Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tax Credits as Tax Cuts

So I just watched PMQs and the discussion of it afterwards on the Daily Politics, which you can see again (today anyway) here. The interesting thing to note here is not the u-turn itself, it is the bizarre situation the government have put themselves in regarding the whole issue of taxation.

Andrew Neil was busy putting a lovely, liberal argument to Patricia Hewitt about just not taxing people rather than making them fill in a form to get their money back. I can't be arsed to transcribe it, but here's the conversation stripped down to its core meaning:
Neil: My cleaner pays more tax under this system. You are making her pay more tax, then fill in a big form to get some of it back.

Hewitt: The tax credit system has transformed the lives of poor families.

Neil: She doesn't have a family, she isn't entitled to most of the tax credits.

Hewitt: Which is why we introduced the working tax credit for single people without children. But yes, some people still don't qualify for it, so clearly what's coming is an extention of tax credits.
Now, pay attention at the back! The argument on this stuff has gone basically as follows since Brown first announced the abolition of the 10p rate in his last budget:
Government: We are abolishing the 10p rate.

Opponents: But that leaves many people, mostly poor people, worse off.

Government: But not all poor people. Look, pensioners, people with children, etc. are fine, because we're giving it back to them with tax credits and the like.

Opponents: Yes, but what if you're on a low income and you don't have children. Then you will lose out.

Government: Lalala, I'm not listening.

Opponents: Well, our constituents are, so we're going to keep this up and possibly destabilise you.

Government: Oh all right then. But we aren't reversing the decision.

Opponents: Then you'd better think of something else to make it all better then, hadn't you?

Government: Got it! We roll out more tax credits and winter fuel allowance to make sure nobody loses out.

Opponents: Hmm. That's a pretty wide net of tax credits, then.

Government: Oh, don't worry, it will be.
The point has to be made here that tax credits are supposed to be a redistributive measure, smuggled in by Brown to allow him to feel like a Labour chancellor whilst seemingly not doing too much redistribution. And fair play, there is an argument to be made there; after all, if you want to make judgments about how much of their own money people should be allowed to keep based on something other than their income (eg. whether or not they need to look after children with it), this is one way to do that.

But they're only justifiable as long as that's what they are, a specifically redistributive thing, designed to allow the government to effectively tax some people more than others depending on whether or not it approves of their life choices. As liberals we may not like that, but you have to admit that it's got some ideological underpinnings.

Now look again at what the government and its surrogates have done in conceding the argument to the opponents that there must be no losers from this budget, but maintaining that the way to correct this is not to reverse the original decision (or to do something else to the tax system - say, adopting Lib Dem policy). They have made a mockery of the tax credits system. If, as Hewitt and others are suggesting, the point of the tax credits system is simply to roll it out until nobody is any worse off, then we are going to end up in a situation where everyone on a low enough income is eligible for some tax credit or other, and no fiscal difference has been made to anyone. All that will have changed is that now, people are filling in more forms to stay in the same situation as they had before.

This is bonkers. So in addition to simply pointing out who the people who still lose out from this are, can our response start to take a slightly broader perspective too? Please, Mr. Vince?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

US Tellypandering

Just read this on GU. According to the Graun:

Final confirmation that George Bush has too much time on his hands came last night.

Well into the lame-duck stage of his presidency, with his duties at the White House increasingly minimal, Bush found time to put in an appearance on the popular game show 'Deal or No Deal'.

Bush, who according to a Gallup poll today became the most unpopular president in recorded US history, said he was thrilled to be on the show. "Come to think of it, I'm thrilled to be anywhere with high ratings these days," he said.

It was for a popular cause, in support of a US war veteran taking part in the contest, which has a $1m prize.

This much doesn't surprise me. He is, as they point out, a lame duck with no political capital left to spend and a congress with little sympathy for him or his party. But the following startled me perhaps more:
While Bush was on the game show, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain were appearing on the World Wrestling Entertainment's popular 'Monday Night Raw' programme.
These people, obviously, aren't lame ducks. So what are they doing messing about on something like WWE's Raw? Funny how the process of getting elected makes people do the kind of thing that a president only wants to do when they've run out of anything more useful to do.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Why is it that whenver someone says on GMTV that the party is not doing well enough, it is interpreted not as the statement of the obvious that it is, but as a comment on the leadership? And yes, I know that Ashley asked specifically about the leadership, but presumably as a response to Vince making this (crushingly banal to anyone with a smidge of perspective) observation that the party is not doing well enough.

Any self-respecting political party should want to be in power, or what is it there for? If the polls suggest that this is not about to happen, then the party is not doing well enough. The further the polls are from showing that, the less well they are doing, ultimately. Of course, direction of travel is also important, but that's another matter. The way these statements are interpreted by the media (in their wider sense) is bizarre, until you realise that for them, the Lib Dems' purpose is not to be in power, because they don't see us as a normal party. They couldn't give a shit about the policies; as far as they're concerned, the Lib Dems are there as the protest vote, the kingmakers in hung parliaments, and not much else. Oh, yes, and they are mostly to be represented in the form of their leader, whose position is to be continually reassessed when they get bored of discussing anything else. In this light, it makes sense. Problem is, it's not true. That's not why I, or any Lib Dem I've ever met, joined the party.

Oh, and as for The Sunday Programme, I don't know why any of our MPs bother to talk to them. It only gets seen by the Westminster villagers who remember to set the video and insomniacs, since this week it will be on at 6am on Sunday. The program only survives by trying to extract some piece of intrigue from a given interview, safe in the knowledge that the spin they are putting on it will not be made to look silly because nobody is actually going to watch the complete interview.

We Need A Campaign to Explain the London Mayor Voting System

Watching from the sidelines up here in Cambridge, I, and I'm sure many other Lib Dems, and indeed supporters of anyone other than Ken or Boris, am asking myself one question whenever I see polls coming out of London: Why, in one of the few places in England where voters are not completely wedded to tactical voting, is the vote for parties other than the biggest two not larger?

I know it's what Lib Dems would say in this situation, but in this case, I'm pretty sure it's true: Londoners are tired of Ken, and they aren't sure they want Boris in charge of the multimillion pound budget of the London mayor. So why can't Brian, Sian, Gerard, Lindsey, Winston, Matt, Richard or Alan get more traction? In some of their cases (*cough* BNP *cough*), it is because they are awful, awful people. But that doesn't get proponents of more proportional (and yes, I know, that's questionable here, but never mind, if you don't like the word proportional then try expressive - after all, voters are at the very least being given a greater opportunity to express an opinion) voting sytems off the hook. Why, under London's voting system, do we see such a rush for the two biggest candidates?

It is tempting to answer that the reason is simply name recognition. This is undoubtedly a factor; in 2004 and 2000 there was not quite the same polarisation as we are seeing in polls now. But nonetheless, the assembly voting numbers for 2004 and 2000 do seem to show that Lib Dem support (and indeed other party support) is generally unrepresented in mayoral voting. So why is this? Is it the sheer weight of recognition value for the biggest candidates (almost invariably only achieving that status because the media have anointed them as such)? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Every mayoral election the results show that people are using their second choice votes to vote with their cosciences, and their first choice votes to vote tactically - which is, of course, the wrong way round. It is no use to UKIP, or the the Lib Dems, or to the Greens, to get a second choice vote, and you aren't helping them one jot giving it to them. I'm fairly sure that many, many people aren't quite grasping this, and I think it's about time we, and the small parties, from the Greens on downwards, got together to ram home this point.

It's tempting to say that Brian Paddick should be devoting his campainging and leafletting to explaining the voting system, since this is the one thing most likely to drive up his vote. But really, this isn't a Lib Dem issue, it's bigger than that. If London is to have an SV system for its mayoral elections, people need to know that that's what they have, and they need to realise the implications of it. I'm not at all sure they do right now, and it would do everyone except the media, Ken and Boris, a huge favour for all the "outsider" parties (and Brian!) to make a big noise about it right about now.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Clegg was a member of CUCA?

So Guido thinks he's onto something pretty scandalous, with suggestions that Nick Clegg paid a year's subs to Cambridge University Conservative Association. Now, I don't know if he was or not, but as a current Cambridge student, I would just like to point out that CUCA has a reputation as an oddly non-political organisation that is worth being a member of even if you're not an awful Tory because it organises some pretty good dinners. I know of at least one member of CUCA at the moment who is not actually a Tory; some people join it just because they are interested in politics and would like to hang around other people who are interested in politics, and can't face the factionalised in-fighting of the student left. I wouldn't be surprised if it was much the same in Clegg's day, which was, after all, not that long ago.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


OK, now I have been fairly unmoved to post about this in recent days. But I just went and looked at Dale's blog, and was struck by the absolutely bizarre degree to which the right is wetting itself about this minor gaffe. They are desperately trying to keep it in people's minds, when most of us are quite happy to move on from what is clearly a fairly open and shut case of Piers Morgan being a rascal and a politician not wanting to sound like a prude.

I am reminded of nothing more than Bill Hicks's bit about the manufactured controversy over Basic Instinct at the time of its original release. Here, I've rewritten it to explain the parallel I'm drawing:
I saw this news story recently which everyone called "Cleggover". Okay now. Quick capsule review: Piece-of-Shit. Okay now. Yeah: end of story, by the way. Don't get caught up in that fevered hype phoney fucking debate about that Piece-of-Shit interview.
"Is he bragging about this, is that too many, are politicians becoming too dddddddd....."
You're just confused, you don't get it, you've forgotten how to judge correctly. Take a deep breath:
Look at it again.
"Oh it's a Piece-of-Shit!"
Exactly, that's all it is. Piers Morgan squatted, let out a loaf, they put a fucking title on it, put it on a marquee, Morgan's shit, piece of shit, walk away.
"But is it too, how would we feel about a female MP who ddddd....."
You're getting really baffled here. Piece-of-Shit! Now walk away. That's all it is, it's nothing more! Free yourself folks, if you see it, Piece-of-Shit, say it and walk away. You're right! You're right! Not those fuckers who want to tell you how to think! You're fucking right!
This doesn't matter. It's like Blair's "5 times a night" thing; yes, everyone sits around and goes "ewww" for a week or so, but it's nothing more than that, and most people realise this. Unfortunately, the Tories are so unsettled by Clegg that they will make themselves sound absolutely batshit crazy trying to drive forward a media narrative that isn't there that this is "the beginning of the end for Clegg".

You might think that's a charicature, by the way. Well go look here, for instance:
Nick Clegg has had a disastrous week. His comments about the number of women he had slept with have made him into a laughing-stock while his party’s position on the Lisbon treaty becomes more incoherent by the day. Clegg’s interview with The Times this morning shows how difficult it is going to be for him to get past the Clegg-over business. Helen Rumbelow and Alice Miles press him repeatedly on the issue and you have to imagine that every other interviewer is going to do the same for the foreseeable future.
Guys, take a deep breath here, and listen to Hicks. As much as you may want this to be something more, this is a piece-of-shit news story, and nothing more. If you want to have an argument with Clegg about policy, go for it. This makes you look silly.