Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fortune favours the brave, unless of course it's a European election campaign

The strategy was simple.  UKIP have always performed better in the European elections with a very clear message - the party of OUT.  Yet polling shows that if you had a referendum, more people would be voters of 'IN'.  With the Lib Dems not performing well in the opinion polls, we would simply sell ourselves as the party of 'IN' and just as supporters of other parties migrate to UKIP during the European elections to register their opposition to Europe, the Lib Dems could pick up pro european Tories frustrated with their own party's stance and euroenthusiastic Labour voters ashamed that their own party's vanishing trick every time the topic was mentioned.

As we know, it didn't work, arguably backfired.  Why?

Ask your average campaigning Lib Dem what went in his last leaflet and it will a collection of fly tipping, school crossings, pot holes, extra parking, new play parks and a campaign to save a bit of green space from developers.  I doubt they would have talked about civil liberties or an elected house of Lords.  That is because Liberal Democrats 'focus' on what matters to those we represent.  To run an election campaign on the single issue of the importance of checks and balances in our judicial system would not work because frankly most voters either don't care or too busy to understand it and form a strong view either way.  Europe is the same.

To the vast majority of the country simply aren't bothered.

see more here

As you can see when people are asked to name the most important issues, hardly any mention Europe. I've been knocking on doors for the last few weeks and only one person mentioned Europe.

Of the small number interested in Europe, they are either absolutely convinced that every problem our nation has is attributable to the EU (yhey were never going to vote for us).  Or those who understand the benefits of the EU and also know that the UK was going to be 'IN' after the elections regardless of the result so the Lib Dem campaign was unlikely to alter their vote.

With the benefit of hindsight, the Lib Dem strategy for the European elections was to run a single issue campaign on a topic people don't care about.  Doesn't sound so clever when it's put like that does it?

And it was the worst time to do it.  Since entering the coalition I, and I am sure many others, have come across comments along the lines of "I'm not sure what the Lib Dems stand for".  As members and supporters we have no doubt, but for those who only consume the first few minutes of the evening news or scan the headlines in the newspaper, they have no idea.  These are the people that may or may not have supported us in the past and have not ruled out supporting us in the future,

Look at how the other parties campaigned.  

Labour are the masters of campaigning hard for nothing, but making it sound really appealing.  They avoided the divisive policy areas and the front of their South East region leaflet stuck to 'the cost of living', very little in the way of what they would actually do and how, apart from the the energy price freeze.  However poverty and prices are far higher up the issues league table than Europe.  How many voters were going to be offended by the prospect of prices not going up?  None. 

The Conservatives sat on the fence as far as Europe was concerned.  They instead talked about the £800 tax cut for ordinary workers (which was not their policy at all), growing the economy, reducing the deficit, creating jobs.  Again who is going to get angry about tax cuts or creating jobs?  And check out the list above; All these things really matter to people.

Obviously UKIP did campaign on an anti EU ticket or was it an anti immigration ticket?  what they managed to do was convince about 10% of the public that the economic crash, unemployment, strain on the NHS, schools, crime, the state of my garden, the weather, prices, the common cold etc were all down to open door immigration and the EU was a doorstop that prevented the door from closing.  We know it was all rubbish, but for those who only see the first two minutes of the evening news and scanned the headlines (especially Daily Mail and Express headlines) it was rubbish they were happy to swallow. 

It is only now it's too late can we clearly see what a huge opportunity the 2014 Euro elections were. Away from the burden of coalition we could have talked about OUR tax cut, and where we would like to go next.  OUR protection of state pensions and how WE have boosted the numbers saving for the future.  OUR Apprentices etc.  We could have talked about how WE raised an extra £9bn by clamping down on tax avoidance (more than a 50p rate would ever raise) and how WE would like to do more if not for those pesky Tories.  Who'd get angry about fairer taxes?  Who'd be upset by creating jobs for young people?  

We could have talked about a stronger economy and a fairer society.  We could have demonstrated how we have worked towards this despite the constraint of our coalition partners and offered a glimpse of what we'll look like in 2015 as we look to carry on.

Whether the result would have been very different we'll never know, but if a few hundred thousand more people reached May 22nd knowing what the Liberal Democrats are, then it would have been a great result regardless.



 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Oh dear, we've gone back to 'it's all #NickCleggsfault

I had an email inviting me to sign an open letter calling on Nick Clegg to go.  I didn't.

In modern times only one Liberal leader has marched into Downing Street to take a place around the cabinet table.  Only one leader has taken the front page of a Liberal or Lib Dem manifesto and placed it firmly on the agenda of government.  It could be argued that Nick Clegg has actually done rather well, only he got the first years of the coalition wrong and has never recovered.

The thing is, what is the perfect way to be a junior partner in a coalition?  It is a question not easy to answer now (although many of us would have a go) in 2010, Clegg had to answer the question without any manual.  The wisdom of a former member of National government of two parties died long before Clegg could question them (probably before he was born) he had to make it up as he went along.

It is no wonder Nick Clegg got it wrong and I would not deny that he has.  The tuition fees fiasco remains the blunder to beat all others.  It doesn't matter that the adopted policy is more progressive that the one before.  It doesn't matter that the fees students are charged would have been the same if Labour or the Conservatives had one a majority.  The problem was we made a pledge.  Not a policy that turned out unaffordable at the present time, people understand that.  Not a policy that was discarded in exchange for a greater prize during negotiations with our coalition  partners/enemies, people would kinda get that as well. It was a pledge and we didn't stick to it.

From that moment, the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg in particular handed Labour (the negative campaigning experts) a line of attack.   From then on every policy that seemed a bit Tory could be held up as evidence that Clegg and the Lib Dems were a push over.  To make matters worse, every coalition policy that appeared very 'Lib Demmy' was ignored or hijacked, the Tories hardly wanted to highlight where they'd backed down, but keen to claim the most popular stuff, Labour didn't want the people to see progressive policies coming out of the coalition and the media, generally in bed with one of those two forces, were unlikely to defend the Lib Dems.

If we could do it all again, I am not sure the party leader should have been Deputy PM, but sat on the opposition benches scrutinising the coalition that included many of his friends.  He could have been leading a shadow cabinet designed to highlight where things would have been different if it were not for the compromise of coalition.  I would have suggested the Tories do the same.  The parties could have kept their individual identities while still contributing to a stable government.  It may have worked better for everyone.  And we should never make a pledge unless we are prepared to walk away from a negotiating table that won't accept it. 

Now if I could put a link in this paragraph taking you to where I'd said all this in May 2010, I would and would also be more inclined to call for a change of leader.  But I can't, it is only 4 years after we entered coalition that I can think about how differently things could have been done

Even after the European election results, where the Lib Dems took a strategic gamble and lost (I'll blog about this later), doesn't alter my view that Nick Clegg is not the problem.  

We don't know yet what will happen in a years time and whether Nick Clegg's early forced retirement would make a difference and whether that difference will be positive or negative for the Lib Dems.  And putting a new leader in the limelight and tainting them with the final year of coalition could as easily create a new public enemy.  

There is always a risk with replacing your leader during a difficult time.  I'm not sure replacing the most successful leader at that difficult time makes any sense at all.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The country is screaming out for an economically responsible, socially liberal party...as luck would have it..

It was this article, it contains much I can agree with and concludes;

The country is ready for an economically responsible, socially liberal party. Whether we call this libertarianism or not, this balance makes most sense for 21st Century Britain.

That got me thinking.

There is often confusion between libertarianism and liberalism and definitions probably vary.  My view is that while both have similarities in terms of the rights and freedoms of individuals and both suspicious of government power, liberalism (modern) sees the Governments primary role as protecting and enhancing those individual freedoms, while a libertarianism feels freedoms can be achieved by government involving itself as little as possible in anything.

That's why Liberal Democrats would want to tackle poverty and ignorance through welfare and education policies.  Libertarianism is more likely to feel the ignorant will learn and the poor will work harder if the government doesn't get involved.  I don't think the nation wants a libertarian government, but accept it may want to move in that direction after years of Labour rule.

Lets start with UKIP's claim as a 'libertarian party'.  As Nicholas Rogers comments in his article whatever libertarian qualities they did have were written off when Nigel Farage dismissed previous UKIP policies as drivel.  What we are left with is a party which is anti gay marriage. (hardly libertarian).  Now UKIP have dropped their 'taxi drivers must where uniform' (more legislation on small business!) policy lets consider what would be libertarian.

Economically, a libertarian would want to have free trade and free movement of people without interference from Government, so immigration controls would be limited or non-existent - does that sound like UKIP?  And of course, one government can protect individual freedoms and civil liberties, but the next can easily remove them, so you need to create a higher court to protect these liberties.  A libertarian would want Governments' powers limited and be leading advocates for a European Court of Human Rights.  Hmm not very Farage is it.

The Labour party is far more relaxed about immigration and ECHR than UKIP*, but could never consider themselves to have any liberal credentials.  They believe in state control beyond 'protecting freedom'.  ID cards, DNA databases, restricting freedom of speech and one of  most authoritarian anti terror laws in the world along with support for torture, child detention centres for migrants a tax system that made everyone pay more to part fund a welfare system that meant even those on nearly twice the average wage were suddenly entitles to benefits in exchange for providing even more information to a government desperate offer a state solution and new law to any gripe raised in a focus group.    Labour's view can be summed up as "to save you from the burden of all that freedom stuff, we'll control your life for you".   And of course our search was for 'economically responsible'.  Every Labour government has left the nation in an economic crisis and burdened the next generation with huge interest payments on all that debt.

For many Conservatives, see UKIP.  Many of the grass roots Tories will have Farage photo's in their hallway and turn it round when nice people come round.  While modernisers were relaxed about gay marriage, the rest of the party were not so liberal minded.  But those same modernisers would want to re-visit the Human Rights Act, and escape the oversight of the ECHR.  Does anyone really think Theresa May is a liberal?  Then there is marriage tax allowance, pointless and typical of the Conservative view of liberalism "You are free to live your life as you please as long as it is consistent with Conservative values"

So that leaves the Liberal Democrats.  The original article seems to rule out the Lib Dems due scandals and green policies.  Scandals occur in every walk of life, whether power corrupts, greed overtakes or the light of publicity reveals human weakness.  Scandals involving politicians attract more attention and headlines.  Cecil Parkinson, Jeffrey Archer, Neil Hamilton, Mandelson, Ron Davies, Jo Moore... the list goes on.  It is best to base your belief on a principle rather than tabloid headlines.  

The green policies may not seem libertarian now, but to me are entirely consistent and legitimate use of government power.  

If the globe heats so much that half the world is uninhabitable - are we free?
If the cost of fuel is so great that only the very few can afford to see the world - are we free?
If power is so expensive that none can access TV or internet - are we free?
If the loss of species results in a biodiversity changes that threaten human existence are we free?
If the planet is devoid of consumable water are we free?

I appreciate these things are not going to happen tomorrow, maybe not for 500 years, but by taking action now, we may put that 500 years off a bit, even stop it happening.  A government has a responsibility to protect the freedoms of its people, we all have a responsibility to protect those freedoms for the future.  

I know where Nicholas Rogers went wrong, he was on the right road but took a right turn when he should carried on in the centre.

If the country is screaming out for an economically responsible, socially liberal party then here's one we prepared earlier (as they say)

*while Labour are relaxed about the EU, ECHR and immigration, you'll notice that when polling suggests these things are not popular, then Labour would rather go quiet and surf a populism wave rather than risk losing a few % in the polls and advocate the benefits of what they believe in. 


Thursday, January 30, 2014

The 50p tax rate. As Roy Walker used to say....it's a good answer........but it's wrong

Poor Ed Balls.  His big new idea is an old one.  And polling suggests a popular one, but it would be worth remembering it took place in the 2005 Lib Dem manifesto, it was popular then too but didn't win us the election.

just for fun, can you guess who said this about the 50p tax rate?

 "will make the UK less attractive, wealth creation will slow down, and that will have negative consequences for public spending".

Cameron? no....Boris?......no.   It was (at the time) Labour MP Stephen Byers in 2009.

Labour were very vocal against the 50p tax rate,  right up to the point they announced it!  By then the Lib Dems had moved away from the idea.  Apart from such a tax being seemingly avoidable and not raising as much as the party had previously hoped, taxing inactive wealth rather than just income had greater potential in terms of revenue and fairness.  And along come the Mansion Tax, which was thoroughly rejected by Labour, right up until the point they were in opposition and unable to introduce it.

It is easy for us to highlight that anyone earning more that £150k a year has paid more tax every year under the coalition that any year under Labour.  Of course that statement makes Lib Dems feel better and reminds the nation of Labours shameful record in government too.

Of course the Conservatives can't use that line, it makes many of their supporters uncomfortable (that's why Lib Dems like it), so they go with the "attack on business" and on hard work" etc, which itself is a flawed argument.

If the 50p rate raises next to nothing, then why the rush to cut it, logic says a tax raising nothing is not being paid by anyone, cutting it doesn't make any one better off.  Leaving it causes no harm to anyone.  It would have been better to have left it and phased it out when peoples incomes were increasing.  

The 50p tax rate has become a token gesture.  Sounds good does little.  It is why Labour introduced it, they were expecting a Tory majority that would make themselves deeply unpopular cutting it.  A big trap that only the least streetwise chancellor in the universe would fall into....and he did.

But while cutting it was a political mistake, bringing it back would probably disguise the real issue.

For most of us £150k a year is big money, more than that is really big money, but only a few hundred thousand people in the country get that kind of payslip.  It's not where the reallY big money is.

Lets imagine a rock band, with 5 members.  They go on a successful world tour which makes £10m profit.  If you may think each would get paid £2m each and pay the best part of a £1m in tax, you'd be wrong.

Our crafty rockers would set up their own company, in a country where the equivalent of capital gains tax are lowest.  That company would employ the rockers to go on tour on about £10k a year, then they'd pay no income tax.  The company they set up would make a big profit which would be paid as a dividend to the 5 rockers who own it,  As it is a return on an investment rather than earned income, it would not be subject to income tax here and only the lower rate of capital gains tax in the country the company is based in.

Obviously in real life it is far more sophisticated and after you throw in a couple of charity donations HMRC get nothing.  I used rockers as an example but for most of the years Labour were in government it was private equity firms and venture capitalist who were earning sums in the tens of millions and even billions and paying virtually nothing in tax.  It suited Labour to do nothing as these were the brains, borrowers and risk takers that fueled the economic growth that allowed Labour to keep spending and running a deficit. 

When the economy crashed and the deficit rocketed, Labour's new friends stopped answering the calls.  

Whilst the Lib Dems in coalition have tried hard to capture much of this money from slipping through the hands of the treasury, it is hard to legislate when your dealing with global markets and different tax rates and regimes.

The fact is, asking whether someone on £160k a year pays an extra £1k is insignificant against our rockers above who pay nothing of their £2m. 

That is why property tax is appealing.  It may be possible to prove legally that while 99% of your business is done in the UK and all your staff work in Bracknell, your head office is a PO Box in Malta.  But try convincing them that your £20m mansion in Godalming is actually a 2 bed semi in Guernsey.









Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Full Council part 2 - is 1% over the top

For many years the Council has faced the problem of setting its own wages.  A few years back, it was agreed to get an independent panel to work out what should be paid.  They reported back what would have been a big increase at the time that many were seeing their pay frozen due to Labour's economic crash.  So the Council followed suit and froze allowances and continued to do so for many years. 

Last year it was excepted that we could not simply go on forever freezing allowances as eventually good people would be put off entering local politics, So a cross party motion decided that councillor allowances should be linked to staff increases.  Apart from the senior managers, Basingstoke and Deane staff will get 1% pay, and therefore it was recommended Councillors get the same 1%. 

Labour were opposed to the idea and wanted to put a further freeze in place.  It is an odd one.  I work in the public sector and when the idea of a 1% pay rise is muted, the trade unionists get very upset and suggest my family need more and I should take industrial action.  Go to the Council chamber in the evening and get the offer of 1% and the same trade unionists tell me I should refuse it as everyone else is struggling and 'we're all in it together'.  How does that work?  My families costs are the same regardless whether I'm at day time work or at part time work. 

Here's the speech I made to full Council 

"Mr Mayor, this amendment was all too predictable.  It will no doubt confuse the public that the party that was offended at the 1% increase to benefits being too low, that has bemoaned the 1% increase to key worker salaries and has spent the last 12 months grumbling about how wages have not kept pace with the cost of living are now arguing that 1% increase for councillors is too much. 

The only consistent thing about Labour is there inconsistency.  There are good reason why the Council agreed to link their pay award to that of other staff in the Council, 

It would be easy for someone to move an amendment proposing no increase, someone else could propose a cut of  20% and before the night is over we are left questioning why we get an allowance at all. 

The reasons are simple.  There are sacrifices we make in becoming councillors.  Whilst your colleagues are studying to secure the next promotion your trying to work out what language the AGA papers are written in.  While your business rivals are networking. you're sitting on the tree shading panel.  We can all afford these sacrifices as we are paid an allowance. 

The more that allowance is diminished, the more councillors and potential councillors are priced out of taking an active role in our local democracy.  That is an unhealthy situation.  Only the most arrogant could argue we have not yet reached that point.  We know little of the personal financial circumstances of everyone in this chamber, even less about those who may wish to join us.  I want a council where the bankers and bin men are equally welcome, where the social worker and teacher are welcome, where the retired and unemployed are welcome and yes Mr Mayor where even lawyers are allowed. 

Not everyone here is retired with a big final salary pension scheme or earning an income off a second home, some have children to look after and can only be a councillor whilst the allowance is paid.  I would have thought none of us would risk the diversity of this chamber just to score a cheap political point. 

The second reason is I'm actually proud of what we do.  I look around my ward and see good things that I helped make happen.  I see less good thing that could have been worse had I not intervened.  And yes there are bad things I'm working on.  Is it any wonder local election turnout is so low when we go through this annual debate telling our residents 'we're not worth it' 

Finally Mr Mayor, there will many here thinking the extra few thousand our rise will cost could be better used on good causes in our communities.  It still can.  Those of us who don't need the extra £50 a year after tax can support local community groups.  The Council set the allowance, not what you have to spend it on. 

Mr Mayor, If you don't care about representative democracy, then back the Labour amendment.  If you don't think your worth your allowance, then back the Labour amendment.  If you don't think there are good causes in you neighbourhood, then back the Labour amendment.  I would ask everyone else to show strong leadership and pride and vote against the amendment and support the substantive proposal. 

And as tonight we will find out which councillors don't think their worth it, I would ask for a recorded vote." 


The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives supported the 1% increase in allowances (with a few exceptions) a few abstentions.  Labour councillors voted against, clearly recognising they're not worth it.  (For once I may agree with most of them)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Full Council part 1

As usual here are the highlights of the full Council meeting held last Thursday. 

I will start with the uncontested bits that sailed through. 


Localised Council tax benefits. 

The Government announced a few years back that it would no longer be covering the whole cost of Council tax benefits and that 10% of the cost would now be held by the charging authority (basingstoke and Deane Borough Council).  The idea was that as the Government was skint, rather than simply stop those who needed support paying housing benefit being told they would no longer get it, it would up to local authorities to determine.  Last year the Lib Dems made sure that their was some money to help local authorities introduce changes they wanted to make and Basingstoke and Deane decided to absorb the cost rather than pass it on to those least able to find the extra money after Lib Dem and Labour councillors joined together to vote down Tory proposals . This year it was agreed to carry on the same lines. 

Council tax relief on empty properties. 

Another area where the Lib Dems and Labour have been able to work together.  For many years  (even back here) the Conservatives had protected owners of empty homes from paying a full Council tax bill.  It always seemed odd to the united progressives on the Council that those who could afford to leave a spare home empty got a discount for doing so, especially when we have a long list of people desperately needing those homes.  Lib Dems in government introduced new rules so Councils could actually charge a premium for long term empty properties.  The rules will be maintained again this year. 


If you thought that in the spirit of Christmas this consensus would last the evening , you've never been to a Basingstopke and Deane Council meeting before, I will blog that later in the week

Monday, December 16, 2013

Bad things the Liberal democrats have stopped the Conservatives doing....what ever happened to.....

As blog watchers would have seen I was busy highlighting the the things the Lib Dems had blocked and the this happened (as tweeted).

A fine piece of work by someone


Monday, December 9, 2013

'bad things the Lib Dems have stopped the Tories doing in government' 7

Replacing Trident.  Have you ever wondered why our nuclear weapons attract the rather unthreatening name of Nuclear deterrent, yet other nations who have similar weapons, with similar capabilities and capacity to cause similar levels of damage and harm, earn the all far more scary title of 'weapons of mass destruction?  I'm not sure either.  I can only assume as a human rights loving nation we are allowed to give our nukes a nicer name (good job Lib Dems fought to keep our human rights isn't it) 

But to understand our deterrent' we have so understand history.  A log long long time ago the nations rulers decided having an army was really expensive.  So they took advantage of our island status and spent all the money on a Navy capable of sinking any invading threat before it go here.  It was a good plan and worked well, but just in case they made it a law that all men must spend every Saturday afternoon practicing archery.  That way if ever we were invaded we could be called to defend the realm.  Over time weapons got more and more sophisticated and we began to realise that our enemies could now fly over our borders and drop bombs and stuff.  The idea that a load of farmers/post man/social workers/supermarket workers etc, shooting bows and arrows was going to be effective against such a threat was clear.  Although, apparently, the law that made you practice was not repealed straight away, the BBC had invented 'Grandstand' so most men could not fit in the practice and get home in time for the football results. 

The whole bow and arrow thing disappeared as they were no longer the weapons we would need in a conflict situation.  Could the same now be said for 24 hours at sea Nuclear weapons.  A quick run through recent battles proves the point.  Afghanistan, nukes were useless.  Iraq, Kosovo, Falklands, Grenada.  Every time the nation has suffered an invasion or conflict, the nuclear option was ruled out.  


And the fact that these wars took place while we were in possession of our 'deterrent' would suggest it was not all that great as one!  9/11 taught the west that our deterrent didn't deter, nor was it of any use when we fought back. To finish it all off we were all told Iraq had Nuclear weapons, to what did we do?  Invade it.  As deterrents go Nuclear weapons are pretty pants. 

Just like the bows and arrows had a role a few hundred years ago,   Nukes had a role when the Iron curtain was in place.  The curtain has been drawn and it could be argued it was time for Nuclear weapons to join swords, bows and arrows and the rocks cavemen threw at each other in the archives of a military museum. 

The Conservatives didn't want the discussion (neither did Labour)  Replacing Trident at great expense was the only way in the Tory eyes.  We have not persuaded them yet that straight replacement was not required, but we did force them to look at the options and the whole things has been put back. Even Labour are not ruling out a shift towards Lib Dem thinking on the issue.


Thanks to the Lib Dems the word may become a bit safer and while many are talking about reduced Nuclear capabilities, no one is talking about increasing the number of weapons - (apart from the odd UKIPper)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

'bad things the Lib Dems have stopped the Tories doing in government' 6

Today is not 'Margaret Thatcher Day'. 

And if it was, I would not be doing cards for anyone that's for sure.  But in one of the ideas floating around the head of your average Tory stalwart is the idea that every year we should mark her life whether we liked her or not. 

Some will argue Mrs T did enormous amounts of good, others the opposite.  Lets not forget of course that the most unique thing about Lady T was how even those who supported her didn't like her too much.  When she took over the leadership of the Conservative Party many were very unhappy and her fall from power was not at the hands of the public tired of her policies, but the Conservatives who were desperate to shunt her into retirement. 

Like all PM's the bigger legacy, the more bad things it contains.  Mining, manufacturing, ship building all fell into an unstoppable decline under her leadership.  From the ashes of those once proud industries emerged banking as the new economic power station keeping UKPLC going.  Yes the same unregulated banking sector that took your money, gambled it, lost and then asked the tax payer to cover the losses. 

Against that we have Atlee who can rightly claim to have been the godfather of social housing and the NHS or even further back Lloyd George who started the National Insurance and state pensions that have been enhanced or damaged by others over the years.  


They were not perfect, they made mistakes, but would have equal claim to a day of their own.  But because they weren't perfect, because they would have had supporters they delighted, they would have had enemies they angered.  The result we let everyone make up their own mind rather than subject them to state imposed day of recognition.  Thanks to the Lib Dems, your local Clintons will not be filling that annoying stretch of time between father's day and Christmas (where they have little to display) with 'Happy Maggie day' cards anytime soon. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

'bad things the Lib Dems have stopped the Tories doing in government' 5

V.A.T.  Oh, the hours we've wasted trying to work out whether VAT is progressive or not. 

Some Conservative MP's obviously decided to try and end the debate by calling for VAT to be introduced on children's clothing and food (no, really they did). 

Of course VAT is not perfect.  The intention at the moment is VAT only applies to luxury items, not essentials.  Which is why it is argued that those on the lowest income pay little, giving it some progressive element.


There is always the odd one that puzzles.  Toilet paper attracts VAT (pretty essential item if you ask me*)  And of course two finger Kit Kats are biscuits (a grocery item and VAT free) while their 4 finger counterparts are a confectionary (VAT applies).  A cake is a luxury, unless it's frozen at which point it becomes a grocery item and the VAT does not apply) bonkers isn't it? 

As you can imagine the legal argument around the status of Jaffa cakes was not a quick one and I can't even remember whether it ended up as a biscuit or a cake.

But the reality is adding VAT to children's clothing and food will add to the weekly household shop at quite possibly the wrong time.  Any way while the Lib Dems are about, It will be difficult for the Tories to advance the idea beyond the grumpy confines of your local Conservative club. Phew.


*I've been reminded that toilet roll is indeed a luxury and there are VAT free alternatives readily available.  What other reason can there be for the Daily Mail?

Friday, December 6, 2013

'bad things the Lib Dems have stopped the Tories doing in government' 4

Welfare reform.  Not sure when Social security became 'welfare' but I preferred it as it was. You can easily access the manifestos of the main political parties on-line (assuming the Tories haven't deleted theirs - if they have let me know and I'll send you a copy)  They all agreed that the welfare bill was unsustainable and needed to be reduced (yes even Labour made that pledge, though have opposed everything the coalition have done).  One of the Tory hopes during this parliament was to stop stop housing benefit for under 25's, as if it was OK that young people were homeless.  

Well the Lib Dems were having none of it.  Now some eagle eyed people would have seen a suggestion that Labour were thinking along the similar lines (click here).  However they have said it is not their policy.  I tend to believe them as we all know it's Labour's policy to not have policies, so how could it be. 

I see no reason why a 23 year old who has worked all their adult life but falls on hard times can't have the same right to the cost of their housing met by the rest of us while they get back into work than a 26 year old.  Lib Dems have won the argument, well if not they have atleast blocked the policy. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

'bad things the Lib Dems have stopped the Tories doing in government' (I am desperate for a catchier title) 3

The second daily 'bad things the Lib Dems have stopped the Tories doing in government' 

You are still protected by the Human rights Act.  I know, I know, it gets bad press from time to time as the odd clever lawyer uses it to prevent things we'd quite like to see happen (well the right wing media would)  It is rather like innocent until proven guilty.  We know some bad people walk away from things they may have done, but better that than innocent people locked up for something they didn't do.  


Right now if you don't like your government, you can tell them.  You can peacefully assemble to pass on the message.  You can't be thrown out of your home or locked away without trial, get sacked or abused due to your religion, race or anything else.  You are protected by a whole bunch of stuff you can read about here  

Before such international and national laws, someone could become a national leader then set about abolishing all laws that were inconvenient to them and make everyone else's life a misery.  Not any more.  We're all equal before the law and it is bloody difficult for anyone to abuse their power to avoid it without coming to the notice of the Human rights Act.  

Were it not for those Lib Dem freedom fighters climbing into the trenches of government with the Tories your human rights would have been diluted down. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

'bad things the Lib Dems have stopped the Tories doing in government' (I am desperate for a catchier title) 2

We can all remember the election that never was.  Gordon Brown had taken over from Tony, a poll boost followed and the 'will he won't he' chatter was in all full flow.  Then Osborne stood in front of the blue rinse masses assembled at the party conference and said inheritance tax was within his sights and a Tory government would be getting rid of it.  The Tories got a poll boost from it, Gordon bottled it and we all ended up where we are. 

The Tories played the tax game.  In the short term if you scrap a tax, the public think your great.  After a while they work out that its a tax they don't pay or are ever likely to and won't impact on their voting intentions, but you benefit from a short term boost as a tax scrapper.  Likewise as we've seen from Labour add the word 'tax' to a policy (Grannies, pasties, bedrooms) and the public turn against the policy, only until they work out that either it is not a tax or will have no impact on them and it fades as an issue to many. 

Well the idea that, in the middle of a financial crisis, with the governments finances in meltdown and a worry that the UK would have to queue down at the IMF (a sort of Wonga.com for governments who can't pay their bills) cutting taxes for those inheriting a £1m or more was just crazy.  But is was the Tory intentions.  Fortunately the coalition agreement included the Lib Dem increase to the tax threshold as the agreed tax priority.  Hard working families on middle and low incomes got a tax cut and those who had a rich relative pass away would not be exempt from funding all those essential services the government is expected to provide.


If you think the Lib Dem got it right  click here 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

bad things the Lib Dems have stopped the Tories doing in government (I am desperate for a catchier title)

We all know what being in coalition has done for the Liberal Democrats.  For the many that are not engaged in politics the lines between Lib Dems and the Tories can appear blurred.  I know we are told to keep mentioning the increase to income tax threshold, Pupil premium, triple lock guarantee for pensioners, apprenticeships, banking reform as just a few of manifesto commitments that are now government policy, and we should.  It is all good stuff that few can argue against.  Of course when the coalition do very sensible things that are popular, we're not the only ones to seek credit. 

Few pick up on the things our MPs have been busy blocking.  Or things the Conservatives have been plotting that they know can't happen because of the Lib Dems keeping the government in the vicinity of reality.  It is not a huge surprise that the national media have not been covering these things much. 

After all headlines that start 'Government won't be.....' or 'Government will not change...........' or 'you won't be effected by..............' are hardly going to draw you to the newspaper stand.   

So rather than simply celebrate all the good things the Lib Dems have done in Government, I will run through some bad things the Lib Dems have stopped in government' over the next days.  It may even help our relationship with the Labour party. One of the strangest outcomes of being in coalition is you bump into more Labour supporters angry that we've blocked Tory policies than I do Conservative supporters. How does that work? 

Amazon - Full marks for marketting

It was hard to avoid the news articles relating to Amazon and their testing of drones to deliver goods.  The first thing many did was quickly check their calendars to make sure it was no April fool joke.

It wasn't.  It was one of the cleverest bits of marketting ever performed.  Clearly a drone could not deliver your parcel.  If we imagine for a moment that it could actually be programmed to find your address, how is this sophisticated bit of kit supposed to knock on the door?  And when you don't answer, will it wait whilst you rush downstairs from the toilet? or read the sign that say "please leave parcels at number 7".  Will the drone be programmed to wait 3 minuted and then lob your 'fragile' item into the back garden and leave a card in the door?

Then there is the 30 minute promise.  Where is your nearest Amazon depot.  More than 30 minutes away, it is actually a small list.  And finally how easy is it to rob a drone.  Rather than go through the risky process of burglary or robbery, a criminal can look to the skies, spot a low flying drone preparing to deliver and meet it on the doorstep, intercepting your package - the perfect crime.

Amazon know this, I can't see the parcel deliverers worrying just yet (get ready for a quick deletion of this blog in 3 years!)

However just over 3 weeks before Christmas, with the cut off time for orders if you want to be sure parcels arrive before the festive season fast approaching, and Amazon is everywhere.  Every 30 minutes your over excited radio news reader reminded you that Amazon exist.  Your favourite news website showed their logo to the internet generation.  And the TV news and print media will make sure know one can hide from Christmas and the increasing role Amazon have in it.

No business could have afforded to buy that level of publicity.  Advertising everywhere, even the BBC, and it cost next to nothing.  Just release a video of a few heavily adapted remote control helicopters and a short press release and hey presto - your brand is everywhere at exactly the time you're most likely to go shopping.  Pure genius.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

New homes bonus and how the Council will spend it

It was a few weeks ago now, but the scheme on how communities can access some of the new homes bonus was finally approved by full council.

'New homes bonus' is money paid by central government to local authorities in exchange for increasing housing stock.  The more homes a local authority builds, the more money it will receive.  The idea is so clever that Eric Pickles could not possibly have had anything to do with it.  For many years national governments of all colours have said "the nation needs more homes - go and build them".  Local authorities have responded by saying, "we agree, but not here obviously there's no space/infrastructure deficit/impact on natural environment.......etc" and the housing shortage gets worse.  With other funding streams to local councils cut to bring the deficit down, Councils need to build to balance the books.

All this was rather good news to Basingstoke and Deane as the borough had been building homes consistently for many years, what was lost from other grants, was easily overshadowed by the boroughs share of the new homes bonus.

Previously the Council had decided to use 20% of the money to fund services (replacing the lost revenue grant)  40% would go on the big infrastructure projects that impact on the borough - such as J6 of the M3 improvements.  The final 40% is for community projects in areas effected  by development.

Personally I would like to have seen more used for affordable homes, however for the first time communities can access a pot of money to help shape the environment they live in and improve the facilities they most want.  Whilst there are rules and criteria to meet, this is people power.  A complete transformation from the dark days of Thatcherism/Blairism obsession with central state control.  And a reward for the areas where homes are built and also an inspiration for those villages who want to improve facilities to reconsider their opposition to any kind of development.

For that reason, and with assurances that their would be no rigid £25,000 lower limit to schemes (there was a risk I would need to sit down with an officer working out how to make a scheme more expensive!) I supported the scheme.

Labour opposed the scheme and from their speeches it appeared this was because they are opposed to people having a say and wanted the money they oppose spent of delivering affordable homes on all the sites they have opposed.




Saturday, September 28, 2013

Conference Season - Labour part one

At a glance you could think that the odd policy idea may be oozing from the grotesque and angry opposition Monster we call Labour.

I will start with the energy prize freeze.  There are a number of problems with this rather effective headline grabber.

The first is the political.  The government can't tell a private business what it must do with its prices unless it changes the law.  Miliband suggests he will introduce emergency legislation in June 2013.  I imagine this piece of legislation will be quite complex, lengthy and only robust if it goes through the full rigours of parliament.  Even starting this process in June 2015, it is unlikely to get near implementation until several months (years) later.  At which point it will be legally challenged.  If you honestly think that the big energy companies are not going to club together and hire a team of lawyers to check every shred of UK, EU and international law to find away to prevent this.  The energy companies stand to lose billions if they are not able to respond to changes in wholesale price, so a few million to go through the courts is worth it, even if just delays implementation.  There is every chance that Energy freeze won't become a reality until mid 2017, when it runs out in any case.

(Ed Miliband knows this.  It is what makes it clever - he can blame failure on lawyers and energy companies)

The second is commercial.  As big as the major energy firms are they run on about 4-6% profit margin and around 50% of your bill is the wholesale cost of energy.  If wholesale prices go up 20% and the energy company are expected to absorb this cost, they'd be losing money.  Of course to remove this risk they could speculate the worst case scenario price and increase bills now to cover any eventuality.  The result is households get stung with increased bills now at a level to meet the worst possible costs before the freeze kicks in, if wholesale prices end up lower I guess the bills can't be lowered during the 'freeze period'  

(Of course Ed knows this as well but again it is clever.   If energy companies increase bills between now and 2015 to cover future risk, its the coalitions problem and make Ed's pledge sound stronger.  Ed will claim credit for the subsequent price freeze.  Households are worse off, but Labour will be better off and we know who the most important is to the Labour Party)

Finally the Ed Miliband problem.  The energy companies signed up to lots energy efficiency and investment commitments under the last Labour government in order to secure energy supplies for the future and achieve carbon emissions targets.  These investments add to bills to about £120 a year.  I am not saying these are wrong, but the energy minister who imposed them was Ed Miliband.  In effect Ed is trying to tell the energy companies they're tyrants for following his advice and he's going to punish them for it. Of course this may be how energy companies manage the freeze, simply cut investment and then the so called energy shortage scare stories could become a reality.

Sadly Ed Miliband's announcement will probably mean most energy providers will stop offering long fixed price deals as well, so Ed's cheap headline could turn out very expensive for everyone else (Ed probably knew that as well)

It may be simpler and more effective to do something like this.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Conference Season - UKIP

Well I think we can all agree that unless you actually support the party, the UKIP party get together was enjoyable to watch.

As I have no idea what else was discussed apart from the behaviour of senior members I will simply post the picture as I like it (with thanks to Giles Goodall at Lib Dem Voice)


I guess this means a vote for UKIP is only half as powerful as a vote for anyone else in the Euro's (oh hang on, what if you include attendance figures - an idea for an entry another day but here's a flavour)



Thursday, September 26, 2013

On-line Focus updated

I realised the widget in the corner appeared to be missing some of the more recent editions.  I've updated it and deleted some older versions.

There are a few missing as I need to compress them some more due to the file size

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A good reason not to set up your 'out of office' email response

The sign in English is fine, however according to the BBC the welsh says;

 "I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated."