Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Out of ideas - or not in power?

Douglas Carswell, the Tory MP, is spot on when he claims that the civil servants are too heavily influencing policy.

The Pasty Tax has been floating around government for years - the Treasury have wanted to close this little apparent anomaly for years, but it has been batted back by ministers who were well aware of the consequences.

Is this evidence of an ideas vacuum at the top of government or political laziness on the part of the PM's office?

At first glance, equalising the VAT regime between your local chip shop and the large chain stores seems to be a sensible idea, until you look at how it will be enforced and managed. If I pick up a hot chicken in Asda and it has cooled to ambient temperature by the time I get to the checkout, is that due VAT? How will HMRC know how many pasties are sold hot by Greggs and how many have cooled by the time the customer hands over their cash? These aren't minor problems - they are the stuff of extended VAT litigation (and if you don't believe me, remember that McVities went to court to prove that a Jaffa Cake is, in tax terms, a cake and not a biscuit).

Before the budget, some commentators were worrying that Osborne was almost too politically savvy - but the record since has been an unmitigated disaster, a roll call of misjudgements, miscommunications and extraordinarily poor decisions taken without concern for the consequences.

I don't think that this is laziness - I think we're seeing the evidence that this government lacks a political direction or a basic set of principles that can be used to guide it. Perhaps this is a problem of coalition, but it does not bode well for the next three years to the election. A political compass provides a sense of direction in even the roughest political weather and Cameron's is shown to be distinctly faulty.

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