The Labour Party – Incompetency

So when Brexit happened, it should have been a fantastic moment for Labour. Not in the sense of ‘wooh! Brexit, we totally wanted that!’ but in the sense that it was a crushing defeat for the government and as the opposition party that generally means good things are afoot.

Then Labour stabbed itself in the eye. Then the foot. Then for good measure decided to start surgically removing limbs one at a time until it resembled the black knight from Monty Python…

It could have been so different. With Cameron gone, Labour had the easiest political line and narrative to push in modern political history; ‘We want a general election, and we want it now.’ Given an unelected PM (I know the arguments surrounding not electing the PM directly) a divisive policy being set as the government’s main agenda for the foreseeable future and the obvious discontent felt across much of the country that the result indicated, it should have been a clear and simple argument to make which would a) at worst, damage the government in the short term or b) result in a general election.

Now one could argue Corbyn’s chances of winning any general election at the time weren’t great. That said with the Tories in disarray, Labour united in their narrative and a lack of clear leadership in what the Tories were offering – compared to a clear and decisive ‘No to Brexit, no to austerity’ ticket on the other hand, you’d think Labour could have at least stood a chance of removing the government four years early.

That however would have required competence from Labour, and what is becoming increasingly apparent is that asking for competence from Labour is like asking a wolf not to eat those chickens over there in the corner. You know, the ones covered in butter, that can’t move, that are singing ‘eat me! eat me!’.

Now let me be clear, who exactly that charge is levelled at. A lot has been made of Corbyn’s incompetence. A lot. And he is. But only mildly so, in the way most in politics are. Hell, if the Greens were the main opposition party I’m sure they’d be equally incompetant. Remember when their leader went on the Daily Politics to discuss the Greens’ policies and botched it completely?

Equally the Lib Dems’ only time in office was hardly a raging success either for the country or politically for them as a party. The bottom line is most people are incompetent. And if you’re not used to doing something – being in power, being constantly in the public eye, presenting a coherent narrative and scoring party political points etc then you will be more incompetant at it that those who are so experienced.

So when John McDonnell had his little red book moment, or when Corbyn had his first anemic PMQs performances, and stupid run-ins with journalists, this was to be expected. Equally some of the stories told by his shadow cabinet hardly seemed surprising for the leadership of a lifelong backbencher. The job of the rest of the party in these moments was to support him, educate him, aid him in whatever way needed and at the very least; not knock him.

Of course the last of these points had already run into stormy waters when his opponents in the leadership race said they wouldn’t serve in his cabinet. When he needed the experienced heads around to support him, they instead labelled him unelectable. So when the coup began it was not surprising that it was happening so much as it was surprising that people claiming to be more competent and electable than Corbyn had chosen the worst possible moment for such a leadership bid.

Why was it bad timing you ask? Well, firstly they had gone to early. Like a cycling race where timing your attack to catch the leaders before they open an insurmountable lead, so to timing is critical in political assassinations and boy did the coup plotters mess up on that front. Regardless of who the leader is, attacking them before seeing out a year in charge is going to get the hackles of a lot of undecided party members and supporters up. You don’t have to like Corbyn to at least think he should have a year to try and get things going in the right direction.

Second, they had chosen a time of Tory party disarray to launch their own, even more acrimonious, civil war, which thus diverted a lot of negative attention from the Tories onto Labour. Rather than scoring points on the Tories, Labour became the media punching bag. Rather than mounting a credible alternative, calling for a general election or, you know, anything productive, we got an expensive, damaging civil war that left us in the same place we started but worse off, whilst the Tories emerged from their moment of grand disaster with a new leader and a swell of support.

On top of this, the coup failed, not just because of the awful timing, but also because it was so catastrophically ineptly enacted. Attacks on Corbyn at the time focussed on his lack of charisma, his poor political judgement and other such comments. So when deciding who should run against him it might have been nice if political competence and charisma had been used as qualifying factors. Instead it seemed like the whole parliamentary party had decided he had to go, but no one could quite figure out who should replace him. In politics it is usually a good start to have an alternative to the thing you dislike. Ed Miliband demonstrated that quite aptly.

The eventual selection of a man whose name I literally can’t remember, who had the exact blandness and political identikit approach and feel that the membership had rejected in selecting Corbyn was such a poor choice as to warrant the question (by myself on a daily basis at least) of what the hell are you people doing!?

I suppose I could rant about the coup attempt all day, the bottom line is attacking a man for lacking competence before demonstrating none yourself is the single stupidest and most counter productive thing I’ve ever seen in modern politics from any party. To see it from Labour, a party I pay money to each year, a party I campaign for, defend, love… it wrenches you inside.

None of this is meant as a great defence of Corbyn I quickly jump to add. The man is incompetent – though not as bad as made out by many and there have been things to applaud – though usually from his shadow chancellor, who, unlike Corbyn, has grown into his job somewhat and advocates a perfectly balanced radical yet responsible approach to the economy that should be lauded as a brilliant strategy and exactly what the country needs. If the party could unite for one moment to put a consistent narrative to the media (and the media in turn could get its own head out in the game) it might go some way to addressing the Tory’s lead on the economy with the electorate.

Alas, instead, the party is tearing itself apart. By committing itself to Brexit, Labour have handed the Lib Dems a load of support from the Brexit Remain camp. Within the party, ‘moderates’ (who were most likely to back remain) are pushing for a tougher stance on immigration, whilst the Corbyn faction (more associated with leave) are backing a more liberal approach. Add to this people like Lord Donoughue calling for a change in tack on climate policy (because it’s bad for working people to try to avert a massive climate crisis, as if the impacts for these things never fall most on the poorest…) and you have a party full on questioning its direction and identity.

And what of potential leaders within the party? Well, Andy Burnham, a two time failed leadership candidate, is out spouting the anti-immigration line in his bid to become a local mayor. Apparently the left has to appeal to racist voters, because if we don’t legitimise their views, then the far-right will. I appreciate the need for a grownup and genuine debate on immigration, I reject the notion that involves pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Meanwhile others are keeping shtum. Probably in the hope the party won’t have disintegrated into two parties two years from now and will instead be crying out for someone to rescue the situation. It’s a problem the left has; we always pin our hopes on some brilliant leader to fix everything, rather than actually living our values and seeking co-operative success. And it’s a pity because things needn’t be like this.

Imagine, perchance, an alternative reality. Say in the wake of the Brexit result, Corbyn and his team had gotten together and taken a vote. Now is the time to strike, but we need a clear, concise, co-operative agreement on how to proceed. One that not everyone will agree with, but that everyone will follow. The question would be simple; push for a general election in advocacy of preventing Brexit, or push for a general election with the ‘best deal for Britain following Brexit’ line. Either way, it should have been a collective decision, collectively pushed.

Worst case scenario; Labour loses a general election. Corbyn gets to go down as the guy who forced the government into a general election four years early. His opponents rejoice because he’s had to stand down, whilst his supporters feel vindicated that he got to contest a general election. The party has a fresh leadership election in which it probably elects a ‘moderate’ who has the mandate to prepare the party for the next general election and position the party on Brexit etc.

Best case scenario; Labour wins a general election. Corbyn’s opponents rejoice that we’re in power and he’s kept them in employment.

Most likely scenario; The Tories don’t call for a general election, but take the hit politically. In a year or two’s time, Corbyn is politely told to stand aside or face a leadership contest which will either remove him, or doom him electorally. Corbyn, if he had any sense, would step aside, take a position such as Party Chairman where he could continue to keep the base energised and influence policy, but have a moderate, ‘electable’ individual take the reins for the run up to a general election.

Unfortunately we are not in that reality. We’re in the one where it’s a choice between different sets of incompetents. I do not want Corbyn to lead the party into the next general election, but I’ve voted for him twice. It’s an odd state of affairs where you’re voting for someone you dislike, who you have found to be useless and yet who nonetheless seems the most viable option. Sadly,that is the state of affairs the Labour Party finds itself in.

And all the while, as pundits and talking heads comment on it all, and progressives muse as to whether to back the Lib Dems, whilst Remain v Leave still dictates the political affairs of the day, it is the country at large and the most vulnerable in it who continue to suffer the most at the hands of austerity and will continue to do so until the left and the Labour Party itself can get its act together.


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The Next 9 Months

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, in which Britain crashed out of the EU, a PM announced his resignation, a coup was attempted then stalled against the leader of the opposition and the most odious man in the world after Donald Trump resigned declaring his mission accomplished.

But what next? Well, some things we already knew would happen have happened. The pound has fallen in value, businesses are worried and the political fallout has been huge, both home and abroad. We also now know that the next Prime Minister will be a woman – either the vaguely dull, incompetent (no seriously, really incompetent) Theresa May or the utter shambolic summing up of the country hitting absolute rock bottom that the election of Andrea Leadsom would demonstrate.

May is well backed by the media though and it may well be she simply takes post-truth politics to a new level. If she can find a message that sticks and repeats it enough it will become the truth in the same way as Labour profligacy, single teenage mother benefit scroungers and bloody immigrants ruining the country have entered into public consciousness despite a dearth of evidence to back the assertions.

Indeed she has already started with talk about healing divisions within the Uk. This is all nice and hard to disagree with, it’s just a little rich coming from the prospective leader of the party which has caused a good deal of said division. Since the Tories took power, they have attacked disabled people, immigrants, public sector workers (police, doctors, teachers, you name it) the unemployed, the young and of course gave us the EU referendum itself which has laid out the greatest division of all for all to see (and resulting in a big jump in hate crimes). That said, the message is a positive one that you’d find it difficult to attack without coming across as the negative one. If she can genuinely spin herself as a ‘unifying’ figure, a second Thatcher, intent on leading the country ‘back to glory’, then regardless of what’s happening in the actual economy, she may well be able to stay in government.

The other issue of course is what Labour do. Government’s lose elections as opposed to oppositions winning them, but non-existent oppositions make for less appealing choices at the ballot box and the prospect of a split Labour party would almost certainly usher Theresa May to a general election victory in similar fashion to Thatcher in 1983 against Labour split with the SDP.

Equally, there’s no saying May will call a general election – at least not anytime soon. Gordon Brown did not call a general election after he took power and the Tories would be in no hurry to call a general election during a recession. Better to wait a year or two on the argument of requiring stability for the EU negotiations, let the economy recover and fight an election then.

So what will happen over the next 9 months and will it mean? Well, I take it for granted Theresa May will be the next Prime Minister. To think otherwise is just… *cringe*.  I see a year or so of her governing, negotiating with the EU and blaming any negatives in the meantime on uncertainty plus poor people (you can never blame the workshy, scrounging, Jeremy Kyle lay abouts enough as a Tory PM). She’ll probably then cruise to a general election victory against whoever Labour put up thanks to massive media support and her image as Britain’s saviour from the post Brexit mess.

Corbyn face challenges within his own party, and an SDP esque split is still a possibility, as is his removal. Worst still, a protracted period in which no one challenges him and he just stays in place as a lame duck leader, unable to truly rally the party come election time. (Of course if Labour had an ounce of sense, the 170 MPs who voted no confidence in Corbyn would simply return to their CLPs, ask for a deselection/reselection vote and wait for the outcome. If the majority of the PLP still support ousting Corbyn, then he should stand aside and allow a leadership election. If enough MPs who are against him are deselected, then new MPs must be selected and Corbyn allowed to continue as leader with the full backing of all concerned.)

Anyway, my point here is simple; the next 9 months of British politics will be just as important as the last two weeks, if not more so. Who the Tories pick, whether Labour oust Corbyn and with whom he’s replaced and most critically whether a general election is called in this timeframe are key to determining the future of the country. Ironically, what comes after the next nine months I think is far more easy to predict than what will happen within it.

As the apocryphal statement goes; may you live in interesting times.


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Referendum Fallout

So the referendum happened, Britain decided to do a very stupid thing and a lot of people started maneuvering for power and saying some very silly things. Here I’d like to take a look at some of the silliest of the silly.

Silly Statement 1:

“It’s all Corbyn’s fault!”

Not sure anyone said this specifically, but the rush to put blame on Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, for a leave vote in a referendum announced by a Tory PM, campaigned for by prominent Tories – and UKIP lizard, I mean leader, Nigel Farage – voted for by Tories and UKIPers and voted against most prominently by Labour supporters is somewhat bizarre.

The blame came from all quarters – Tories wanting to deflect blame from themselves, Labour MPs who’ve tried at every opportunity to remove him from head of the party – including desperately trying to spin successful council elections into a defeat – Right-Wingers who just don’t like Corbyn and lefties who can politically gain by attacking Corbyn and Labour.

The most prominent of these lefties is Tim Farron, leader of the Lib Dems – that party that used to be in government then imploded. Tim’s main accusations levelled against the Labour leader on the BBC in the immediate aftermath of the referendum results essentially amounted to this; ‘Labour failed to deliver their areas.’ That comment is either a cynical piece of power play politics on behalf of the Lib Dem leader trying to grab pro-EU lefties from Labour or a demonstration of great idiocy. Maybe both.

Whilst it’s true many Labour areas did turn out to vote leave, that is hardly a failing of the Labour Party and its leader and more to do with simple demographics. People in lower income cohorts were more likely to vote leave and shock horror, Labour areas tend to be lower income areas. Additionally one has to remember that many of these Labour areas don’t have the highest of voter turnouts at general election time – Sunderland and Newcastle that were two of the earliest positive signs for the leave camp both registered 57% turnout at the 2015 general election, whilst Labour seats accounted for the 20 lowest in terms of turnout in 2015. Meanwhile, the turnout for the referendum was UP on the general election at 72% compared to 66% (a figure that was bolstered by higher turnout in Scotland to back the SNP). That means a lot of non-voters at the 2015 general election came out for this referendum, and my guess is those were low income and elderly people, many in Labour areas, voting to leave.

So whilst Labour areas will have turned out to vote Leave, it will not be because of Labour voters/supporters. A minority of Labour voters will have voted leave (compared to a majority of Conservative voters/supporters) but when combined with far-right voters and usual non-voters you have enough to give leave a majority from Sunderland to Sheffield to Birmingham. And one last point – the only region of England to vote for Remain was London, who, incidentally, just elected a Labour Mayor. Still, from Blairites, to Right-wingers (if indeed the two aren’t mutually inclusive), to Lib Dems to Tories, the silly statement keeps coming.

Silly Statement 2:

” If only 16-17 year olds could have voted we would have remained in!”

This is a bit unfair as I don’t think people actually think this, but there are a lot of angry young people who were not allowed a vote at this referendum, but whose future will be shaped by it and are wishing/believing that if they had a vote then maybe things would be different.

Well, the sad fact of the matter is that even with 16-17 year olds voting, we would still have voted leave. Some back of an envelope calculations show this:

Leave Vote: 17.41m, Remain Vote: 16.14m, Difference: 1.27m

Approx 1.5m 16-17 year olds in the Uk. Assume that 1m of those register to vote and turnout and that they vote in line with the youngest cohort who did vote at a ratio of 3/4 remain and we get:

New Leave Vote: 17.66m, New Remain Vote: 16.89m, Difference: 0.77m

So leave still wins. By a smaller margin, yes, but still by 770,000 votes – not nothing. It’s a shame we voted leave, it’s a shame 16-17 year olds didn’t get a say and they’re right to be angry, but their vote would not have changed the outcome.

Silly Statement 3

“It’s Labour/New Labour/Corbyn’s fault for not doing enough on immigration / people’s legitimate concerns on immigration have not been listened to by elites/the Labour party”

This is another statement that’s come out from various groups, many on the right of the centre-left in a bid to put the blame on Corbyn (again) or to make a Tory referendum, campaigned for by Tories, voted for by Tories about Labour in some self-mutilation narcissism that only the political left is capable of.

The problem with this statement is that, whilst mostly bullshit, it has some element of truth. Certainly the Labour party and political left have failed to address immigration as a policy over the last few years. Back in the Blair/Brown years it wasn’t too much of a concern; the economy was doing fine, any immigration concerns could just be waved off by talking about the economic benefits and dismissing any deeper concerns as xenophobic and racist. On the whole though, the issue was simply left off the table with a feeling that it wasn’t something we really wanted to talk about.

The problem of course came to a head with the financial crisis. The resulting recession and austerity policies resulted in the poorest in society feeling the pinch the most and of course the tabloid press were happy to present immigrants, the unemployed, the disabled, public sector workers and Europe as scapegoats – and not the wealthy and tax cuts for the wealthy that such tabloid press owners were and wanted. As a result a strong emotional feeling against immigration, elites and the change of the last decade or so emerged.

Now you might say I’m concurring with the statement; Labour failed to deal with the problem. Well yes, that’s true. But I don’t believe the solution lies with bowing to those concerns in the way that’s implied by the people who reel out this statement. To them – and I use Mr James Bloodworth as an example here – the solution to these concerns was to implement immigration controls, limit immigration numbers etc… Essentially, bow to what the right-wing wanted and, in the process, essentially admit they are correct in their fears and solutions. On this I disagree.

We could have, as Mr Bloodworth suggests, implemented controls on EU immigration in ’04. We could have ‘got serious’ on immigration, but ‘getting serious’ is usually code for promising cuts to immigration levels. And let’s be clear where that would have led: to a race to the bottom on immigration. Which party could promise the biggest cuts. Labour says 50,000, Tories 100,000, Labour 150,000, Tories 200,000… and all the while that kind of policy making and rhetoric plays right into the hands of the far-right who sit their smiling saying we promise no immigration full stop.

And immigration numbers are not the cause of people’s concerns – at least not directly. Most people who are anti-immigration live in areas where there are very few immigrants. Rather people’s attitudes – how authoritarian they are – economic/social/public services fears – built usually off the back of misinformation in the tabloid press – and emotional response to cultural change are what determine people’s view on immigration. Therefore I would argue bowing to the misinformation and fears would simply be seen as an endorsement for those beliefs and make them more concrete.

Rather, I would like to see an impassioned, emotional argument FOR immigration. Not more immigration per se, but for the principle. If immigration is put on the back-burner and ignored, I agree, resentments and concerns can build – as they have – but a left-wing party putting immigration front and centre as a policy – talking about it, positively, at every turn puts an opposing view into the public discourse that counters the lies and misinformation and gives those who aren’t predisposed to an authoritarian outlook an argument that they can get behind.

You could argue people will react negatively to this argument, and some will. But an MP was gunned down in the street, an EU referendum has been lost, how much more negatively are people going to be? I would argue ignoring the issue or going Tory-lite in a race to the bottom on the issue will be just as bad if not worse on the down sides. At least a positive approach to immigration, one where emotion, hope and direct benefits to working class communities are talked up over vague economic numbers will show people they are being listened to and that there is an alternative to the far-right on this issue.

Silly Statement 4

“The Polls predictions were wrong.”

This is a personal gripe more than anything. Polls aren’t predictions. Polls are a (vaguely) scientific attempt at gauging people’s opinions at that point in time. The number of ways the data the polling companies have gathered could be wrong and the fact people can a) lie and b) change their minds mean no poll is ever going to be a perfect reflection of people’s views. Equally predicting the future is a totally different game from polling. It is one in which polls can be used as an input when making your prediction, and pollsters themselves may well make predictions off the back of them, but polls and predictions are not interchangeable.

It’s also important to remember that polls can change people’s minds. There have been a few leave voters who have come out and said they didn’t actually think leave would win and are now a bit worried about the ramifications of the result. Would they have voted the same way if polls had been ‘predicting’ a dead heat? Equally, I dare say plenty of voters like to be on the winning side, or will stay at home if they think their side will lose anyway. Thus, if polls can influence how people vote, they cannot be great predictors in their own right.

Finally it’s worth pointing out that some polls did polls the correct outcome (or near as) whilst the polls ended up being much closer to the outcome than the betting markets believed. For myself, I will probably never let it drop that I predicted this outcome four years ago, but hey, when the stopped clock shows the right time it’s a big deal.


 Lord Ashcroft’s Polling

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The EU Referendum: So I was Right… yay?

The EU referendum results have just been confirmed and the big question has been answered – the UK has voted to chop of its arm because it doesn’t like holding the EU’s hand. AKA Leave won…

So, if you’re reading this blog – as opposed to psychically scanning its contents into your brain somehow, a talent you must teach me – you might have noticed I haven’t posted in a while. Life happened, jobs, family etc that prevented writing frequently. But as the events of the last few hours have happened I felt it might be worth noting amongst all the ‘who would have predicted this with the polls so tight’ stuff that is beginning to come up everywhere from the TV news through to social media that, well, I did. In 2012.

Background: When I made the prediction it’s important to remember a couple of things. Firstly, David Cameron was yet to announce a referendum – obviously – he was also yet to make his pledge of holding a referendum should the Tories win the 2015 general election. So my prediction was made without knowing a referendum was coming, that the Tories would be in power in 2015 etc…

Despite not knowing those things, I predicted the Uk would not be in the EU 10 years hence – a wide margin for error, I grant you, but one which seems fair given the lack of knowledge surrounding a forthcoming referendum. Had I known what Mr Cameron (I think it’s worth disgarding his PM title sooner rather than later) was planning, clearly my predition would have been narrowed in its timeframe. Either way, I felt a referendum was coming, and that the result of such a referendum was not in doubt:

However, the second possibility is that of exit from the EU altogether. This could take place even with a pro-EU government at the helm. Perhaps the EU will demand nothing but total acceptance when the next bout of changes arrive. Maybe the calls for a referendum become too hard to ignore in the face of an all or nothing membership.

And the reality of a referendum must mean an exit.

My thoughts at the time were that Brexit was coming, but was slightly further off. That EU reforms in the face of the Eurozone crisis (remember that?) would force the Uk into a 2nd tier membership, or a referendum vote.

That said, I did not underestimate David Cameron’s capacity for putting his own political self-interest ahead of the country’s interest:

Plus there’s the Tories. Hard up in the polls, with annoying right wingers in need of placating on the backbenches… what better than an EU referendum to solve such woes?

In that event, we wouldn’t be cut and done with the EU of course. Some kind of deal would be reached regarding travel, trade and whatnot. But it would mean an exit nonetheless.

Now as with any prediction it was not perfect and you could well sit there and pick holes in my prediction: 10 years? It happened in 4. You were talking about 2nd Tier membership and being forced out by EU reforms etc. And people make predictions all the time, so you happened to write something on a blog that turned out to be true, so what?

That’s fair. But my points would be this: I make grand predictions rarely. Look back at my old posts, it’s not like I’m predicting stuff every five minutes in the hope something hits the mark. I still said the Uk would not be in the EU 10 years after 2012. Barring us re-joining in the next 6 years, that prediction was correct. I outlined two distinct, but a the time very possible ways the Uk could leave the EU – one of those two possibilities came to fruition. Thirdly, I correctly predicted a referendum would mean Brexit (regardless of when it was held). And finally, well, read this;

The only possible hope is a victory for the EU in a referendum. A sound, solid affirmation of the Uk’s continued support [for the EU]. But then, how likely is that? With the majority of the media against any further integration and most likely backing an ‘out’ campaign, I just don’t see us remaining part of the EU too far into the future.

Then this:


Then it happened.

Alas, I’m rather reminded of a line from the Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy:

“I’d much rather be happy than right any day.”

Sadly I’m not.

Cheers and thanks to all those who voted Remain.

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Media Check – What Matthew Sinclair Doesn’t Tell You About Eurostat Figures

Whenever a left wing blogger doesn’t know what to write about, a sure fire way to find something to challenge that won’t take more than fifteen minutes of your time is to check out the Telegraph comments section.

Today, Matthew Sinclair has a piece which seems not really to have much in the way of direction but rather takes up plenty of words spouting your typical Telegraph soundbites.
(I count: ‘pass it [money] onto your children’, ‘punitive tax’, ‘The old Marxist lie’ and even a jibe against the ‘anti-capitalist French’…)

Aside from the splurge of your typical right-wing statements, what was the article actually trying to say? Well, the tagline went with: ‘Britain’s tax system is a complicated and unfair mess – a simpler, fairer system would benefit all’. My guess is the sub-editor installed that in a bid to make Mr Sinclair’s piece sound classier than it actually is, given there is little in the way of argument for a simpler tax system.

There’s an initial declaration that our savings are taxed multiple times (which somehow justifies tax avoidance, because if you get taxed more than once that means you don’t have to pay anymore tax ever again right?) (And also, defending tax avoiders on the basis that the tax system is complicated is like defending dangerous drivers because of all these stupid laws about staying in the correct lane and indicating etc…)

But after that the only substance in the piece is regarding some Eurostat figures which show Britain up for having an ‘uncompetitive tax system’ given that only the ‘anti-capitalist French’ have a higher rate of implicit tax on capital than we do.

Now, this is all good and true, check the figures out yourself. But what Mr Sinclair doesn’t add is why our implicit taxes on capital are that high… Sure, he makes some jibe at the end about it being because “Too many politicians and academics like to describe the return on savings as “unearned income”. That old Marxist lie is used to disguise the truth that people working hard and doing the right thing by putting some money aside are being taken apart by the tax system.” But he doesn’t actually address the real reason…

That reason is that we have some of the lowest rates of tax on ‘labour’ (the sum of all direct and indirect taxes and employees’ and employers’ social contributions levied on employed labour income divided by the total compensation of employees working in the economic territory) in Europe and a below average rate of implicit tax on consumption. Despite these ‘uncompetitive’ high tax rates (pardon me whilst I laugh) the Eurostat figures still show us having a lower tax revenue as % of GDP than Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway. Granted, we bring in more tax revenue than Greece and Ireland, proving once again that high tax rates equal disastrous economic consequences… or not

Anyhoo, the point; tax money has to come from somewhere. Yes, we tax capital highly, but only because we tax labour and consumption to a lesser (sometimes much lesser) extent. That is the obvious point to make given our overall tax revenues are comparable or lower than similar EU economies. So why isn’t Mr Sinclair’s article a tirade about why we should be paying much higher income taxes to offset these high capital taxes…? Obviously if you were serious about reducing tax on capital that’s exactly what you would do… alas, this is the Telegraph and to simply mention a tax rise that doesn’t disproportionally hit the poorest is heresy.

And it’s a shame the article doesn’t look at these different philosophies to tax between nations, because the UK’s kind of makes sense: Saying that we’ll tax those who already have wealth more highly than those trying to accumulate it, or those businesses which are trying to make wealth by employing more people, seems to foster a more competitive economy where attaining wealth is encouraged and paid for by keeping those with wealth amassed on their toes. It also means we don’t end up taxing consumption too highly so that people are free to buy things and make the wheels of the econonmy whir without feeling the ‘sticky fingers’ of the state rumaging through your pockets when you’re at the checkout.

Now, is it the best system? Should we have higher taxes on labour or consumption to pay for lower taxes on capital? That’s an interesting opinion piece I’d love to read, especially if it was written by an unbiased, well informed contributor.

A standard mud slinging, core conservative pleasing exercise from a right-wing hack, acting as an apologist for major companies who aggressively avoid paying their dues to society… that I’m much less inclined to do anything to but rip on. I hope it was worthwhile…


Useful Links:

NEF – Mythbusters: “A competitive tax system is a better tax system”

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Benefits Assessments Were Unfair And Other Items of Interest

Stating the obvious is something which should usually be avoided. Except in this instance.

The words ‘no’ and ‘shit’ spring to mind, I know, but still, let’s hope this adds to the mountain of evidence showing the disability assessments are not being fit for purpose.

Will it change anything thought? Of course not. As we’ve known for a while now, the reason for the assessments has had nothing to do with any positive policy outcomes: Improving the situations of disabled people, increasing the number of disabled people in work, cutting welfare costs to ‘scroungers’… Rather it has been one of a raft of policy measures set to cut the sums of money going to the poorest, most in need and most disenfranchised in our society.

But then, this is the Conservative Party, what were we expecting? At least there’s been some positive noise from Labour on unemployment. Whether this talk of full employment is just noise or an actual aim, it’s at least good to hear Labour addressing a key issue with vigour, and acknowledge that it is unemployment that causes the real damage to the country, not numbers on a balance sheet.

And yet another sign of how out of touch the Tories are. Whilst the majority of the population are concerned with the state of the economy, unemployment etc… The Tories are still in-fighting over Europe and gay marriage. People talk of politicians being out of touch, but these examples seemingly rub our faces in it.

Anyhoo, some semi-postive things. Heck, it’s got to be a good week if Alex Salmond is making sense.


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Media Check – Labour Must Avoid Austerity-Lite

John Harris writes some good articles, and can usually be relied on for a good five minute read whenever one of his pieces pops up on the Guardian.

His recent article, sort of a stump speech for John Cruddas’ policy review, leaves a lot to be desired though…

The piece starts with a summing up of how Social Democratic parties across Europe aren’t faring well at the moment. This is not surprising. The Centre-Left has been backed into a corner on the economic issues facing developed nations at the moment. On the one hand they want to offer an alternative from the austerity mantra paraded by EU officials and those to whom austerity equals personal gain. But they also want to seem like ‘serious people’ making ‘tough decisions’.

Rather than creating a different narrative for the current economic situation, the centre-left has been happy to play into the right’s characterization of it as a crisis of overspending, profligacy and debt. But what then – if these are the problems – can the centre-left offer as a solution that the right can’t? In the end the centre-left’s solutions wind up being austerity-lite. Half the pain, but none of the gain. But this route is hardly a successful one electorally. In opposition they promise to end the suffering austerity, only to continue it unabated in office. At least the right are upfront about the pain they’re going to cause…

So, bottom line, social democracy is having a tough time of it, and ultimately has two options – the same two facing Labour: Go right, get into bed with the austerians, and offer your own brand of austerity-lite – and pray to God for a deus ex machina solution… or go left…

Harris doesn’t like this second option:

“from the centre of Labour’s ideological continuum leftwards, there is currently an apparent belief that the party can somehow capture power in two years’ time, roll back the worst of the coalition’s cuts, dig out some old A-level notes about Keynesian demand management – and spend, spend, spend.”

He says, generalising the views of dozens of noted economists and thousands of Labour party members in one fell swoop…

He proceeds to justify this grossly simplistic vision of economic policy:

“There are two answers to that. First, you’ll have an interesting job getting any such vision past the electorate.”

Granted, this is undoubtedly the hardest task the left and Labour face. As he notes earlier in the article, the widespread belief that this is a crisis created by the Labour government’s overspending was allowed to filter into the public’s consciousness, almost unhindered. The reasons why that was allowed to happen are numerous and varied, but it is a key belief that Labour must challenge – regardless of what direction they take on the economy.

But just because the public have been conned into this belief does not mean we shouldn’t try to counter it. The only solution to the kind of depression we’re in involves spending, and the knots Ed Miliband has tied himself up in whilst trying not to answer the question of whether he’d spend more have caused as much political damage in themselves as coming out and straight up saying ‘Hell yea we’re going to spend more in the short term, because that’s the only solution to this mess, read a textbook if you disagree…’

And I don’t believe it’s an argument which can’t be won or successfully sold to the public. I’ll be addressing my ideas for what policies Labour should be pursuing right now and how they can sell them later, but needless to say the current plan to just sit back and hope people are so pissed with the Tories they vote in Labour is not so much a plan as an absence of one.

Anyhoo: he continues:

“Second, even if you managed to do it [Sell the argument], reality would then bite, agonisingly, and the fiscal predicament of the next UK government will be grim beyond words.”

How so? We have record low borrowing levels. Borrowing more in the short term whilst rates are low to get the economy growing, then letting the increased tax revenues from growth reduce the defecit in the medium term is not some far-fetched impossible dream… Sure, we’re not going to be able to spend and borrow at pre-recession levels for a bit, but then the economy is still short of pre-recession levels… And the only way to restore that growth and ever have a chance of the same level of spending in the long run is by growing the economy now.

“In all likelihood, it will have to piece through the wreckage of George Osborne’s voodoo economics”

Voodoo economics which you’re now supporting…? Because really there’s not many options on the table here. We either spend more to grow the economy or we don’t… Anything else is pretty cosmetic.

“and, just to make things really easy, cope with demographic changes (our rapidly ageing population, chiefly) that will make most political and economic orthodoxies completely untenable.”

The demographic challenge we’re going to face won’t be for a few decades yet. Using it as a reason to say we’re stuck with austerity forever is stupid. Grow the economy now, so by the time we have to make difficult decisions about the aging population we’re doing it with a healthy economy, strong private sector, and government with fiscal wriggle room. That, or hold off on spending and forever doom the economy to low growth, high unemployment and give us nowhere to go fiscally but back to austerity.

“In other words, the days when Gordon Brown could deliver budget speeches smattered with millions of this and unending billions of that are over, probably for the rest of most Labour politicians’ lives.”

Yes… because that’s what the New Labour years where like… There’s no reason why we can’t get the economy back into a strong position again before the demographics become an issue, and there’s no reason why that must mean doom and gloom either. During the boom years Labour’s greatest mistake was not overspending but under-taxing. If we don’t make that mistake again, and make real strides on tax avoidance and inequality we can ensure a healthy fiscal position in years to come.

He goes on to outline a ‘plan’ courtesy of some insiders he’s clearly become enamored with:

“there will be no reversal of existing cuts, in the context of George Osborne’s howling failure that loud debate about whether to stick to his post-2015 spending plans is completely misplaced. But at the same time, if Labour is to win the next election, it will have to commit to a set of iron, independently enforced fiscal commitments, perhaps to be met over a 10-year cycle, focused not just on the elimination of the deficit, but the ratio of public debt to national income – many of the consequences of which, to quote one Labour insider, could be “brutal”.”

Basically, we pick some numbers from thin air and decide we must stick to them to show how ‘serious’ we are. This is just the same kind of nonsense Osbourne and the austerians fawned over at the beginning of the crisis. Pick some numbers, stick to them, ignore the collapse of the economy going around you…and then blame it on Europe…

Economic policy should be fluid. It shold react to the world around it. If the economy is in the tank, the government should invest to get growth going. When the economy is doing well, it should reign itself in to let the private sector flourish. Saying ‘we have some cast iron, independentently enforced numbers and we’re sticking to them’ is as childish a way of dealing with the economy as deciding tax rates based on the lottery results and government spending on the results of the grand national. Granted, that would be more enjoyable than the current way the government does things, but still…

“Second, the party will need a clear-cut, demand-driven growth plan, based on a housebuilding blitz in particular.”

Oh… you mean… I dunno, utilising the nation’s record low borrowing levels to take out a one off loan to pay for an economic stimulus plan to get the economy growing… You mean that… that thing that everyone you’ve been decrying as being all about ‘spend, spend, spend’ want? No… because this plan is going to fund it cleverly using the power of ‘seriousness’…

“And how to square one with the other? The answer leads to the third part of the blueprint: a strong story about radically pruning central government, and pushing power downwards as never before.”

I’m unsure here whether this ‘story’ is just that – ‘a story’ that would be told to excuse this spending. ‘Yeah, we’re spending a billion quid on houses, but we’re going to save it by cutting waste blah, blah, blah’… or whether this is the genuine plan. If the former, then this plan is just what we on the left have been proposing (with the addition of some nonsensical plan for ‘independently enforced fiscal commitments’). If the latter then this is ludicrous and will no doubt require cuts to vital services on top of what the Tories have done or privatisation.

He goes on to extrapolate some additional policies, plenty of which make sense, and seem pitched to appeal to the Labour Left whilst being potential vote losers in their own right. All in all this seems like a pitch to persuade the left that Keynesianism isn’t the way forward. That we must rigidly enforce spending cuts whilst also… spending more… Austerity-lite anyone?

(Austerity-lite: The view that we ‘must be serious’ and ‘cut spending’, ‘be brutal’, ‘feel the pain’, ‘make tough choices’ etc… but we need to actually grow the economy so we spend money to grow the economy. Net result: the economy hardly grows and the deficit doesn’t shrink and the right point their fingers and say ‘see, socialism failed to sort the crisis out, guess we need more austerity…’)

Clearly there’s a view that too many of us Lefties are over-optimistic in our belief that stimulus spending will work. And granted, in trying to sell it, we’ve undoubtedly made it seem like a panacea. But when the Labour leadership is shooting itself in the foot trying to not use the words ‘spending’ and ‘more’ in the same paragraph, and when there’s elements of the party creating these overly complex attempts to sell Labour as the ‘serious’ guys on the economy again, you have to forgive us for trying to sell the one policy which will actually work.

I’ll outline shortly what policies I’d be talking about if I were Labour leader and how I’d portray them and sell them. I do believe there is room for a left of centre Labour party, and that for every vote we’d lose to the Daily Mail, we’d gain from the ranks of those disaffected by the Tories’ economic incompetence and disillusionment with the current political orthodoxy.

I’m not saying it would be an easy sell, but I think the most important point is this: the public respect a leader. Whether it was Churchill, Thatcher, Blair… they were not the greatest governors the country has seen, but they chose a path and stuck to it. At the moment Ed Miliband is having problem after problem which he’s more or less creating for himself. A leader creates a vision, and sells it. Ed seems to still be working out what his vision is, and has spent more time saying his vision isn’t than what it is. Going round in circles to avoid saying you’ll spend more is a pointless exercise at a time when the opposition leader has to be using every second of media attention they receive to go on the offensive against the Tories and be crafting their own narrative and selling their own policies to the public.

Articles like Harris’ obfuscate the real issues facing Labour at the moment, and set the debate away from where it should be. Talking about things like ‘localism’ and ‘”eye-wateringly tight” fiscal rules’ will be all good and fun to do – once we’re in power. But until then, everyone who is anyone who cares about ending this coalition nightmare must be working to change the incorrect narrative about how we got into this mess and be explaining (with diagrams if necessary) how we get out of it.


Tax Research UK – When will Labour Lean that neoliberalism will never work, and most especially for the left?

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