dem members of the Government: they do genuinely wish to be fair and to reduce  poverty, especially among children but outcomes depend on the implementation of the right policies not Conference resolutions. These thoughts are prompted by a report of the Institute For Fiscal Studies (IFS) which concludes that as a result of fiscal measures take by the Coalition todate the poorest families will lose five times as much as richer childless families, as a percentage of their annual income,  over the next four years.

The debate about this  will need to address a central dilemma, The question is:  when real incomes fall, as they will over the next four years, can you protect the poor and vulnerable? No, you can’t. The popular ditty is right: ‘the poor get poorer and the rich get richer.’ But you can alleviate the impact of fiscal constriction. The burden of cuts cannot all be borne by the public sector for poor people are more dependant on them and the incidence of tax increases must not fall unfairly on the poor. The case against the VAT increase, despite the increasingly sophisticated reasoning in its favour, is a case in point.

The Lib Dems cannot prevent unfairness by talking the talk. The truth is that they have sold out. They are committed to support Tory policies to eliminate the budget deficit in four years and mainly by swinging cuts in public services. You can’t help the poor by contracting the economy, reducing their chances of a job, and  slowing the growth of national income. Chickens will come home to roost. If you are patient and wait a short time you will see them return.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alan Budd, BBC, Big society, Cabinet, Cameron, Child poverty, Coalition Government, Financial Times, Guardian, IFS, Labour Blogs, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Voice, New Stateman, Parliament, Politics, Poverty, Social justice, Statistics, Treasury

All Things are Equal But…


It has become a feature of Lib Dem and Conservative blogs to produce policy lists   which they claim prove that the Coalition  is a radical and reforming government. These individual claims are dodgy in themselves but the rest of us might conclude that they amount to little in total compared to the damage about to be inflicted on people up and down the country. To paraphase George Orwell, all things are equal but some things are more equal than others.The Coalition programme is an agreement that the Tories can do what they wish on the economy in return for minor concessions to the Lib Dem’s  on policy intiatives that are dear to them. It is not a zero sum game.

It is worth repeating that the Lib Dems opposed the Tory programme of public expenditure cuts and tax increases in the General Election. Can they be forgiven for an act of betrayal  of  their supporters and to the country as a whole ? Are the concessions they wrung from the eager Tories hungry for office a price worth paying? There are two considerations. First, what is the price? It is entirely resonable to conclude it is going to be extremely high: lost economic output, hundreds of thousands , perhaps millions,  of unemployed, falling real incomes, and numerous personal and family tragedies. Despite their  last minute conversion to Tory economics,  any Lib Dem worth his salt must be heavy-hearted at the consequences of Lib Dem betrayal . The claim that cuts on the scale of those proposed are inevitable now carries no conviction, they have become faint as more and more people come to realise that the cuts  are not required and, indeed, will be  positively harmful to the economy. And secondly, what do they gain? It is a pathetic and deceptive list. There are tax  changes to help the poor that are swallowed up by unemployment and higher prices; civil liberty gains, that make our roads more dangerous our borders more porous, increases the terrorist threat and reduces the ability of the police to catch guilty offenders by use of the DNA database;  opposition to nuclear power generation that threatens our ability to have sufficient power in years to come, and defence cuts which reduce the ability of our armed forces to protect us. The list is seemingly endless. In themselves these changes are paltry. The majority of us  recognise that the fruitless  years of derided Lib Dem policy formulation has  been rewarded by public office. It would be laughable if it were not so damaging to us all.

It is  time to call a halt. If we are well led, if we are brave  and defiant the tide can be turned in the autumn. It is  time for men of goodwill to come together to turn back the tide. Unfortunately, in Parliament that will be the responsibilty of the Lib Dem MPs whose supine behaviour got us to this point in the first place. They don’t have to do this to us all. They can decline to join in. It may be the only way  they can save their seats is by backtracking. If you cannot do it for us, do it for youself.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alan Budd, BBC, Cameron, Civil liberties, Conservative Home, Crime, Deficit, Financial Times, George Osborne, Guardian, Labour Blogs, Labour Goverment, Labour leadership, Labour Ministers, Labour Party, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Voice, Nick Clegg, Parliament, Politics

Stop the Bus…Please


We live in a capitalist society and  put our faith in hard work and markets to make us wealthier – and for most of us, for most of the time, it works. Every day we get up at the alarm, rush to the office or factory, depositing the kids at school on the way, we work hard and collapse before the tele on our return. By our efforts the world turns round and by and large it suits us well. The dynamic of the economy that governs is is human greed (think of the bankers), ambition and rapacity. These are not pleasant qualities and from time to time we dream of other types of society based on higher principles, say cooperation, but somehow they lack conviction. Oh well, set the alarm.

These thoughts are prompted by Boy George and his attempts to stop econonmic growth in Britain and, if he had his way. elsewhere in the world. I have a vision of George as a young boy. He was told to visit his granny. All he wanted was to do was to watch the footie on TV. Grannie was kind and let him watch on her tellie. Dismay. Her set was black and white. He demands an explanation. Henry and I decided at the start of our life together never to borrow – no mortgages, no loans. If you wanted something, you saved your money and when you had enough you bought it. It’s cheaper that way. Wise words and George remembered them. Imagine his dismay when after all that political manouvering he arrives at the Treasury to find the nation in debt (no surprise there George the nation has always been in debt!) Alas and alack. Let’s get rid of it as fast as we can, he cries to astonished servants of the state,  before it contaminates everything. If that’s what you want Chancellor, he must have been advised, you must do things  which will stop economic growth, citizens will fall off the roundabout, alarm clocks will no longer, be produced as  jobs are lost, and there will be much wailing in the land, Fear not, says Boy George, thinking of his grannie, all will be well in the end. In the end Chancellor, it might have been said, we are all dead. And they left to plan their own redundancy.

George, George, it ill becomes me, a pale and timid social democrat, to offer you advice BUT be a man George, be a capitalist, be brave and recognise a pup when you see one. Away with this nonsense of the Big Society (in our house we call it Big Utopia). We wish to go on as usual. We are willing to work, have our foreign holidays as usual, celebrate in the pub. When some of us voted for you (not in our house, George) we thought you were a capitalist and now we find  that you are a member of the Grannie Party and what is more a Lib Dem (no votes for that George even in the whole street). Please George be brave. I can tell  from your language that you have now reached chapter 9 of your economics primer, read quickly, get to chapter 13. Managing an Economy Through  a Depression. Interesting reading George. Go on, you can do it.

Leave a comment

Filed under BBC, Big society, Cameron, Coalition Government, Deficit, Financial Times, George Osborne, Guardian, Labour Blogs, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Voice, New Stateman, Nick Clegg, Politics, Treasury

Reading the Economic Runes


The economic runes become unreadable at moments of transition. Clearly the West has been moving away from a severe global downturn  but only after a massive world-wide financial intervention by European and US administrations and at at huge political and economic cost to  the participating countries. There is little appetite for more financial pump-priming, necessary though it may be, among  electorates, parties or governments. As at all times of transition there are good signs and bad: employment in Britain is rising, currencies are stronger, the cost of financing debt has fallen and the balance of payments is moving in our favour. However, these changes lack permanency for we are selling into stagnant markets and are busily destroying hundreds of thousands of jobs; consumer and business coinfidence has fallen steadily to be  suspended now  in no man’s land.

It cannot continue like this and although,  in economic management as in life, experience is not normally at the extremes, these coming  moments may be different. We cannot look to Obama and the United States for economic leadership for the President is running scared of the mid-term elections and Gordon Brown (of blessed memory) is no longer with us. In his place we have governmental pygmies and a painful and unconvincing contest for the leadership of the Labour Party which so far has served us ill.

The proving ground (I almost wrote killing ground!) comes upon us in  October with the pre-budget report. If, as I believe, the economic position will have worsened something (surely something!) must be done to steady our ship of State and to draw back from hara-kiri. There is a key role for the Opposition: it is a time to be clear and decisive about what must be cut and what saved and what more can be done internationally and nationally to prevent the drift into a decade of economic depression, and   a downward economic cycle. It is only when we have a clear political alternative  that we can find an economic one. Might this not be the time when an olive branch can be given to those glum Lib Dem members that occupy benches on the wrong side of the House and shouldn’t we be thinking of it NOW. It took the Coalition six days to cobble together a programme for Government. What can the progressive Left put together in ten weeks? Surely something a good deal better,  not just for Britain, but for the world’s trading community, can be fashioned from the ruins of the old?

Leave a comment

Filed under Alan Budd, BBC, Big society, Cameron, Coalition Government, Deficit, Europe, Financial Times, George Osborne, Gordon Brown, Guardian, Labour Blogs, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Vision, Nick Clegg, Obama, OBR, Parliament, Politics, Statistics, Treasury, Uncategorized

The Big Decision


Leave a comment

Filed under Alan Budd, BBC, Big society, Cameron, Coalition Government, Deficit, Financial Times, George Osborne, Guardian, Nick Clegg, OBR, Uncategorized