The Welfare State We're In, The website of the book by James Bartholomew
October 19, 2010
Tuesday
Socialism makes people poorer than they would otherwise have been

Sometimes the relentless river of pro-state-control assumptions in Britain can be wearing. If ever one needs a little reminder of just how damaging state control is, this blog entry by J.Bradford De Long has a chart which does the job.

It shows in a dramatic way how state control makes people much poorer than they would otherwise have been.

I don't vouch for the way it was calculated but the overall idea is surely correct.

My fear is that gradually the next generation will forget just how disastrous the ultimate state control - full-blooded Socialism in many countries during the 20th century - was. There is also the idea that a little Socialism and/or 'our new improved form of Socialism' are just fine.

It is rather like saying, 'Here is some poison. If you take a full dose it will kill you. How about taking a half-dose?

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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April 25, 2010
Sunday
Nick Clegg is giving democracy a bad name

Nick Clegg is giving democracy a bad name. The way that the position of his party revolutionised the opinion polls revealed how much people are influenced by appearance rather than policy.

Those people who are at all familiar with the policies of the parties and their records generally felt that Nick Clegg had not done outstandingly well in the first debate.

But I was watching the debate alongside a 13 year old gril, whose knowledge of the issues and the background is good for her age, but naturally limited. She had no doubt that he was the winner. She saw a nice-looking, open-looking, reasonable-looking man. He seemed appealing.

The British voting public includes a large section who reacted in the same way - as 13 year olds. They did not really understand the issues. They just thought he was good-looking and appealing. This, I fear,is a large part of modern democracy is about. Just appearance.

It is notable that the person to win the three elections in Britain before now was Tony Blair, another nice-looking, reasonable-looking young man (well, he was in 1997)and, ostensibly, an outsider who wanted change. Then there has recently been Obama, another of the same sort who also painted himself as an outsider who wanted change. Not long before him, Clinton came in on the same kind of ticket. Large sections of the public, here and in the USA, seem to fall for this line every time. The leader of the Tory party, David Cameron, was elected by Tory party members. Another case of a nice-looking young man who looks like a breath of fresh air getting the vote.

Democracy has great virtues. But it is worryingly prone to put appearances before policies. It also tends to make tax-and-spend always appear better than tax less and spend less. That is because it is hard to get elected saying you are going to cut services or public sector jobs.

We need to admit these problems with democracy and think how to counter them. Funnily enough, I am tempted to think that referenda - even more democracy - may be part of the answer. One advantage of a referendum is that when a single idea is the issue, it surely comes to seem more important than any particular appealing young man.

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April 22, 2010
Thursday
BBC propaganda about inequality

The BBC left-wing propaganda never rests. It does not matter whether it is the Today programme, comedy programmes or social science. It is relentless.

Yesterday Laurie Taylor, a left-wing academic, was interviewing another left-wing academic about inequality. This was all under the guise of a non-partisan programme about social science called "Thinking allowed". Now Laurie Taylor is a very clever man with a lively mind. But he also has his left-wing prejudices. His interviewee yesterday was arguing - we were told this was on the basis of objective data - that Britain was a particularly unequal society and that inequality is highly damaging.

I was not able to listen all the way to the end however, at the time when it was being established that Britain was particularly unequal, Laurie Taylor did not think to query whether the evidence was reliable. My view is that he wanted to accept the 'evidence' and therefore did not want any doubt to be cast on it. However if he had thought to get in someone who took a different view of these matters, he would have readily had reason to doubt the figures.

For example, in the 1990s, the Department of Social Security, as it then was, studied the lowest income decile in Britain to find out what they did in life. You would think they were low-paid unskilled workers, wouldn't you? But the remarkable discovery was that a surprisingly high proportion of them fell into two categories: builders and accountants. In other words, these were people who were either fixing their tax affairs so that they appeared to earn little or nothing but who, in fact, were making plenty, or else they were plain crooked. The figures did not truly represent the condition of poor people. The figures were not reliable.

A second discovery was that people who were supposedly extremely poor had a remarkable amount of consumer durables.

A third factor, which would be obvious to anyone who knows anything about welfare benefits, is that those on income support (as it was) were not allowed to have more than a very small amount of capital, otherwise they would lose some of their benefits. So what do people on such means-tested benefits do? They have every reason to arrange their affairs as carefully as any tax avoiding "greedy banker". They buy consumer durables. They buy objects like gold which will not appear on bank statements or savings accounts. They simply spend the money by taking holidays. They "give" money to close relatives who will then "give" it back at a later stage. In other words, those on means-tested benefits have reason to reduce their capital if they have more than a small amount. This is one of the damaging unintended consequences on people's lives. It is also a reason wholly to distrust statistics on the assets of the poor.

But none of this was mentioned. The propaganda rolls on.

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April 15, 2010
Thursday
Nick Clegg and yet more political claptrap about the banks

The Liberal Democrat manifesto (page 22) includes the following in its list of things the party would like to do if it obtains power:

We will introduce a Banking Levy, so that banks pay for their tax-payer guarantee,...

• Get the banks lending responsibly again. The taxpayers’
representatives on the boards of the banks the public own or partown
should insist banks lend to viable businesses on fair terms again.

This is nonsense that verges on plain lying. It is, of course, not dissimilar to the line put out by the Government. The Tories, too, want to tax the banks. The centre of the widely repeated nonsense is this:

The politicians have said that the banks need to be on a sounder footing. That means that they must lend less in relation to their capital - their shareholders' funds. But at the same time, they loudly demand that the banks are not lending enough and must be made to lend more.

These two demands are mutually contradictory. If a bank is told it must lend out less money in proportion to its capital, it cannot, at the same time, lend out more. I am far from being the first to point this out. Tim Congdon, the economist, and doubtless many others have made the point. But the newspapers and, most importantly, the television interviewers, are not sufficiently financially literate to get the point.

Sometimes when you see and hear nonsense, you think, "maybe there is something I am missing. After all, most people seem to think it is not nonsense. The interviewers nod sagely and in apparent agreement." But I recently had a conversation with someone who is a fairly senior bank regulator. He said that, yes, the reaction to the banking crisis of both the government and the Financial Services Authority (FSA)was that banks must lend less in relation to their capital. He went on to say that when ministers then went on television to demand that banks should continue lending as before, senior staff at the FSA were astonished. They knew it made no sense. They knew it was political claptrap. But of course they cannot say anything in public.

And when people like Nick Clegg demand an extra tax or 'levy' on banks, what does he think that will do to their ability to lend? It will reduce the capital they otherwise would have had and thus reduce the amount on which lending can be based. In short, it will reduce lending and prolong the recession.

Of course the Basel Agreement is key in the international regulation of the banks. I have heard it suggested that a loosening in capital requirements more than a decade ago - apparently to try to match Japanese competition in banking - had a role in making the banks less safe and thus played a part in causing the recent financial crisis. The current intention, of course, is to tighten capital requirements up again. For some of the argument currently going on about this (barely reported at all in the British press) see this Bloomberg report today.

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March 30, 2010
Tuesday
For the chancellors: a test to see if they favour equality or fairness.

At the debate called "Ask the Chancellors" on Channel 4 last night, the three would-be Chancellors of the Exchequer were asked if they thought the purpose of government was to create greater equality.

Alistair Darling more or less said 'yes' as did Vince Cable who, I think, started talking about fairness as though it were the same thing as equality. George Osborne talked about fairness, too, and went on to say that the gap between the rich and the poor had increased under Labour.

None of them openly opposed the idea of equality and all of them seemed broadly sympathetic to the idea. Two of them, at least, implied that equality and fairness are the same sort of thing. They should not be allowed to get away with this. Equality and fairness, so far from being pretty much the same, are vigorously opposed to each other.

Imagine two poor men who have nothing except a place to live, a tv and the opportunity to work. One of them gets up and works hard for 10 hours and earns £150. The other hangs around his flat, watching daytime TV.

Now comes the chance to take a test and see whether you believe in equality or fairness.

Someone suggests that the man who worked all day should give half his money to the man who watched TV. That would be equal. Someone else argues that it would not be fair to take from a man who worked and give half his money to one who was idle. It is up to you to decide.

Which side are you on? Equality or fairness? Do you take £100 from a man who worked so that at the end of the day he has an equal amount of money as the man who was idle?

Equality and fairness are not the same thing and it is a trick, used by politicians and lamely accepted last night by the interviewer, to suggest otherwise.

One other thing: if you are on the side of equality in this little thought experiment, what do you think will happen the next day? Do you think that the man who worked for 10 hours will work quite so hard again now he realises that half his money will be taken from him? And do you think the idle man will decide that perhaps he ought to work after all? If the answer two both questions is 'no', you have unveiled at least part of the reason why Communism was such an economic disaster.

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March 25, 2010
Thursday
Brown inherited a deficit of £6bn, now it is £167bn
In his spirited response to the Chancellor, David Cameron was right to shift the focus to Labour's 13-year record, for that is where we get the true measure of the Government's performance. When Gordon Brown arrived at the Treasury he inherited a deficit of £6 billion; it is now £167 billion. The UK was the seventh most competitive economy in the world; it is now 13th. It was the fourth most competitively taxed; it is now the 84th. It was the fourth most lightly regulated; it is now the 86th.

This is from the Telegraph editorial.

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The Tories need to argue that low taxes matter

Osborne was asked on Radio 5 Live whether he wanted to get rid of the new 5% stamp duty on homes sold for more than £1m. He treated this question as though he were a bomb disposal expert and this was a particularly dangerous explosive. He replied that his priority was to reduce the burden on the less well-off - I think he picked out the rise in National Insurance. He clearly did not want to appear to be anything so terrible as a defender of the rich.

This is the way the Tory party has now allowed itself to be boxed in. It has implicitly accepted the way of thinking of Labour, Liberal Democrats, the BBC and so on. It has given up promoting its own ideology. Margaret Thatcher, when she was Tory leader, might have also replied that the priority was to take taxes off the poor. But she would also have been keen to go on to say that the overall level of taxation on everyone - rich and poor - was far too high and that it was damaging to employment and economic growth. She would have lambasted socialists for thinking that taxing and spending were the way out of every problem whereas she believed in low taxes, free enterprise and thus economic growth.

One day the Tory party will have to start saying these things again, otherwise it is starting the argument with an arm behind its back.

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January 27, 2010
Wednesday
The classic Dan Hannan attack on Gordon Brown

Now I have belatedly learned how to upload some videos, and for anyone who missed it, here is the classic speech from Dan Hannan that was an internet phenomenon:

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January 25, 2010
Monday
One of the worst things done in the Labour years

Below is an attack on Alastair Campbeel by Michael Howard which is of lasting importance. I suspect that Alastair Campbell was a key player in the undermining of the independence of the civil service and laid siege to the independence of newspaper comment, too, during the time when he had some power. It is one of the worst things done during the Labour administration. Previous Labour administrations may have been misguided but they were run by decent men and women who generally upheld standards of public life. As Howard says, Campbell attacked these standards and Blair knew what was going on and so also bears responsibility for it.


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October 26, 2009
Monday
New Labour is rather like President Nixon

This Labour administration has governed without regard to the integrity of British democracy, considering itself above such things - rather as President Nixon did. It has blackmailed, it has politically corrupted civil servants - appointing those who toe to the party political line -, it has made government spokesmen into Labour Party spokesmen, it promised a referendum on the European treaty and then broke its promise, it has distorted statistics and now we learn that it opened the door to immigration without ever consulting the British people. For details, still not wholly confirmed but very easy to believe, here.

Previous Labour governments had policies on tax, spending, unions and national ownership with which I strongly disagreed. But people like Clement Attlee were fundamentally very decent people who believed in the rule of law and the integrity of British democracy. The leadership of New Labour are not such people. They think their ends are so superior that they justify pushing aside such considerations. Or rather, they think they themselves are so superior that they are above such things.

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September 29, 2009
Tuesday
An antidote to the propaganda about Gordon

Here is an antidote to some of the propaganda the government is issuing to the effect that Gordon Brown has led the world out of recession and handled the banking crisis beautfully and generally is the sort of superb manager of the economy you would want in a crisis.

The BBC, unfortunately, continues to buy into a lot of the government's line. Yesterday John Pienaar on Radio 5 Live was quite outrageous in suggesting that after Gordon Brown leaves office he will at least be remembered for dealing well with the banking crisis. This was outright BBC bias. It showed either that John Pienaar is unaware of the many economists who regard Gordon Brown's changes to banking regulations as one of the causes of the crisis and those who think the government failed to deal with the crisis - as it should have done - effectively behind closed doors as previous governments had done. This meant the crisis was far more public causing the runs on the banks.

Either John Pienaar is unaware of these viewpoints - which would be negligent - or else he just allows his pro-Labour bias free rein, which is in breach of the rules governing the BBC.

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June 16, 2009
Tuesday
Generosity

"People like to be generous. They just don't like to be generous with their own money. They prefer to be generous with other people's money."

This is a remark, which I hope I have remembered pretty accurately, made to me by Professor Meir Kohn of Dartmouth University in America. I can't remember whether he was offering an explanation of why politicians like to spend or why electors vote for political parties that spend. The comment probably applies to both.

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June 08, 2009
Monday
"You can go by foot, you can go by cow!"

For anyone who feels that Gordon Brown should go, this clip on Youtube is pure pleasure. It is Dan Hannan MEP in good form.

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June 05, 2009
Friday
Not a re-shuffle

So far it does not seem so much a re-shuffle as a combination of ministers who refuse to stay and ministers who refuse to go.

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May 30, 2009
Saturday
The pasting given by Dan Hannan to Gordon Brown

If you haven't already seen this, I recommend it. Here is the clip of my former colleague Daniel Hannan MEP tearing magnificently into Gordon Brown. It is the most direct, unflinching statement of a free market kind that I have seen from a Tory politician since Lady Thatcher was Prime Minister.

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December 12, 2008
Friday
Why do Labour governments always eventually end up with a run on the pound?

It has happened again. It just took a bit longer this time. Once again, a Labour government has ended up with a run on the pound. Sterling has this week fallen to an all time low against the Euro. Yes, it is lower now than it was the aftermath of Black Wednesday when Britain came out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism. The incompetent mistakes of that time have now been more than matched by Labour.

Since the recent peak in 2007, the pound has tumbled by 21 per cent against the dollar, by a quarter against the Euro and a massive 46 per cent against the Japanese Yen. This gives the lie to the idea peddled by Mr Brown that the recession we are now enduring is all a matter of international problems. The foreign exchange markets are telling us clearly that this crisis is worse here than elsewhere – that the government here got it more wrong than any other major country.

A run on the pound has happened every time Labour has been in power. It is in the party’s DNA. In the previous Labour administration from 1974 to 1979, the pound collapsed against the Deutschemark – from DM6.05 to DM3.89. The time before that, between 1964 and 1970, the pound slumped from DM11.10 to DM8.74. That was when Harold Wilson made his infamous comment that the devaluation did not mean “of course” that “that the pound here in Britain, in your pocket or purse or in your bank, has been devalued”. In that broadcast, 41 years ago, he said that the devaluation would enable Britain to “to break out from the straitjacket” which had previously meant that every time a government had tried to expand the economy there had been a balance of payments crisis. In other words, he was devaluing to stop the cycle of boom and bust.

Now what other politician proclaimed that he was ending boom and bust? Ah yes. Gordon Brown. Only last year he repeated his boast, “we will never return to the old boom and bust”. And just like Wilson, events are showing that either he did not understand what was going on or else he was deliberately misleading us.

We can go back further still. The post-war Attlee government, much revered by the Left, presided over a slump in the value of the pound from US$4.03 to US$2.80. While Germany and France were embarking on post-war economic miracles, Britain was in financial crisis. The only other previous Labour administration (apart from a very brief stint in 1924) was that of Ramsay MacDonald from 1929 to 1931. There was no devaluation in that short time. But the pound slumped the following year when the same man headed a coalition government. So that’s the record. Five Labour administrations, five devaluations.

Why do they do it?

It is simple enough. They spend and spend until they reach the limits of the taxes the British public will bear and the lending that foreigners will provide us with. They spend like Billy Bunter eats – until they burst with it. They are like Dawn French with chocolates or Casanova with girls. They can’t stop themselves. They spend because it is the only answer they have to any problem and, being socialists, they think always that the government can and should deal with all problems.

They do not reflect that the taxes and debts which the spending causes are, themselves, major problems. They are problems that are now putting Britain in a crisis of recession and unemployment.


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December 04, 2008
Thursday
A different view of who is to blame

I attended a series of presentations by three economists (organised by Mercurius and the Cato Institute) last night on the worldwide economic crisis.

Professor Tim Congdon was clearly outraged at the behaviour of the Bank of England over Northern Rock. He argued that the Bank of England is meant to be and has long been the lender of last resort. That is how the system has worked. For many years it has saved banks but it has done so in a way that does not damage a free society. What it has done is lend aggressively and expensively to banks that have had need of cash but whose assets have exceeded their liabilities.

He said that in the case of Northern Rock, Lloyds TSB offered to buy Northern Rock but wanted the Bank of England to promise to back it up with cash if need be. Congdon said that normally the Bank would have said yes. He claimed the previous Bank governor, Eddie George, would have said yes. But the current governor, Mervyn King, said no. He is outraged by this and argues that this made our current crisis worse than it need have been. He says the Northern Rock had net assets (assets larger than its liabilities) and that even after the fall in house values, this remains the case. He said, if I recall, that 97 per cent of its mortgages are being paid off in the normal way.

More recently, again the Bank of England has not kept to its usual role of lending aggressively and expensively. Instead the government has only lent on conditions and, I would add, one major condition has been the taking large stakes in several major banks. The freedom, independence and perhaps international competitiveness of banks has been undermined and the crisis has been made worse than it need have been.

It is an argument worth considering, especially at a time when the consensus revealed by the tone of radio and television interviews, is that the whole thing is the fault of the banks and that the Government has handled things well.

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A link from Gordon Brown to Damien Green

Like many others, I am concerned about the apparent attempt to criminalise Damien Green for doing what opposition MPs, including Sir Winston Churchill and Gordon Brown, have done for many decades - namely receive information from civil servants that the government does not want released but which the MP thinks is in the public interest.

What makes it even more worrying is that most members of the government, particularly Lord Mandelson, have not seen how this sets Britain on the path to becoming a lesser democracy comparable with, say, Malaysia where some years ago the leader of the opposition was imprisoned on trumped up charges and the government tried to turn both the police and the judiciary into weapons of party warfare.

Again, like others, I offer a link to Gordon Brown smirking with pride at having done what Damien Green, according to what we know so far, has done:

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=QIrweIqqsOc

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November 26, 2008
Wednesday
What happens in a better-managed economy

It is quite a shock to read the huge contrast what is happening in a better-managed economy. This is from the Spectator blog.

Meanwhile in Singapore, the government- which has announced a stimulus plan based on subsidies for increasing training by the labor force- which will be paid for by tapping into the surpluses run up during the fat years- announced today a reduction in the pay of top civil servants and politicians to reflect the economic downturn. Basically when the economy is hot, they get higher pay and bonuses, when it's not, they get lower pay.

Read it and weep.

http://www.straitstimes.com:80/Breaking%2BNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_306495.html

Why can't the UK do this?

A link is here.

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If Mr Dacre is changing his view, Mr Brown really is finished

As the dust settles, things are becoming clearer. They seem to be getting a lot clearer at the Daily Mail, for example. Today the main opinion article is by the City editor, Alex Brummer who confesses that he was conned by Gordon Brown. He had, he says, thought since 1997 that Gordon Brown was a good chancellor - his embracing of the City was a good sign and a great improvement on previous Labour chancellors.

But now, Mr Brummer, admits, the pre-budget report has changed his view of Mr Brown. He thinks "prudence has been trown ruthlessly overboard" and "gone is the economic rectitude of which the Treasury boasted for so many years".

The views of Mr Brummer are not, in the great scheme of things, of huge importance. But the printing of this article, I suspect, tells us that the view of Mr Paul Dacre may be changing and that is very important indeed. Mr Dacre, for those who do not know, is the editor of the Daily Mail. For all the time since Gordon Brown has been chancellor and continuing while he has been prime minister, Mr Dacre has been an admirer of Mr Brown. The Daily Mail is thought of by many as a right-wing newspaper and in many respects Mr Dacre has right-wing views. But his view on economics are not doctrinaire or passionately in favour of low taxes and small government. He probably prefers these things, but not with religious fervour - or not enough of it to stop him admiring Mr Brown. I used to know Paul Dacre pretty well since I was a leader-writer for the Daily Mail for two years. He is not perfect of course but I admired him a great deal and admired his courage in pursuing ideas about damaging changes in the British way of life. He got a lot of insults from the "liberal" media over these things. However it was a great frustration to me that he would not countenance a hostile approach to the policies of Gordon Brown (except in recent years by Richard Littlejohn who was obviously given licence to express his robust views in his column without restraint).

But the fact that Paul Dacre commissioned Alex Brummer to write this piece today saying that his (Brummer's) view of Gordon Brown has changed indicates that, more significantly, Mr Dacre's view has changed. Mr Brummer, probably understanding his employer's wishes, is not directly critical of Mr Brown himself. But there is no escaping the fact that all he describes has taken place under Mr Brown's stewardship.

Another article in today's paper that also suggests that finally Mr Dacre is seeing through the New Labour story. It is by Edward Heathcoat Amory and he describes how most of the jobs created in all the regions of Britain since 1997 have been in the public sector: "More than 1.3 million of the 2.2 million jobs created between 1998 and 2006 were in public sector areas".

So we now have a view emerging in the Daily Mail that Labour is being reckless with its borrowing and that most of the growth in jobs in the years of Labour power consisted only of public sector jobs. It is heading towards the view (or am I being too hopeful?)that much of the apparent growth that took place after the first three or four years of Labour government was a con trick, being created by rising debt and government spending, not real increases in production or productivity.

Why does the view of the Daily Mail matter? Because it is perhaps the most politically important newspaper in Britain. It has a far bigger circulation than the "quality" newspapers and is read by people who vote (whereas some readers of the low-end newspapers probably do not vote). Many of its readers are floating voters.

For over a decade, the Daily Mail has been sympathetic to Gordon Brown and his works. If that is truly changing, I suspect he really is finished.

p.s. For a truly hostile approach to Mr Brown, try this.

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November 18, 2008
Tuesday
The spirit of Thatcherism lives on

David Cameron's speech this morning was the most encouraging thing I have heard from the Conservative Party in a long time. He said that a public spending splurge now would result in higher taxes later. He noted that Japan had tried increases in public spending to get them out of a long economic malaise during the 1990s. It certainly did not work. The economy grew at less than one per cent a year.

He noted that already Britain could only borrow at a premium rate compared to other countries. If the government tried to borrow even more than it has already, we would find it even more difficult to borrow and at higher interest rates. We could damage confidence and thus damage investment. In such ways, extra spending could actually reduce economic growth rather than increasing it.

He emphasised his long-established policy of keeping the growth in government spending over the cycle below the growth of the economy, thus gradually reducing the debt and the tax rates of Britain and creating a more prosperous society.

It was a speech so sound that it could have come from the days of Margaret Thatcher. Rejoice!

...and here is an article by George Osborne which was similarly welcome.

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October 17, 2008
Friday
President Clinton contributed to the current financial crisis

The BBC - especially the Today programme on Radio 4 - is showing ill-disguised delight at the current crisis of capitalism. Presenters such as John Humphrys have no doubt that it was as all caused by stupid, greedy capitalists and that a high priority now should be to ensure that these said capitalists do not get bailed out or rewarded or let off their crimes. His questioning of Alistair Darling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a short while ago was nearly all directed at attacking the idea of the innocent taxpayer being made to pay for the self-serving idiocy of bankers. He asked what the taxpayer was getting out of this.

It was, of course, a rare pleasure to hear Mr Humphrys suddenly develop an interest in the well-being of taxpayers. For many years he has suggested that the answer to any problem is for the government to spend more money on it and thus increase the tax burden. Leaving that to one side, what Mr Humphrys seemed to have trouble grasping is that we are dealing here the risk of a major recession and that the whole purpose of the Mr Darling's dramatic interventions was to try to prevent this happening. Mr Humphrys seemed unaware that banks are not like other businesses. They are central to the working of an economy. Incidentally, he also seemed unaware of the difference between spending money that disappears (as in spending it on a meal) and handing over money to banks that will in theory - and probably in reality - repay it.

Given the statist leanings of Mr Humphrys and other presenters, it is not surprising that the whole crisis is treated as a failure of capitalism and no effort is made to establish what role governments had in creating it. No, that is not entirely fair. I did hear Laurie Taylor, in an afternoon programme, searching for any academic economist who had forecast this crisis. He found a retired Professor Dale who had long ago warned about the change in the law that was known as Big Bang. This made it much easier for banks to own securities. He suggested - nearly 20 years ago - that the owning of securities by banks contributed to the Great Depression in America. He implicitly warned that Big Bang carried with it a risk of a repetition. This ascribing of at least a little responsibility to a government was unusual. There is much more scope, though, in this area.

Some may think, "How on earth could governments have contributed to the crisis?". I suspect there are a variety of ways but here, for a start, is quite an important one. On September 30th 1999 an article appeared in the New York Times headlined, "Fannie Mae Eases Credit To Aid Mortgage Lending".

Fannie Mae was the biggest underwriter of mortgage loans in America. I am no expert on American instituions but I understand it was an offshoot of government and in response to government pressure, according to the article, it was now going to "encourage...banks to extend home mortgages to individuals whose credit is generally not good enough to qualify for conventional loans."

Essentially this was an official move to embark on sub-prime lending - the very sub-prime lending that is at the core of the current financial crisis. Sub-prime lending means extending mortgages to people whose credit is "not good enough".

Part of the idea was to make more profit. But the article plainly states that Fannie Mae "has been under increasing pressure from the Clinton Administration to expand mortgage loans among low and moderate income people". You can easily imagine that Clinton and other Democrats thought it was a generous and popular act to get Fannie Mae to underwrite lending to the poor. But, as we now know, it was a disastrous act. The poor can't pay their loans back. The institutions that rely on them to pay back go bust.

Impressively, the writer was aware of this danger: "Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980's."

That was spot on.

Let us lay to rest the idea that this crisis is entirely made by greedly capitalists. One President Clinton, that figure much-loved by the Left-wing consensus at the BBC, was one of its creators.

The New York Times article is here.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias • Off the subject • Politics

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June 18, 2008
Wednesday
Mao and Starbucks

I have just returned from Shanghai where I visited the room where the first National Congress of the Communist Party of China took place. Mao Zedong was there in a small dining room along with 12 other voting delegates and two non-voting delegates from the Comintern. These men, representing a mere 53 members, inaugurated a party that has ruled the people of China (now numbering 1.3 billion) for nearly 60 years. It is extraordinary to think how an organisation starting with so few became so powerful.

The man who came to dominate Communist rule was, of course, Mao Zedong. He won the power struggles within the party and, as a by-product of his power-hunger and his communist views, an estimated 30 million people died of starvation. The agricultural communes he created were a catastrophe. People who had looked carefully after land and produce that was their own, failed to do so when the land was owned by large communes. Production fell. Starvation resulted. This crisis was made worse by Mao's idea that everyone should melt down their steel This took much time and energy, further damaging food production. Then there was the cultural revolution, one of several episodes of political terror.

Mao - communist zealot - was surely responsible for more deaths than any other person who ever lived. He should be regarded as one of the vilest men in history, in the same league as Hitler.

Mao's policies have been ditched. In the end, his political enemies, notably Deng Xiaoping, took over and abandoned his disastrous policies. But the extraordinary things is that Mao is still treated as a revered figure. I was astonished to see his complacent face beaming out from the the paper currency. The room where he was present at this first congress of the Chinese Communist Party is treated as a kind of shrine. It is a notable example of 'double-think'. Although we, in Britain, are not exempt from such double-thinking. For example, many people still regard the post-war Labour government led by Attlee as a great government. Yet it set about disastrus nationalisations which have since been undone. But this is a more minor episode and the Attlee government was full of men shining with honour compared to Mao.

There may be an attempt - certainly among some of the people described in the brilliant 'Wild Swans' which I am currently reading - to argue: "Yes, Mao made mistakes. But he created order and drove out the foreigners. For these things he should be admired."

These, I suspect, are very bad reasons to revere the man. Plenty of countries got rid of foreign colonialists through the 20th century. The list would be too long to write down here but it would obviously include South Africa, Malaysia and India, to name just a few. It was possible to get rid of foreign colonialists without mass terror and starvation. In fact China itself is now the disreputable colonialist in its continued control of Tibet.

The fact that, in the end, Mao lost the battle of ideas is very obvious when you visit the room in which he had that celebrated meeting. When you emerge, you find yourself in a district called Xintiandi. It is the smartest shopping district in Shanghai. Close by this shrine to communism are many shops and restaurants owned by capitalist and, often, foreign enterprises including Starbucks, Shanghai Tang (wonderful clothes, handbags and so on), Paul's (the French patisserie chain) and a branch of Chopard (the Swiss jeweller).

I wonder when, if ever, the Chinese will stop treating Mao as a hero and treat him as the villain he really was?

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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May 23, 2008
Friday
Hitler was a socialist - not right wing

I have recently come across a book called "Liberal Fascism" by Jonah Goldberg. He makes two points that really ring bells.

The first is that the widespread idea that fascism - including Hitler and Mussolini - is of the Right is totally incorrect. Of course you can get into long and unrewarding arguments about definitions. But this matters because those of us who are genuinely of the Right are tainted by any kind of an association with fascism. Any such taint is unfair and unwarranted. I cannot help thinking that the slur is, consciously or unconsciously, encouraged by those media people and teachers who very often are of the Left.

The core of what it means to be Right is surely a belief in free markets. You might add in 'freedom of the individual' but not all would agree.

The essence of what it is to be of the Left is a belief in government intervention, control and ownership.

The party of which Hitler was the leader was the National Socialist Party. The word "Socialist" was not a misprint. This was openly and avowedly a Left-wing party. Goldberg includes an entire translation of the 1920 Party Programme which was co-written by Hitler himself. It includes the following points (which I admit are not wholly clear to me but which certainly include plenty of government control and ownership):

"11. Abolition of unearned (work and labour) incomes. Breaking of rent-slavery.
12. ...the total confiscation of all war profits.
13. We demand the nationalization of all (previous) associated industries (trusts).
14. We demand a division of profits [profit sharing] of heavy industries.
15. We demand an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare...
17 We demand ...provision of a law for the free expropriation of land for the purpose of public utility, abolition of taxes on land and prevention of all speculation in land."

Goldberg suggests that the reason we in Britain began to think of the Nazis as very different from socialists was propaganda by Stalin. Stalin called anyone who disagreed with his line a fascist. He even called Trotsky a fascist. We came to be believe that those who were enemies of Stalin could not be socialist since Stalin was a socialist. But this this was a false conclusion. Socialists are quite capable of falling out among themselves. One big theoretical difference betweeen Stalin and Hitler is shown by the name of Hitler's party. He believed in "National" socialism. Stalin believed in "international" socialism.

The truth is, says Goldberg, that Hitler did not care that much about economics anyway. He was mainly concerned with German 'identity politics'. But the point remains that it is not correct to suggest that Hitler was of the Right. He was not.

The Nazis borrowed whole sections from the communist playbook. Party members - male and femals - were referred to as comrades. Hitler recalls how his appeals to "class-conscious proletarians" who wanted to strike out against the "monarchist, reactionary agitation with the fists of the proletariat" were successful in drawing countless communists to their meetings....In short, the battle between the Nazis and the communists was a case of two dogs fighting for the same bone.

I cannot say that Goldberg offers an abolutely knock-down case for his argument. He says almost nothing about what the Nazis did in government as opposed to what they argued prior to reaching power. However the book provides quite a lot of evidence of the latter.

The second point that Goldberg makes is that our modern, so-called "liberal" governments behave in a way that is recognisably fascist in the sense that he defines the term. I won't go into his full justification here. I will only mention that he bases his idea of what fascism truly means on Mussolini. He seems, basically, to liken 'real' fascism with totalitarianism. It is indeed not difficult - or new - to accept the idea that modern so-called 'liberal' democracies increasingly seek to determine every aspect of the way we live. In that sense, we increasingly live in totalitarian states.

The state is now entering areas which would have been unthinkable in the 19th century: whether or not children are smacked by their parents, whether or where we smoke cigarettes, whether we wear seat-belts or not, what is printed on food labels, what prices water companies charge, what childen are taught in schools, what we put into rubbish bins and even the exact time at which we put out our rubbish. Many of these will seem to many people to be perfectly reasonable controls on our behaviour. But the word 'liberal' does not seem appropriate. The word 'totalitarian' increasingly does.

Jonah Goldberg makes many controversial points and I am not convinced by them all. But the book is certainly worth a look.

Jonah Goldberg "Liberal Fascism" published by Doubleday (£18.99).

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics • Recommended reading

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January 27, 2007
Saturday
Blair's lies, full prisons, undersentencing and Gordon's part in all this

Most of the nonsense which Mr Blair spoke in order to get himself elected has been forgotten. He has not been held to account. But occasionally the propaganda which served him so well is remembered. The absurd lies are finally exposed. This week it has been his crime policy.

One of Mr Blair's most famous pieces of propaganda was the promise that, if elected, he would be "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime".

But this week the British public has been made very well aware that the government over which he presides did not build anything like enough prisons to house the steadily increasing number of criminals. In other words, he simply was not "tough on crime". That was a lie.

In addition, the failure of his government to build sufficient prisons has made crime worse than it would otherwise have been. This, rather unusually, has now been pointed out by a judge:

Judge Richard Bray jailed two men over a fight outside a pub, and told Northampton Crown Court: "I am well aware that there is overcrowding in the prisons and detention centres. That is not going to prevent me from passing proper sentences in each case.

"The reason our prisons are full to overcrowding, and have been for years, is because judges can no longer pass deterrent sentences."

He added: "What message does it send to criminals when they are told in the dock they will only have to serve half the sentence the judge thinks appropriate?

"Until politicians wake up to this fact, criminals will continue to re-offend and the prison population will continue to rise ever higher."

Of course, while Mr Blair 'presided' over the failure to build prisons, the person who should probably take the main responsibility is Gordon Brown. He was acting prime minister for domestic policy. His men at the Treasury will have been the ones telling any Home Secretary who wanted to build prisons, 'sorry, money is too tight'. So the great extent of the rise in crime is yet another failure of this government that probably can be put down to the actions of Gordon Brown.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Behaviour & Crime • Politics

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January 02, 2007
Tuesday
The year of Gordon Brown

This is going to be the year of Gordon Brown. For more than a decade we have faced the likelihood of him becoming prime minister sooner or later. Now it is a racing certainty he will be prime minister in 2007. June is regarded as the most likely time. So what will it be like to be ruled this man?

Over the weekend, Mr Brown - or someone very close to him - gave a detailed forecast .

It was claimed that we are going to get a ‘humbler’ and more ‘austere’ administration. It is easy to believe the ‘austere’ part. No more holidays with the Bee Gees or at palazzos in Tuscany, like high-living Tony Blair. But modest?

Even if one bends over and holds one’s breath for 30 seconds, it is impossible to imagine Mr Brown being modest. On the contrary, far more than Mr Blair, he is convinced that he knows best and that anyone who does not agree with him is either stupid or can be written off as a political enemy. The Chancellor’s absence of modesty could well be one of the grimmer aspects of his coming leadership.

Other claims of the Brown camp are that Gordon will give back independence and power to civil servants; that he will appoint a cabinet “of all the talents” and that there will much less ‘spin’.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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January 01, 2007
Monday
Is David Cameron a free-market Conservative?

I had a conversation at a Christmas party with someone close to David Cameron to whom I complained that the Conservatives had given up real free market policies. He said not to worry, after they won the election...and then he made a gesture as if he were pulling off a mask. The implication was that it was all a public relations act and that, underneath Cameron and co. are genuine Tories of whom Margaret Thatcher would not be ashamed.

But as we went on talking, this claim seemed to wear thin and when I complained, for example, that George Osborne had talked about making state schools as good as private schools and that this showed a failure to accept the true nature of the problem (that state schools, being state-controlled and not subject to market pressures and will never be as good as private schools, therefore continuing to condemn millions to a poor education in which they do not even learn, in many cases, how to read), he became irritated and said I was 'part of the problem' with the Conservative Party. He also complained that I must accept what is politically possible.

There is a certain double-talk among the Cameron ranks as is well explained by David Green in his article for the Sunday Telegraph:

David Cameron is anxious to reassure the growing number of doubters in the Tory party. But it transpires that the assurances are being varied to suit the occasion. Recently, I was talking to two journalists, one on the Left of the spectrum and one on the Right. The Cameron team had told the Left-wing journalist that they did not care if the "old fogeys" joined Ukip, if they could not accept "modernisation" good riddance to them. The Right-leaning journalist, however, had been told that Mr Cameron was a true Tory; all party members were valued, and that everyone will be pleasantly surprised when he gets to Downing Street. In the meantime, it was necessary to say counter-intuitive things to "win the right to be heard".

It is understandable that the Tories are trying to combat the accusation that they celebrate "narrow selfish individualism" and do not care about the least advantaged members of society. So they should. But they have gone about it by accepting that the charge was true in the past and setting out to demonstrate that it is no longer true under Mr Cameron. As proof of their new compassion they have made policy announcements associating themselves with the policies of the Left, including support for the redistribution of income and hostility to school choice through education vouchers.

By accepting that support for Labour's policies is proof that he cares, Mr Cameron has given Labour an effective veto on Tory policies. If the Tories ever have the nerve to advocate school choice or to reduce welfare dependency, Labour can accuse them of relapsing into old "nasty-party" ways. Moreover, far from providing fresh thinking, Mr Cameron has stepped back 30 years to a time when ideologues thought that the state was good and the market bad. He has renounced market solutions in health and education as evidence of how much he cares, but most thoughtful people, including some in the Labour Party, have stopped thinking that way.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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December 20, 2006
Wednesday
As Cameron gives up on the tax issue, it is becoming more important

The Cameron leadership of the Conservative Party has given up on the tax argument at a time when it is getting increasingly strong and important.

This from today's Daily Telegraph:

Britain's ballooning public sector will grow bigger than Germany's next year for the first time since the early 1970s.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development figures show public spending in the UK will overtake that of Germany in 2007. The crossover will be seen as the latest stage in Britain's transformation under Gordon Brown into a big government economy.

The OECD says state spending will hit 45.3pc of gross domestic product next year, compared with 45.1pc in Germany. The proportion of the economy accounted for by the Government has risen dramatically under Labour, from a low of 37.5pc of GDP in 2000. The gap will be wider in 2008 since Germany is reducing its public spending.

Britain's public spending remains far above that of other major economies including the US, where it will be 36.9pc of GDP next year, and Japan, where it will be 36.2pc. But it is far below France's state expenditure, which will be 53.5pc.

Corin Taylor, head of research at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "The OECD has given warning that Britain's rising tax burden and high public spending is out of step with international practice. Britain's economy will feel the pinch with businesses and jobs going overseas. The prudent course would be to get a grip on public spending and cut taxes now."

Peter Spencer, economic adviser to the Ernst & Young Item Club, said: "With public expenditure heading towards 45pc of GDP, the real worry is that a lot of that money is actually borrowing."

The OECD figures show the rise in the UK's tax burden over the next two years will be the fourth-biggest in the Western world.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics • Tax and growth

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June 08, 2006
Thursday
Gordon Brown's quandary: to wave the flag or not to wave the flag, that is the question

The big issue in British politics today: will Gordon Brown fly the English flag?

The English flag is engulfing the country. The resistance of the upper middle-classes to the practices of white van man is crumbling. Tony Blair is going to fly the red cross on a white background at Number 10 on match days. David Cameron has already got St George's flag fluttering from the back of his bike. Is Gordon going to follow suit? The problem, of course, is that he is Scottish.

On the other hand, he has recently shown himself positively desperate to make himself more popular - espousing 'Britishness' and then, this week, going to see the last remaining Battle of Jutland veteran was about as embarrassingly obvious as a politician can get.

Imagine the long debates with his spin doctors. To wave the flag or not to wave the flag? How many English votes would he gain? How many Scottish ones would he lose if he betrayed his homeland? Would he look ridiculous and unprincipled? (Yes.) Will he look stuffy and and unfriendly if he doesn't wave it? Probably yes, again. The poor chap is stuck.

His predicament is a pleasure to behold.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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May 29, 2006
Monday
Mr Prescott must go

Self-indulgence by a politician can be endearing. George Brown, a leading Labour Party minister in the 1960s, was known to enjoy a drink or two - perhaps more. To begin with at least, it seemed to make him more likeable. He was the sort you might meet in the pub, rather than just another stuck-up politician. Winston Churchill, of course, was usually photographed with a great big fat Havana cigar in his mouth and he, too, was known to have a remarkable appetite for alchohol.

Now John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, has been photographed playing croquet with civil servants at his grace-and-favour country estate of Dorneywood, Buckinghamshire. They reportedly started playing at 4.15pm in the afternoon on a working day - last Thursday - for nearly an hour. They then adjourned for what is described as a 'picnic' in a gazebo.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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January 10, 2006
Tuesday
Cameron-tripe

There is scope for a little book to be called Cameron-tripe.

The best example of the past few days I noticed in the Mail on Sunday. The new leader of the Conservative Party said:

"The real respect agenda must be based on optimism about the ability of people and communities to create civilised lives for themselves, rather than a pesssimistic view of human nature."

Why must a 'real respect' agenda be based on this 'optimism'? No reason appears to have been given.

Who suggested it should be based on 'pessimism'? No one is cited.

And would it not be better to base any policy on realism?

Incidentally, what is the policy?

It is all spin and totally devoid of any serious content.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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December 07, 2005
Wednesday
You wouldn't be a hypocrite would you, Mr Brown?

Gordon Brown has gave the thumbs down to the Turner Commission report on pensions on the basis that they were 'unaffordable'. But if Mr Brown become prime minister for just one day, his pension pot will double in size.

Below is a delicious letter by Lord Oakeshott, the Liberal Democrat peer, on this subject. One extra thing to bear in mind as you read it: Gordon Brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer has instituted a new system for other people's pensions whereby they get taxed heavily if their pension pot rises above £1.5 million or so. His own pension pot equivalent - as prime minister - would be over £2 million. The hypocrisy - if he takes it - would be awesome.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Pensions • Politics

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December 06, 2005
Tuesday
Is criticism of the government silenced by fear of victimisation?

Gordon Brown's pension bungle (see below) was the lead item on the BBC's World at One on Radio 4 today. Notice one thing that is even worse than Mr Brown's wasting of other people's time and money. The objections to it are being made by the industry body, not by individual pension providers. Why? I am told by the personal finance editor of a national newspaper that it is because they are scared of reprisals. Apparently Legal and General once put its head above the parapet and criticised the government. It was victimised as a result.

If this is right, it is a terrible state we have reached. It is dreadful if companies dare not criticise the government in case they get singled out for rough treatment. It is the sort of thing we have, until recently, associated with uncivilised countries that do not have the proper rule of law.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Pensions • Politics

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November 03, 2005
Thursday
Labour on the way out

The Labour Government is now in its declining years.

- the backbenchers are looking to the day when Gordon Brown takes over. Many of them never agreed with Tony Blair's 'modernising' agenda. Now they don't see much need even to pretend to. Increasingly the same goes for the cabinet. It is therefore going to be virtually impossible for Mr Blair to push through any 'modernisation' of the public services or tightening up of welfare benefits. Yet this 'modernising' agenda is what he has said was the purpose of his third parliament as prime minister. As he cannot do what he intended to do, what is the point of him remaining prime minister?

- he will therefore probably be pressured to give up his job to Gordon Brown rather earlier than he intended.

- but while the many 'Old Labour' elements about MPs and Labour party supporters may regard Gordon Brown as a a good thing - a welcome dose of 'real Labour' - he will not have the same appeal in the country. Yes, he may still have a good popularity rating. But that is on the basis, however flawed, that he is an effective Chancellor. Being Prime Minister is altogether different. Mr Brown on television appears dour. His character has not got that superficial likeability that Mr Blair's has. I doubt that he will have such a secure hold on the affections of the middle classes as Mr Blair.

- Meanwhile, the failings of this long-lived Labour administration have been irritating more and more people as time goes by. That happens to all administrations.

- Labour under Gordon Brown will either do some things that are necessary, like raising the age for public sector pensions, which would be unpopular with their own core vote. Or else it will do things which are Old Labour, which will be unpopular with the floating voters (like raising taxes or giving more power to the unions).

- one sign of the times: James Naughtie, arch Labour supporter, giving a hostile, rough ride to Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, on the Today programme this morning. It is almost as if there was blood in the water and the sharks are circling.

Labour is surely on the way out now. It could even lose the next election or, if it wins, do so by only a modest, fragile margin.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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November 01, 2005
Tuesday
The centralisation threat - but 'no two classes of men exist'

I have come across across a good little booklet about the tendency of governments to become more and more centralised. Despite occasional infelicities in the translation from the original, it is a concise description and analysis of this tendency. For example, I liked this part of the conclusion:

At the bottom-line of all centralist tendencies rests the paternalistic vision of society, which denies man's ability to organise his life according to his own plans. The observed tendency towards bureaucratic centralisation is a salient expression of the widespread belief in a bureaucratic version of the Platonian two-class society: at the top a small and enlightened bureacracy, at the bottom the dumb rest of society. In combination with a prevailing totalitarian notion of equality, centralisation is perceived as the hallmark of social progress. Any critique of the bureaucracy must therefore rest on the basic insight that no two classes of men exist and that hence everybody is responsive to incentives.

The authors go on to refer to the incentive for a bureaucracy towards centralisation.

So what controls can resist this tendency?

Many people are comforted by the idea that in any democracy, the voice of the people will limit and direct the centre. But

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in General • Politics

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September 22, 2005
Thursday
We should get out of Iraq before we make things even worse.


The ghastly image of a British soldier with clothes on fire desperately escaping from his armoured vehicle and being bombarded with bricks and other missiles is a key moment. It is bound to change what people feel about the occupation of Iraq. It will make us think - consciously or unconsciously - about whether we should get out now, before the situation gets even worse.

We will wonder more than ever whether we should have gone there in the first place. More and more of us are coming to the view that this has all been a sickening mistake from which we should extract ourselves as quickly as possible before we do yet more harm to the Middle East and our own safety.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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September 13, 2005
Tuesday
Could this be the 2000 petrol crisis all over again?

Queues at petrol stations have started to appear. Hauliers are planning to blockade supplies, to stop Dover operating and to create a go-slow on the M4. The cost of a petrol is rising towards a £1 and we are thinking twice about whether we should make longer journeys because the cost of the petrol is beginning to hurt.

It may sound familiar. Is this going to be the petrol crisis of 2000 all over again?

At first blush, a great deal is different. Everyone accepts that the main driver for the soaring price of petrol this time is the rise in the international oil price, which has practically doubled compared to a year ago.

That is a change from five years ago when Gordon Brown got the lion's share of the blame because he was deliberatedly ratcheting up the tax on petrol each year. Since that is not the case now, support for proposed blockades appears to be weaker now. It also means that the hauliers they may not manage to cause such great disruption.

But people are losing money - not just hauliers but nurses on modest salaries driving to work in country hospitals and the self-employed travelling around as part of their business. It would be provoking to us all if the Chancellor just carries on complacently as though all this were nothing to do with him. Though he does not want us to realise it, he is caught at the centre of this problem.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics • Tax and growth

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August 17, 2005
Wednesday
Living through the Russian revolution

During the holidays I stayed for a while in a National Trust cottage next to Chastleton House, a Jacobean building in the Cotswolds. It had some old books on shelves. I think some of them had been in the library of Chastleton house when it was still occupied by the owners. Among them was I Chose Freedom by Victor Kravchenko. First published in 1946 it is the autobiography of a man who was the son of a communist revolutionary, who himself became an enthusiast for the revolution but who eventually became disillusioned and defected to the west.

I recommend the book. It communicates very well how genuine is the idealism of those who have chosen communism and/or socialism. The description of how the Soviet revolution went horribly wrong is all the more powerful for coming from one of its believers and insiders. We should try to learn from it a deeper understanding of why communism and socialism don't work.

I am keen that people should read it because the failures of the communist regimes - both economically and politically - are beginning to fade from memory. The ideas of communisma and socialism are instantly appealing, especially to young people who did not live through the failures that took place in Russia, Eastern Europe, China a elsewhere through the twentieth century. I fear that if younger people do not read books such as this, they will again fall for the same illusions.

The book is also a jolly good read. I only reached page 50 in Chastleton but I am keen for more. I have already ordered a copy for myself from Abebooks.com. I hope others will do the same. It is not expensive. The cheapest copies are less than a couple of pounds plus postage. It must have been a best-seller in the late 1940s.

Incidentally, another good book by a communist insider is The Truth That Killed by Georgi Markov - the Bulgarian who was assasinated in London by the Bulgarian secret service.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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July 20, 2005
Wednesday
If poverty is increasing, how come ownership of consumer durables is also increasing?

I was interviewed yesterday for a Radio 4 programme called Analysis which will be transmitted sometime in the future.

The issue was inequality. Some people believe that income inequality and poverty are serious problems in Britain and should be addressed by government. 'Income inequality' and 'poverty' are, effectively, the same thing in their minds since they define poverty as someone having 60 per cent or 50 per cent of average incomes, regardless of how high average incomes might be.

I don't want to minimise the problems of those who are relatively poor. In Britain, they have been trapped in a dependency culture which has done them enormous damage. However it is worth remembering that when it comes to 'poverty' and 'inequality', government statistics on income and financial assets are virtually useless. The relatively poor have an incentive to get rid of any financial assets. As the story of Frank Stent shows (in The Welfare State We're In), they are incentivised to exchange financial assets and buy consumer durables and holidays instead. If they don't do this, they risk losing their means-tested benefits.

Someone with over £8,000 of financial assets entirely loses any entitlement to income support. So a lone mother, for example, who was dependant on income support would damage her financial interest if she kept financial assets of more than that sum. So the official statistics on income and financial assets don't genuinely tell us about poverty (either relative or absolute) or inequality. Something else gives us a more commonsense idea.

The idea that poverty and inequality have seriously increased in the past two decades is undermined by the following figures from the Office For National Statistics:

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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July 19, 2005
Tuesday
The praise of Edward Heath has become ridiculous

Since Edward Heath's death, I have heard him lauded as honourable, brave, amusing in company and full of integrity. Sir Edward had his good points no doubt. But this undiluted admiration on radio and televison, in particular, is becoming ridiculous and runs the danger of misleading those who were not adults during his leadership. The truth is that his time as prime minister was disastrous both for the Conservative Party and the country.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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July 18, 2005
Monday
Lest we forget what Thatcher did

In France, children are taught that the Battle of Trafalgar was inconclusive and that the British admiral was killed. In Britain, of course, we are told something rather different, that it was one of our greatest naval triumphs.

History is not just a series of facts but an interpretation of them. Quite often there is considerable disagreement. [A new book called ] Margaret Thatcher's Revolution is a cavalry charge by loyalists in the battle over how her time in office should be seen. It is a bold assertion that the Iron Lady made Britain a better place than it was before.

Yes, she had her flops.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics • Reform

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July 08, 2005
Friday
Bombs and politicians - I won't relinquish my view quite yet

I have been fulsomely and repeatedly criticised by visitors to this site for my remarks about 'Politicians and bombs' (see below). As one of my critics has rightly said, this is outside my area of expertise. I can't claim to be knowledgeable about the views of Islamic terrorists. However I am reluctant - as most people are - to give way and say I was wrong.

There has been a large amount of terrorism during and just before my life. I also have come to have a certain view of human nature. I think it takes quite a lot to make someone take the trouble to give up normal life and relative security in order to make a bomb to kill others. I am sceptical of the idea that dislike of another culture is enough to cause people to do this.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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July 07, 2005
Thursday
Bombs and politicians

It is awful that people have been killed and injured this morning. One of the explosions appears to have taken place within a few hundred metres of where my wife and children happened to be.

In relation to the human tragedies, it is a minor point, but the reactions of the two leading British politicians concerned, Tony Blair and Ken Livinstone, have been less than impressive. Both have created a totally unsubstantiated image of terrorists bent on destroying the historic freedoms of the British people. At present, it is not actually known who let off these bombs. But let us suppose that it was Al Quaeda. Even the members of this outfit surely are not in the least concerned with destroying our freedoms. They are far more likely to be concerned with what they regard as gross interference by Britain, America and others in the affairs of the Middle East.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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June 26, 2005
Sunday
Blair queue-jumps Mr Brown - but not that Mr Brown

Here is an article from the Reading Chronicle, of all news sources. It draws further attention to the privileged treatment Mr Blair has been given by the NHS. Why do hospitals and consultants give him this privileged treatment? Why do they not say to Mr Blair, "We are sorry. But the NHS exists to provide equally good treatment for everyone. If we allow you to queue jump or get superior treatment, it would be wholly unfair to everybody else." Has the medical profession so little sense that people should be treated according to clinical need rather than status? Here is one of the people who was queue-jumped by Mr Blair. What makes the story so telling is that he suffers from a similar condition to Mr Blair.

A LIFE-long Labour Party supporter suffering from a similar heart condition to Tony Blair has been waiting more than a year for the same surgery which has changed the Prime Minister's life.

Grandfather Richard Brown from Thames Side in Reading suffers from atrial fibrillation - a condition in which the heart beats irregularly, leading to dizziness and blackouts.

He realised he was ill more than a year ago, when he collapsed while on a walk with wife Esme. But unlike Mr Blair, who was treated at an NHS hospital within hours of experiencing chest pains and dizziness in October 2003, Mr Brown was told by a Royal Berkshire Hospital consultant he would have to take medication for the rest of his life.

And it was not until the Labour leader underwent his second operation in less than a year that 67-year-old Mr Brown even realised his condition could be cured.

Now, after demanding a second appointment with his consultant, the retired computer programmer from Newcastle-upon-Tyne has been placed on a six-month waiting list for treatment at University College Hospital in London.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in NHS • Politics

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June 23, 2005
Thursday
American welfare reform was bitterly opposed and not bi-partisan

Ron Haskins, a senior adviser to President Bush on welfare reform, addressed the Centre for Policy Studies yesterday. It was an exceptionally good presentation - powerful about the way in which the 1996 welfare reform programme has succeeded and honest about admitting ways in which it has disappointed.

He brought home that the welfare reform was not, as it is usually described in Britain, a genuinely bi-partisan affair. It was, above all, a Republican reform that was fought bitterly by most Democrats (with one particularly notable exception). Based on the American experience, we should not get hung up on the idea that only the Left can reform welfare on the same basis that 'only Nixon could make peace with Commmunist China'. In America, passionate Republicans aimed to save their country though welfare reform and they have, to a remarkable degree, succeeded.

The notable exception on the Democrat side was,

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Behaviour & Crime • Parenting • Politics • Reform • Welfare benefits

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June 21, 2005
Tuesday
If we had had welfare reform like America, we could have had this:

Below is what has been achieved in America. It could have been done here. But instead of radical reform in welfare, Gordon Brown increased means-testing. There has been some reduction in the value of welfare benefits and some increased incentives to work and even some increased conditionality of benefits. But it has been minor and at the edges.

If Blair had done what Clinton (pushed on by the Republicans) had done in the USA, then we might have had this:

What was the result of the 1996 reforms? By 2003, American welfare case loads had declined by about 60 per cent nationally. The number of families receiving cash welfare is now the lowest it has been since 1971. Between 1993 and 2000, the percentage of single mothers in employment grew from 58 per cent to nearly 75 per cent. The sub-group of never-married mothers working grew from 44 per cent to 66 per cent.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Behaviour & Crime • Parenting • Politics • Welfare benefits

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June 18, 2005
Saturday
The new, disappointing generation of Tories led by David Cameron

On Thursday 16th, David Cameron issued a speech about education. Since then Boris Johnson and other rising young stars have endorsed David Cameron as a candidate for the leadership of the Tory party.

After reading the speech David Cameron made, I find this all very depressing. It is a speech in which Mr Cameron positions himself as the Tony Blair of the Right. But more important than that, it is a speech in which Mr Cameron shows that he has not got to grips with how and why the country's welfare state - particulary the education part - is in such trouble. And the fact that many rising young Tories have endorsed him, suggests that they have not understood either.

He said in his speech,

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education • Politics

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June 16, 2005
Thursday
How to do welfare reform.

The blog Once More Unto the Breach has an interesting posting and comments on the options and difficulties in welfare reform.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in NHS • Politics • Reform • Welfare benefits

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June 09, 2005
Thursday
The Conservatives: not just a battle but a long-running war

There is a battle for the future of the Conservative Party. But it is not a one-off battle. It is part of a long-running war that has gone on for decades and will probably continue for many more.

The real division is not between those who want to be nice to gays and those who don't. Nor is it between those who want to put on a friendly face and those who can't. It is between those who believe in that the state is just fine at running things and those who think it is awful at the job.

The long history of this war is reflected in a passage by Lord Tebbitt in his essay in Margaret Thatcher's Revolution, a book due out very soon:

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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June 07, 2005
Tuesday
The Thatcher years by Norman Tebbitt and others

I went to an event at the Institute of Economic Affairs last night at which several of the authors of a new book, Margaret Thatcher's Revolution, including Norman Tebbitt, spoke. Here are some of their remarks:

Dennis O'Keeffe: "much 'special needs' is about children who have not been taught to read".

David Marsland: Privatising the supply of healthcare (ie hospitals and doctors) is relatively easy. Privatising demand is more difficult. But a start could be made by using tax rebates to enable people to opt out of state-financed care.

James Stanfield: He went to a comprehensive school. He did GCSE in English Literature and did not do any Shakespeare at all. The year after he left, the headmaster was punched by a pupil as order faded. He reckons he got out 'just in time'. He wanted governments, if they are subsidising education, to subsidise the consumer, not the producer. He said he had been to Kenya and was appalled that the British government was exporting the failed British model of 'free and compulsory' education. He said, "British money is destroying education in Africa."

Norman Tebbitt talked of the huge transfer of assets that took place under Thatcher from the public sector to the private sector. He reeled off a list of companies privatised that was far longer than most of us can easily remember. On top of that was the sale of council homes. He said these things combined to make a big difference in social attitudes.

He admitted some failures.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education • European Union • Housing • NHS • Politics

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June 02, 2005
Thursday
Mr Brown spreads failure to Africa

Mr Brown thinks it is awful that many people in Africa have a limited amount of education. Without entering the truth or otherwise of that, his assumption that he should therefore subsidise state-provided education is wholly wrong. State education in Africa, as elsewhere around the world, is inferior to private and charitable education.

On a personal note, I know a young Zimbabwean woman who does what we in Britain would consider low-paid work. I asked her whether her young child in Zimbabwe would be going to a private or a state school.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education • Politics

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June 01, 2005
Wednesday
Governments don't make poverty history

When someone suggests that more money should be given to governments of third world countries to help them 'make poverty history' remember this article in Saturday's Daily Telegraph:

Five months after the tsunami struck, killing 40,000 and leaving 500,000 homeless in Sri Lanka, more than 100,000 of the poorest victims are still living in tents or crude temporary shelters.

Despite almost unlimited resources - the relief fund stands at more than £1.75 billion for Sri Lanka alone - victims are cooped up in camps waiting for news of progress that never seems to come.

Aid agencies keen to press on with rebuilding are being frustrated at every turn by the tangled and all-embracing bureaucracy of the central government. Shipping containers remain stuck at ports, vital building plans await approval and incompetent officials ignore the advice of specialists.

This week, as the first monsoon rains arrived, agencies were striving to move thousands of people out of their tents and into solid shelters before camp sites turned into quagmires.

After months during which the situation has deteriorated and no one has spoken out for fear of upsetting the highly sensitive government, the World Bank finally broke cover this week.


Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics • Waste in public services

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May 28, 2005
Saturday
The return of belief to the Conservative Party

Dinner last night with about 17 Conservative Party parliamentary researchers, local councillors and activists. They were generally under 40 and, though, they had a variety of views, I was struck that quite of few of them showed a robustness in their free market views that has not been widespread in the Conservative Party since the days were Margaret Thatcher was leader.

One of them said that Rudi Giuliani, the former Mayor of New York, wanted to introduce vouchers for schools. His advisers said that some other word should be found. I think he said 'grants' was suggested. But Giuliani said, no, our opponents will call them vouchers whatever we call them, so lets call them vouchers ourselves. The difference between this kind of approach and that of much of the leadership of the party since Margaret Thatcher, is that it reflects real belief.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in NHS • Politics

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May 22, 2005
Sunday
A child died. If only he had been a child of Tony Blair he would probably have had his operation.

One of the assertions in the book is that at least 15,000 people a year die premature deaths in Britain because we have the NHS rather than an averagely good system. Normally the deaths don't get into the newspapers but this one did (see below). The child who died would probably have had his operation in good time if he had been one of Tony Blair's children. If Tony Blair himself needed a similarly important operation, there is no question that would get it promptly (see earlier posting on his back injection). So, we have a medical system under which children can die from from lack of timely treatment but in which the prime minister always gets timely treatment. Is that what he calls 'social justice'? Is that what Nye Bevan, that passionate defender of the working man, had in mind when he created the NHS?

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in NHS • Politics

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May 20, 2005
Friday
Tony Blair adds a third tier to the British medical system

An intriguing sentence in the Daily Telegraph report of Tony Blair's back injection:

The hospital said he had been given "priority treatment" but no other patients had been affected.

This is not absolutely unambiguous. It could mean that he was given 'priority treatment' because of the seriousness and urgency of his condition. But the impression I get, especially from the following phrase 'but no other patients were affected', is that he was jumped to the front of the queue or else given a more precise appointment time than everybody else.

If this is the case, it marks the introduction of a new, three-tier health system.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in NHS • Politics

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May 15, 2005
Sunday
Different sorts of Conservative 'modernisers'

In case your are confused about sorts of Conservative modernisers, conservativehome explains:

...the distinction between 'Soho' and 'Easterhouse' modernisers. Soho mods tend to emphasise lifestyle freedoms - some exhorting tolerance of soft drug use and sexual freedom. Easterhouse mods tend to emphasise the need to address the poverties that still blight much of Britain. Unfortunately the two forms of modernisation are not easy bedfellows. The Easterhousers worry that the Soho group's tolerance of soft drug use and chaotic family structure threatens the achievement of social justice.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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May 10, 2005
Tuesday
Anger among the Tories

A friend who is a member of the David Davis camp sees the proposal of Michael Howard to reform the way in which the Conservatives elect their leader as an attempt to stop Davis or anyone like him. My friend argues that there is nothing to stop someone (unnamed) from launching a leadership challenge right now, using the old rules. I replied that to do so would look opportunistic and would result in that person losing support. He replied that what Howard was proposing to do was itself 'opportunistic' and was intended to keep out a potential free market, right-wing leader.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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Factions in the Conservative Party

Interesting view and, particularly, analysis of the factions within the party from Tim Montgomerie:

The Tory Party's two modernising factions need to find common ground with the more traditionalist grouping. There will only be infighting and no progress if one group seeks to defeat the others. Particularly important is the need for the 'Soho modernisers' - seeking a more tolerant party - to secure a settlement with the 'Easterhouse modernisers' - who want to rebuild social justice and the social fabric.

I am not sure where the Notting Hill set fit into this. Further explanation of the factions would be welcome.

Tim Montgomerie's manifesto is here.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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May 05, 2005
Thursday
Why people are voting today for higher taxes

Unless the polls have got it wrong, Labour is going to win the election today, the Conservatives will make relatively modest gains and the Liberal Democrats will do better than previously.

The Conservative Paty's support in polls has varied between 29% and 36%. That reasonably represents the proportion of people in Britain who think the state's role in our lives should be smaller or, at least, that taxes should not rise any further. With both Labour and the Liberal Democrats, rises in taxation are practically guaranteed and the public is aware of that.

Why are people predominantly voting today for higher taxes?

For two reasons:

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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May 04, 2005
Wednesday
This election is not trivial

The media - especially the broadcast media - coverage of this election has been trivial and misled people about the importance of the differences between the parties.

BBC Television News last night was dominated by its senior political journalists traipsing after the three party leaders like lap-dogs. Andrew Marr, a clever, sophisticated journalist, was reduced to showing pictures of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown getting out of a helicopter and someone who used to be a Labour supporter expressing discontent to Mr Blair.

The newspapers concur with the idea that there is not much difference in the 'vision' of the parties. But that is nonsense.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education • NHS • Politics

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April 22, 2005
Friday
Understanding the language of the election

Each election has its own language. After being away at the beginning, it is taking time for me to pick it up, but here is what some oft-repeated phrases seem to mean:

This is an appalling example of naked opportunism.
What a good idea, I wish we'd thought of it

(Spoken by Mr Blair.)Gordon Brown is the greatest chancellor of the past century.
Alan Milburn was a terrible campaign manager.

It is sickening to see Michael Howard playing the race card.
How many votes do you think I will pick up by saying this?

The NHS is not safe in Tory hands.
The Government increasingly pays for private hospital treatment and that is fine, but if the Conservatives help individuals to go private, they are destroying the fundamental principles of the NHS.

(Spoken by TV reporter.)The trouble with the Conservatives going on about immigration is that they may be perceived as a one-issue party.
At least I hope they will be, as long as I keep on asking about nothing else.

Apropos of which, I liked the comment of Danny Finkelstein on Newsnight earlier this week when he said something along the lines of, "In my experience, when Michael Howard holds a press conference he gets 12 questions on immigration and the thirteenth one is 'why do you keep going on about immigration?'"

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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April 20, 2005
Wednesday
The coming hike in National Insurance that is deliberately omitted from Labour's election manifesto

As Gordon Brown has remarked, it is impossible to believe a word that Mr Blair says. He is going into this election with the knowledge that he will raise National Insurance, or other taxes, afterwards. But he won't admit it.

This is from the BBC online coverage of tonight's interview with Mr Blair by Jeremy Paxman:

...he was not about to confess to having misled voters about his intentions on taxation at the last election.

Four years ago, in a similar interview, he had rejected Mr Paxman's suggestion that it was clear from all he had said that he would raise National Insurance contributions if he was re-elected. (Which is what happened. JB)

There is another well-rehearsed answer to this one - he was only led to increase NICs after a post-election report indicated such levels of extra spending were necessary for the health service. (Surely nobody believes that.JB)

So couldn't he do the same again, if he wins a third time, when, for example, the Turner report into the pensions black hole is delivered.

He was not about to be drawn into mapping out budgets at this point, he declared.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics • Tax and growth

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April 19, 2005
Tuesday
Democracy - not much good at dealing seriously with serious matters

Democracy is a lousy system of government. It is just not as lousy as other systems. Here is Mike Baker, the BBC education journalist, pondering how it is that important issues in education are not being covered in the current election.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education • Politics

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April 05, 2005
Tuesday
Conservatives far behind, well ahead and likely to lose

On the day an election is being called, the Conservatives are far behind Labour but also well ahead. If the Conservative are well ahead in the actual votes cast on the day, then they will lose. Confused? Well this is going to be a confusing election. And there is reason to be concerned, too. This election has the potential to make the argument over the fairness of Bush's victory over Gore look like a fuss about nothing.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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March 31, 2005
Thursday
You can't believe a word they say

A few things that have emerged about Ruth Kelly's plan to improve school food:

1. The money promised is mostly coming out of the existing education budget. It is not new money as was claimed at first.
2. The much-quoted figure of £280 million is misleading as a headline. I, probably like many people, assumed at first that we were talking about £280 million a year. In fact the money, or most of it, will be spent over three years.
3. The government carefully says that schools will be 'able' to increase the spend on primary school meals to 50p. But it is up to the local authorities whether or not this actually happens.
4. The extra money amounts to only 5p per meal.

The willingness of the Government to be misleading is breathtaking.

I would like to link to a strong piece in the Mail by Edward Heathcoat Amory but I cannot find it on the Mail website. Here is another good article by John Clare in the Telegraph.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education • Politics

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On your bike

In today's Daily Mail, Quentin Letts describes one of the 'masochism sessions' which Tony Blair is going in for in the run-up to the coming election. He was on Sky News and was criticised by one voter after another regarding public services.

He waffled and made handsome noises of sympathy, with some Bill Clinton-style eye narrowing and shakes of the head.

The problem with these TV whip-fests he is suddenly doing is that no one ever says 'tax us less'.

The impetus, by the very nature of live TV, goes to the 'something must be done' brigade, with their lurid demands for more state spending. This suits Labour's philosophy but it underplays personal responsibility.

So when a whiny ex-con started bleating that the state was not doing enough to help him, no one told him to pull himself together. How one ached for a Norman Tebbit to tell the miserable little so-and-son to pull out his finger rather than making the rest of us pay.

Sadly it appears to be part of the nature of democratic government that appeals for the state to 'do something about it' get more of a hearing than objections that state interference in the past has done more harm than good.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in General • Media, including BBC bias • Politics

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March 29, 2005
Tuesday
Telling grandma how to suck eggs

The Conservatives have 'matched' the Labour promises on financial support and leave for new parents. They have added some elements of choice but essentially the Conservatives are accepting the Labour idea that the government should dish out other people's cash and impose extra obligations on employers when a couple have a baby. In their desperate attempts to morph a Labour plan which would subsidise care by people outside a family but not care from inside the family, the Conservatives have come up with the idea that grandparents should be able to take a course in caring for children so that they could then qualify for subsidy too. The idea of the government - which has shown itself incapable even of teaching children in its care how to read - telling grandparents how to look after children is grotesque.

The Conservatives have also implicitly accepted tax credits. But tax credits are an appallingly bad way of delivering benefits. A large minority - often those most in most need - do not go through the difficulties of applying and so do not get them.

The Conservatives should not have accepted these flawed, complex, anti-employment, high-tax, bureaucracy-heavy ideas.

The BBC coverage of the Tory proposals is here.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Parenting • Politics • Welfare benefits

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March 28, 2005
Monday
Politics is not just a game

With the Howard Flight affair, a Conservative campaign that was going very well has become badly unstuck. The most depressing thing today is an article by Rachel Sylvester in the Daily Telegraph. She is a clever, perceptive political reporter but this is her argument: that Mr Blair has "for the moment at least, won the argument on tax and public spending" and that "most voters would still, at the moment, prefer to see the public services run collectively, with their taxes, than to see people left to to fend for themsleves". This is even though the Government has "squeezed us all with stealth taxes and wasted at least some of the many millions of pounds it has spent on schools and hospitals since 1997". She reckons that "voters feel rich enough to give Labour's public spending experiment more time to work".

This shift of the public, to accepting a larger role for the state, is a legacy of Tony Blair, she say, "if anything is".

She then goes on to assert, "The Tories has not quite caught up". Michael Howard is "still trying to fight the election that Margaret Thatcher won in 1979. It is time for the Tory leader to flag down the nearest Tardis and move forward to 2005".

An unspoken assumption quietly intervenes in the course of this line of logic. It is that the Conservative Party should learn what the public thinks, accept it and change its policies accordingly. That is the sort of assumption a political reporter may be inclined to make since the job tends to make journalists think of the whole political process as a game in which winning the current match is everything.

Politics is indeed, on one level, a game. But it is not only a game. It is about the future of this country - its prosperity, its freedom and the character of its people. For the Conservative Party to give up, as a matter of tactics, the concepts of a smaller state and lower taxes, would be to give up things which are essential, in the eyes of its most politically committed, to the well-being of Britain. The purpose of being in politics at all would be removed. The county would be left on a path towards economic relative decline and a further absolute decline in behaviour and education.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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March 26, 2005
Saturday
Howard Flight is made a non-person

To sack Howard Flight as deputy-chairman of the Conservative Party was fine. To sack him as Conservative Member of Parliament was over the top. It smacks not of firm leadership but of totalitarian intolerance. Howard Flight expressed his ambition to cut back spending and taxes in a Thatcherite way. Yes, of course, he should stick to the party line as senior member of the party. But surely, once reduced to the positions of a backbencher, he should be allowed to want such a thing. Have we really reached the point where someone cannot be a Conservative MP for believing in low taxes?

Or is it because he has rocked the boat before an election? Is that his real crime. Even then, demotion should be enough punishment.

Labour - as intolerant a party as one could wish for - has put up with sniping from Dennis Skinner. For years it put up with the utterly old Labour views of Tony Benn. For the Conservatives to be less tolerant even than Labour is disappointing indeed.

The Times version of his sacking is here.

A quote by Hayek that I have just come across seems apposite:

The successful politician owes his power to the fact that he moves within the accepted framework of thought, that he thinks and talks conventionally. It would be almost a contradiction in terms for a politician to be a leader in the field of ideas. His task in a democracy is to find out what the opinions held by the largest number are, not to give currency to new opinions which may become the majority view in some distant future.

The quote came from here.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Politics

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