Monday, September 20, 2004

LibDem Fudge

Here comes the opening salvo of the Liberal Democrat campaign - the pre-manifesto. Lots of promises, but no price tags - unless you are a high earner. Those can expect a tax rate of 50%. I thought Labour in the 70s had pretty much proved that taxing them 'until the pips squeaked' doesn't work. Those high earners are the ones best placed to find ways around the tax system.

What else? I almost forgot - the Local Income Tax, which is actually a stealth tax increase. They don't tell you about the problems. If your household has only a single earner, then you may well gain, but if you have two wages coming into the house, then the odds are that you will pay more. A police officer and a nurse could end up paying £600 more a year than they do on their Band D property today.

The system will also require some complex gearing up at the Inland Revenue AND some work at the Treasury to ensure that the revenue is balanced out across the country. Won't that put an awful lot more power into the Treasury than it has now?

Finally on the LIT, many people currently in receipt of council tax benefit also pay income tax - how are they going to be helped? Or is this another of those back-of-an-envelope Lib Dem ideas? Like the £8 billion saved by abolishing the DTI - which would also abolish many of the grants and other support given to science and areas in need of investment.

Any idea what's happened to the pledge to privatise the Post Office? Maybe that's gone the way of the now defunct £100 cashback deal on the council tax.

Anyone else noticed how fast the LDs have back-tracked on the 'Orange Book'? Despite it being written by a number of the front-bench team and with a forward by Charlie K himself, the LDs put up Matthew Taylor on the Today programme to defend the abandonment of some plans and explain why this book isn't important.

Still, we've got a week of high-profile LibDemmery from Bournemouth. Wonder if they'll pass any resolutions like the one last year which demanded that a LD government allow 16 year olds to take a full role in the porn industry. Maybe not a burning issue, but clearly close to someone's heart.

..and a step to the right...

If Michael Howard thinks that John Redwood and Nicholas Soames are the answers, does he even know the questions?

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A bit of bad news

I'm sorry to see Estelle Morris step down. She's always struck me as one of the decent, normal folk in politics - we'll be poorer for her absence from Parliament and from Yardley.

I just hope that she isn't standing down to avoid being defeated at the next General Election.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Dubya - Why?

At last week's Republican convention, George Bush included a couple of self-deprecating comments in his nomination acceptance speech:

"People sometimes have to correct my English - I knew I had a problem when
Arnold Schwarzenegger started doing it. Some folks look at me and see a certain
swagger, which in Texas is called walking."

A good line, but shouldn't we be concerned? Would any other politician running for the most powerful job on the planet admit that his language skills aren't up to those of an Austrian actor?

"You may have noticed I have a few flaws too."

Ain't that the truth, George. Like stealing the 2000 election, surrendering the environment and workers' rights to the big business interests, cutting taxes for the rich, dragging the world into a destabilising and unneccessary war, gutting education provisions, dodging military service (and going AWOL from the soft option)....

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel"
Reading the text of the speech and not just the humourous soundbites that made the headline news, I'm reminded of Neil Kinnock's famous speech in advance of the 1983 election. He said that if the Tories win,
"I warn you not to be ordinary, I warn you not to be young, I warn you not to fall ill, and I warn you not to grow old. "
That seems to be good advice for Americans. More deregulation, environmental threats, reform to social security and protecting big companies from consumer lawsuits are all trailed in this speech.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

And they're off

The by-election for Mandy's Hartlepool seat has kicked off, with Peter being appointed to the Crown Stewardship of the Manor of Northstead.

Way back in history, serving as an MP was not an honour that many sought - remember that several Speakers of the House were executed. Since 1623, it has been impossible for an MP to resign - they have to die, Parliament has to be dissolved (as it is at election-time), be disqualified, expelled from the House or elevated to the Lords.

However, if an MP applies for a paid office of the Crown, they cannot continue to serve - as it is impossible to scrutinise your own master. The full details are on the Parliament website. The two main escape routes are the Chiltern Hundreds (in Buckinghamshire) and the Manor of Northstead (Yorkshire), although appointment as a judge would also remove an MP.

The MP has to apply to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for one of these posts (they are usually granted in rotation) and a new appointment revokes that of the previous holder.

Anyone care to bet if Gordon had a smile on his face as he granted the warrant?

Anyway, after that bit of anachronistic flummery, Peter is off to Brussels as an ex-MP and the writ has been moved for the 30 September - rounding off the Labour conference. Cue much flying back and forth between Brighton and Hartlepool, lots of positive press and a bloody nose for the Tories whose conference is the next week.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Iraq not an issue

Now I spent some time campaigning earlier this year in the local elections. I fully expected that the electors would give Labour a good kicking over Iraq - the issue is divisive within the party and I believed that it would be a major issue on the streets.

I was amazed at how little it came up - only a handful of electors even raised it. So the poll in mid-August for The Guardian that put it at the bottom of a list of voter priorities came as no surprise to me.

The future's not orange

No, not a reference to 'Nokia' Davies - quite the most unfortunate choice to fight Hodge Hill on behalf of the LibDems and now off to pursue the Shrewsbury seat to be vacated by the sometime Labour MP and dodgy poet, Paul Marsden. Liberal Democrats seem to be into poetry - LibDem Watch found a charming piece from Jody Dunn, the candidate in the upcoming Hartlepool by-election.

This is about the new Orange Book detailing some proposed policies for a 'New LibDem' manifesto. One of the most interesting policies is a proposal to break up the NHS, which would be independently managed and funded through social insurance. Privatising the NHS - not even Maggie tried to slip that one by us (although I don't doubt that it is on the agenda for the Tories). It isn't so long since the LDs were critical of the government over the new plans to open the NHS up to patient choice.

Now, this isn't a good idea. To allow for choice, you need to have over-capacity and I don't want to pay extra taxes to support this inefficiency. In any case, how is this choice supposed to work? The examples of choice demonstrated so far - taking parental choice in education as an example - suggest that the only people with any real choice are those at the top of society. They can choose private or state education and pay the inflated house prices to move to an area with decent schools. Most people can't do that, so they have to make do with their local schools.

I believe that most people aren't bothered by choice when it comes to healthcare - they just want to know that their local medical services are up to scratch. I'd rather see my taxes going towards improving the standard of healthcare across the board, rather than being used to provide us with a false sense of choice.

Another item on the privatisation list is the Post Office - but then this has been on the manifesto for a while. This rather undermines the vocal LibDem campaigns to save Post Offices across the country, while the plans are there for a Liberal Democrat government to fling the Royal Mail entirely into the marketplace. I'm prepared to place a small bet that this would lead to an awful lot more Post Office closures.

Another item is that they would want to rewrite the UN Charter to legalise international intervention in states guilty of repeated human rights abuses. Apart from the improbability of the UN member states letting this one by, it would have provided a clear legal justification for the invasion of Iraq.

While this is some way from becoming party policy (apart from the Royal Mail privatisation), there are some big front-bench names attached to parts of the book and Charlie Kennedy wrote the forward, so it isn't without force.