Archive for April, 2009

Gurkhas: pause for thought

April 29, 2009

The Gurkha defeat doesn’t make for pleasant reading for those of us who delight in irritating the rest of the blogosphere by supporting our Labour Government.

First – it’s embarassing. Governments with majorities in excess of 60 should be able to muster the bodies to defeat any opposition motion – in fact, the last one lost was in 1978, when the government didn’t have a working majority.

Secondly, the rebellion contains a lot of very moderate and respectable voices from our party. People like Andrew Smith, Keith Vaz and Stephen Pound are not rebels for all seasons: when they stand up and say that there’s something wrong, they deserve fair hearing.

Thirdly, the sight of Cameron and Clegg standing together in the most literal sense outside of Parliament is the starkest sign yet of the crystalization of a political idea in the public mind: that the government is beleaguered, desparately unpopular, and is seemingly set upon certain courses that garner almost universal opposition.

Fourthly – and perhaps most importantly – it was entirely unnecessary. The government could easily have taken the opposite decision on the Gurkhas; in fact, I’m baffled as to why it didn’t. There is no obvious and pressing reason why only a certain number of Gurkhas who retired before 1997 can settle in the UK, and I can’t see what political or policy victory the government thought it could have made out of contending otherwise.

Despite being an unpopular government, we are still just that – a government, and so still able to enact what is our political will. Until we start exercising our political will in ways that are to our political advantage – and, let’s face it, very often what’s to our political advantage on issues such as this is also quite good public policy – rather than seeming to pick fights for the sake of it, our decline may be inexorable.

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One of those days

April 29, 2009

Various bits of news made me think of this video clip from 2007:

For the record, I’m not actually convinced we would be doing much better under Blair. The polls were still awful back in the latter days of Blair. Party membership was hemorrhaging. And in terms of the government’s policy direction, I agree with much of what is argued here.

But although I’m no expert political strategist, surely we shouldn’t be getting ourselves into situations where we look like the party of total bastards and the Tories – who based their last general election campaign on anti-immigration slogans and who want to prioritise cutting inheritance tax  – are able to get away with posturing as the nice guys?

Finding your way to the Paintbrush

April 28, 2009

Amongst the search terms bringing people to the blog at the moment are Sir Satan; Pope Vomit; and Sex Trek. I can only hope we meet their expectations!

Obligatory MPs’ expenses post

April 28, 2009

There’s no doubt that this is a blow to the government. Coming when it does, it just adds to the unfortunate smell of death that is, unfortunately, pervading everything we seem to do at the moment.

To be honest, I thought the plans were a bit of a hash – they didn’t really address either the public’s anger, or the very real issues in MPs’ expenses.

As far as I can see, most of the 573 MPs whose constituencies are outside of London need to maintain two homes: if they didn’t, they’d either spend so much on London hotels or daily commuting that we wouldn’t save very much, or they’d spend so little time in their constituencies that we’d complain (rightly) that they were doing half of their job very, very poorly.

The problem, though, is in giving them an allowance (which, let’s face it, most are going to max out – wouldn’t you? I certainly would) to spend on purchasing a second property, and then allowing them to keep the property at the end.

It’s easy to see why this isn’t satisfactory: if Alan McBankbench became MP for Nowhereshire South East in 1992, and promptly purchased a 2-bed flat in Vauxhall, he would be sitting on a rather nice asset now. The public put up the capital, but the MP would be able to reap the capital gain from selling the property or borrowing against its value.

Some of the proposals that have been advanced would prevent MPs from using an allowance to purchase a property – instead, it’d only be available for hotel accommodation, or rental properties. But this isn’t actually that helpful – all this would mean is that rentiers or hotel proprietors would be the unearning beneficiaries of the public money, rather than the MPs. Even if most people would rather see money given to paedophiles than politicans at the moment, a cool, rational look says that this is little better than what we have at the moment.

Parliament House, Brisbane, QLD, with the Annexe (housing MPs accommodation) towering over it

Parliament House, Brisbane, QLD, with the Annexe (housing MPs' accommodation) towering over it

Last summer, I visited the State Parliaments of both Queensland and New South Wales, and they’ve got a rather nifty way of dealing with this problem. MPs are provided with accommodation on-side at Parliament House in both Brisbane and Sydney.

While it may not be practical to find or build a “hall of residence” for MPs, why don’t the House Authorities just start using the money that’s currently distributed in second home expenses to purchase individual flats and houses near Westminster themselves?

MPs could then enter a ballot, and select their property in the order in which they come – and, of course, allow them to swap (if, for example, an MP with a family wishes to swap a bedsit with a single MP who’s found themselves with a larger property).

This seems a lot fairer, and it means that the taxpayer would actually hold the assets accumulated using the expenses – a far better system, in my view.

An Act of Nonsense

April 27, 2009

I subscribe to many views today considered ‘old fashioned’. One such view is that an Act of Parliament is designed so as to confer legally enforceable rights and obligations. Sadly, this view is now extremely out-dated. Recent years have seen a trend more towards using the statute book to extole the virtues of Mother Hubbard and apple pie. The panacea of this trend came with the now legendary National Health Service Act 2006. With no sense of irony, section 1(1) states:

1 Secretary of State’s duty to promote health service

(1) The Secretary of State must continue the promotion in England of a comprehensive health service designed to secure improvement—

(a) in the physical and mental health of the people of England, and

(b) in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness.

Not only would this use of ‘duty’ have Hohfeld spinning in his grave, it fundamentally undermines the Act. No person can sensibly ever bring a claim against the Secretary of State for breaching this duty and so the section serves no purpose other than amusing law students.

Keep watching the skies, however, because I am confident that the standard set by the National Health Service Act could be surpassed. The latest announcement from Minister for Mother Hubbard and Apple Pie, Harriet Harman has almost unprecedented nonsense-potential. Despite this Act being just the latest in a long line of Equalities legislation, Labour’s future leader (surely not!) promises that the bill would  “narrow the gap between rich and poor and make Britain more equal”. Never one to duck an opportunity for hyperbole then! I have all fingers crossed that this will be imposed as a duty on a Secretary of State in section 1 of the bill.

Next we are told that the bill will aim to eradicate ‘unfairness’ in the workplace. If this is made into an enforceable ‘duty’ the opportunities for comedy litigation could be limitless. No longer will litigants be forced to struggle with the metaphysical and moral dilemma of how to sue God. Under the new Act we could bring a claim against our employers for all our misfortunes.

Saving the best til last, the bill aims to tackle discrimination against people from working class backgrounds. I am overcome with excitement at the prospect of seeing a legal definition of a working class person. I desperately hope the bill contains a Schedule listing key defining characteristics of a working class person. Perhaps we at the Paintbrush could compile a list for Ms Harman to include.

 

Nazi dating

April 27, 2009

 

Time to delve into the weird and not at all wonderful world of white supremacism. Online racist cranks at Stormfront just make it so easy for us to laugh at them that I cannot resist copying’n’pasting some nazi titbits here for all to enjoy. Take this from the ‘Dating Advice’ section of Stormfront’s ‘White Singles’ section (inexplicably one of the busiest parts of the website):

 

Girls don’t care about your political beliefs by Valhalla

For a long time I sat around waiting for the perfect “racially conscience” woman to come along. Then even when a girl came along who was somewhat racially conscience there was no guarantee that she’d even like me. Sometimes the girl you think is perfect, will have no interest in you.

(more…)

Sunshine-induced optimism

April 26, 2009

Land: the last economic taboo?

April 25, 2009
My Land: get off it

My Land: get off it

OK, so it’s not the sexiest title for my first (proper) post for over two weeks (apologies – I have been visiting family in the provinces, and have not long since returned to the big smoke). But my absence in the countryside, alongside the economic discussion of the budget, has got me thinking.

Land is the ultimate scarce resource. There is a fixed amount of it; what’s more, it’s of a varied quality. And although nobody produces land, or puts and work into its production (alright – apart, occasionally, from in Holland, smartarse), a small number of people own the freehold on the vast majority of land in the UK – this ownership being a hangover from various historical developments from less democratic ages.

It’s not feasible to redistribute land equally, even if you could do it practically – what would I want with either several hundred acres of scrub land in Scotland, or 12 square feet of Mayfair? – and land nationalization, whilst popular with some early socialists, would be prohibitively expensive for the government and would serve no obvious purpose (as well as disrupting the economic activity that goes on within the present ownership system).

So where does this leave the land-minded redistributionist (a label I think I’m going to start appending to my emails)? The idea I cooked up on a train last week: National Land Shares.

First, the government establishes a National Land Bank, and every individual in the UK is given 100 National Land Shares. NLSs are given to everyone, by right, at the age of 18, and cannot be confiscated by the government; they are not inheritable, and revert to the state when you die (but this is OK, because your kids get theirs when they reach 18 anyway).

Most importantly, the shares are tradeable – the National Land Bank operates as an exchange for NLSs.

Landowners are then taxed on the basis of the value of their landholding. All of the taxes raised are distributed as dividends to the holders of NLSs.

So, if a landowner wishes to reduce their tax liability, they can do so – by buying shares from people willing to sell.

The plan is profoundly redistributive, since everyone is given the same number of NLSs; it also redistributes a good where the current distribution is capricious, and in few ways related to the hard work, enterprise, risk-taking, or intelligence of its owners – or any of those other fine qualities we’re assured capitalism encourages and rewards.

It also provides the great bulk of people with assets at the beginning of their working life, which they can hold, add to or sell as they wish – this can only help an economy which, we’re told, has met a sticky wicket due to easy access to cheap, unsecured credit.

So how about it? Let’s face it, at the present moment, it could hardly harm Labour’s poll ratings, and we might as well try a few interesting ideas if the polls are right.

A Budget Pick’n’Mix

April 23, 2009

Duncan has a piece on the 50% tax rate on his much-admired economics blog.

David Semple thinks the Budget was a missed opportunity.

Don Paskini’s thoughts are similar.

More left analysis at A Very Public Sociologist.

The TUC blog includes some articles which argue it did ok as a progressive Budget.

Hopi Sen points out the ridiculous attitude of the right-wing press.

As does Dave Osler.

Tom Harris draws attention to the unconvincing Tory response.

And if you’ll excuse me I won’t link to any right-wing/Tory reactions as they all make me feel quite nauseous.

A piece of Old Labour has died

April 22, 2009

Some are predictably suggesting that the income tax changes announced in today’s Budget represent the death of New Labour. I haven’t had time to think about the Darling details greatly, but in all the Budgetary excitement the news of Jack Jones’ passing away has not received so much attention as it might have done. This was a man whose life-long dedication to socialism began after he read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, so I feel that at least a brief comment from Frank Owen’s Paintbrush is necessary.

We think the times we live in are tough but Jones’ life was testament to how much tougher things could be. He was born the year before the mass slaughter of the First World War began. He was brought up in the impoverished docks of Liverpool. He later took part in pitched street battles with Mosley’s fascists before volunteering to fight for the Spanish Republic. He was at the peak of his powers during times of heightened industrial militancy and when the government had to go to the IMF to keep the economy afloat.

Accepted that last point does not seem as distant as it once did, but generally life is a lot easier and the world is a lot safer for Britons today than it was for Jones’ generation. From his experiences we have much to learn. Such a commitment to the cause should be an inspiration to us all.