Jeremy Hunt’s revealing comments over tax credits

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was asked today about the forthcoming cuts to tax credits which are so unpopular they have united Jeremy Corbyn with The Sun. His answer was very candid are rather revealing about the conservative mindset. When asked if the tax credit cuts should be slowed, Hunt said:

“No. We have to proceed with these tax credit changes because they are a very important cultural signal. My wife is Chinese. We want this to be one of the most successful countries in the world in 20, 30, 40 years’ time.

“There’s a pretty difficult question that we have to answer, which is essentially: are we going to be a country which is prepared to work hard in the way that Asian economies are prepared to work hard, in the way that Americans are prepared to work hard? And that is about creating a culture where work is at the heart of our success.”

People like me would say that the economic system we have causes unemployment and it has a tendency to use this to push wages down. Conservatives like Hunt though don’t agree. They think the qualities of the individual determine someone’s experiences. Presumably, when he reads stories of over-worked Chinese workers committing suicide, he sees only hard-working strivers who desperately want to get on. Only through hard work does Britain succeed. It’s the conservative theory of individual success applied to the national level. Hunt went on to say:

“Dignity is not just about how much money you have got … officially children are growing up in poverty if there is an income in that family of less than £16,500. What the Conservatives say is how that £16,500 is earned matters.

“It matters if you are earning that yourself, because if you are earning it yourself you are independent and that is the first step towards self-respect. If that £16,500 is either a high proportion or entirely through the benefit system you are trapped. It is about pathways to work, pathways to independence … It is about creating a pathway to independence, self-respect and dignity.”

Again, people like me would say the system traps people in low paid, insecure work and means they have to rely on the social security system to live anything like a decent life. Hunt and his fellow Conservatives would bring those people cheer by pointing out the ‘dignity’ in their struggle to put food on the table. In other words, “Forget that you can barely pay the rent. Take heart in the dignity of your hard work and the fact you are no longer such a burden on the state.” As Jeremy Corbyn said in his speech last week “you don’t have to take what you’re given.”


Is this already the worst election campaign ever?

General elections only come around every 4 or five years, so it’s a difficult question to answer, but I don’t know about you, a week in and I’m already fed up. As far as I’m aware, no major party has released its manifesto yet, and the absence of policy has been replaced by an unremittingly negative campaign.

A few weeks ago I committed to a daily blog covering the key themes each party were highlighting on their Twitter feeds. I quickly realised they comprised solely of scaremongering about their rivals, so it has descended into dulls Tweets accompanied by some snarky comments. I’ll stick with it though to the bitter end. I’m not a quitter!

Both the Tories and Labour have given up all pretense that they are trying to win a majority, focusing mainly on speculation about who the other may or may not work with after the election. This has been rinsed and repeated so many times now, it’s surprising any one is still listening (maybe I’m the only one). No one really wants to tell us what they will do because they know they probably won’t be in a position to deliver most of it anyway. Instead they just speculate wildly (or tell lies) about what the other parties would do if they got in.

The ‘debate’ on Thursday didn’t shed much light on anything either. Much as I get sucked in by the soap opera nature of it all, the debate – it wasn’t really a debate, just seven people trying to appeal to a very narrow section of society  – was pretty boring. Everything is just so bland. At least here in Bradford we have Galloway flying around in open-top buses, threatening to sue someone every five minutes to spice things up a bit, but on the national stage, every day is Groundhog Day. Repeat after me “long term economic plan”, “the plan is working”…

What the Tories used to say would happen if the deficit was only halved by 2015

election poster

It’s funny how things change. The Conservatives launched this, their first election poster this week. One of their three boasts is “THE DEFICIT HALVED”. This has now been redefined as a success, but Jonathan Portes has dug up some great quotes from 2011 when they were saying something entirely different:

Mark Lancaster: The Government’s plan to eliminate the deficit by 2015 is in stark contrast to the Darling plan, which was simply to reduce it by half. What assessment has the Minister made of the likely impact of the Darling plan on the level of debt and the cost of servicing it?

Mr Hoban [Mark Hoban, at the time a Minister at the Treasury]: If we had continued with the previous Government’s deficit reduction plan, debt would still be rising in 2015, not falling, meaning that we would have to spend an extra £3 billion in one year on debt interest while still having to make spending cuts. The lack of ambition in the previous Government’s plan put our credit rating at risk, thus threatening the prospect of higher interest rates and putting a brake on the recovery.

Then, only halving the deficit by 2015 as per Labour’s original plans would “put our credit rating at risk, thus threatening the prospect of higher interest rates and putting a brake on the recovery.” Now though, halving the deficit is cause for high-fives all round!

This is not to say that Labour’s plans were better than the Tories, both were stupid to focus on the deficit, which was never a big issue. I just make the point to show how divorced politics and economic reality have become. Failure can be redefined as success at will, and something that once was said could lead to catastrophe is now just a step on a road to long term recovery. It’s rather transparent, so hopefully more people will start to notice.

If the bookies are right, how many seats would each party win in Scotland in May?

There have been a lot of stories recently about opinion polls north of the border showing a huge surge in SNP support at the expense of Labour. This article in the Guardian last week is a good example, which predicted that the SNP could win up to 45 of the 59 Scottish seats next May. With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to see whether the bookies (and their punters) agreed with these dire (for Labour) predictions. Ladbrokes currently have odds up for every Westminster contest, and I’ve reproduced the odds for each Scottish seat below (click on each image to enlarge). I’ve only displayed the odds for the parties Ladbrokes currently have 1st and second in each race. Odds are correct as of 31st December. As you can see, the current odds don’t reflect the polls.

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Screenshot 2014-12-31 at 9.47.55 PM
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Based on the bookies’ current odds, in this next table I’ve indicated what this looks like in terms of number of seats won.

Screenshot 2014-12-31 at 10.06.33 PM

The headline numbers don’t look too bad for Labour. They have 40 seats at the moment and remain favourites to win in 33 of those in May. They current odds suggest they will lose just 7 seats to the SNP, who in turn will all but wipe out the Lib Dems, leaving them with just 3 seats, while the Tories retain their only Scottish seat. In a further 3 seats, Ladbrokes have the SNP tied with Labour.

A closer look at the odds though should give Labour less cause for complacency however. I have called a result ‘likely’ if the current odds are 1/2 or shorter. This is the case for all of the SNPs current 6 seats, but also 7 more (including interestingly, Danny Alexander’s). For Labour however, this is true of only 21 of the 40 seats they currently hold. The other 12 in which they are favourites are still very much up for grabs according to Ladbrokes, and they have all become Labour/SNP marginals. The Lib Dems meanwhile can only be confident of winning 2 of their 11 Scottish seats.

The third line on the number of seats table shows those seats Ladbrokes feel are ‘slam dunks’. I’ve called a seat a slam dunk if the current odds are 1/10 or shorter. There are only 7 Scottish seats in this category, 6 for the SNP and one for the Lib Dems. Labour currently have no slam dunk seats, which must be a cause for concern. It will mean they will have to spend a lot more money in Scotland on campaigning than they are used to.

Based on the above then, here are some prediction bands for the number of seats each party could win:

Labour: 21-36

SNP: 19-32

Lib Dem: 1-3

Tory: 1-2

These are only the current odds of course, and they will undoubtedly change before election day. So will the polls though. The SNP are doing fantastically well in the polls are the moment, but surely they will narrow somewhat between now and May? It seems fairly set in stone now that the Lib Dems will be almost wiped out in Scotland in May, while for Labour, it could still go either way.

UPDATE: On reflection, I think I’ve been a bit harsh on the Lib Dems here. They have a chance of winning up to 7 seats in May on current odds, so they do have a chance of avoiding a wipeout.

Another reason Labour don’t deserve your vote

From The Guardian:

“In a speech intended to address Tory claims that Labour cannot be trusted with the economy, the Labour leader will stress that balancing the books will be a key element of the party’s plans for the five years after 2015.”

The article goes on to quote extracts of Miliband’s speech which contains this passage:

“You and I know we won’t have the money. For all of the cuts, for all of the pain under this government, Britain still has a deficit to deal with and a debt to pay down. That’s why our programme starts with a binding commitment to balancing the books in the next government.”

You might ‘know’ that Ed, but I and an increasing number of people know that is bullshit. There is always as much money as is needed. That’s not to say Labour should go mad, but the money will never run out. It’s stuff – people, physical resources and our ability to innovate and create new technologies – which sets the bounds of the possible, never money.

Britain has a deficit, but the things it has to ‘deal with’ are its unemployment problem, its low wage problem, its housing problem. Miliband’s focus on things that are irrelevant, but which undermine attempts to deal with things are relevant, doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in what a Labour Government under his leadership could achieve.

The Tories deserve to lose next year and the Lib Dems deserve to be wiped out, it’s just that Labour don’t deserve to win. Expect low turnout records to be broken again next May!

Why aren’t Labour doing better?

I blogged yesterday about Labour complaints of media bias. While it seems clear that Britain’s media is pretty conservative in nature and in favour of neo-liberal capitalism, I don’t really buy that as the reason why Labour are struggling to get their message across. After all, the modern Labour Party is pretty conservative and full of neo-liberals itself. It seems to many of us that there’s little to distinguish between Labour and the Tories. Could this be a more plausible reason for their closeness in the polls?

UKIP’s success has come on the back of hammering two simple messages – i) the UK should get out of the EU, largely because ii) membership means open borders to 500m people. To bolster the effect of their message, they have appealed to people’s innate fear of the unknown and the different to fuel concern about the number of new arrivals who are ‘not like you’ or are ‘after your job’. This tactic is as old as the hills, but should be relatively easy to counteract.

While there will always be racists who will vote for far-right parties, most people are not racist, but many do have concerns that are quite easy to link to immigration (if you had an incentive to do so). So what are these?

  • Rising rents
  • Lack of social housing
  • High long-term unemployment
  • Long waits at A&E of for a GP’s appointment
  • Lack of school places

If you are struggling to get a council house but hear stories of a Roma family jumping the queue, or a young person unable to find work and being labelled a scrounger while the person who serves you in the pub has a ‘foreign’ accent, if you don’t get your first choice of school or can’t get an appointment with your GP for a week, it is quite easy for politicians to take those frustrations and blame it on ‘uncontrolled immigration’. A lot of people swallow this and vote for the party promising to do something about it. Whether any of these issues are actually due to immigration or not doesn’t matter at the moment because no party other than UKIP is offering any solutions. UKIP are right that there is an open-door policy to EU citizens regardless of quality, and no one else seems to want to argue directly why they think this is a good thing. This is nevertheless the position of Labour, Conservatives and the Lib Dems.

So back to Labour then, what should they do? They are in favour of free movement of labour within the EU, so it seems to me they need to address the issues that people are currently blaming on immigration. Ed Miliband has actually tried to raise each of the five issues on my list above, and has grabbed a bit of attention each time. The problem has been, his proposed ‘solutions’ are so inconsequential, people sort of shrug on hearing them. So what? is the refrain. Miliband has proposed very timid proposals on job creation, energy prices and private sector rents, and has been likened to Mugabe, Stalin and Hugo Chavez by the Tory party and certain people in the media. If this is the reaction to very modest proposals, why not go the whole hog and actually come up with something that will really stir things up?

How about proposing something like:

1. Building 100,000 social houses a year for the next 5 years

2. Guarantee work for all who need a job, working in the third or public sectors (limited to those who’ve been in the UK for at least 5 years)

3. Large programme of school building

4. Moratorium on all tenders for provision of NHS services

5. Renationalise something – polls consistently show majorities in favour of nationalised water, energy, postal services and rail.

We should also not forget that while UKIP did well, 66% of people didn’t bother to vote! Why not? A large number obviously don’t see any value in voting. If we had a well-funded opposition party (and money is important) selling a genuine alternative, maybe more people would turn out on polling day. If it’s a choice between the blue Tories, the red Tories, the yellow Tories, or the Purple Tories, why would anyone bother? It seems pretty clear that socialism isn’t coming back. The name alone strikes fear into many, but ISTM there would be support for anyone proposing to ‘tame’ capitalism, keeping the good bits, but intervening strongly to eliminate the bad.


Some policy ideas for Party Conference season

It’s Party Conference season again, kicking off with the Lib Dems this weekend. While the main parties will doubtless be floating radical new policies like voluntary codes for zero hour contracts, voluntary codes for private sector landlords or how best to ‘nudge’ people to behave in ways not in their long term interest (mainly borrowing more money), I thought I’d float just 3 alternative policies I’d like to see introduced.

1. No surprise to regular readers, number 1 is a job guarantee. While David Cameron and George Osborne are high-fiving about unemployment falling by 24,000, long-term unemployment and youth unemployment both remain high. Even if we now have a strong recovery, hundreds of thousands are going to be left behind, as employers are unwilling to hire people without recent job experience. To fix this, the government should create jobs to act as a transition from unemployment to regular paid employment. These jobs should be available to anyone struggling to find a job, but who is willing and able to work. This would also render the whole zero hours debate moot.

2. Housing affordability and availability is a real issue for millions. Nasty policies like the bedroom tax don’t help, and the Government’s enhanced right to buy is exacerbating the problem. We need 250,000 new dwellings per year to meet demand. At the moment we are building less than half that number. To address this, central government should award grants to local authorities of £200 per resident, for the building of social housing. These homes should be required to be built to passivhaus standard. Building regs should also be amended to prevent some of the worst residential building we see today.

3. A debt jubilee. Current policy seems to be to ‘recover’ the economy based on pumping up private debt levels once again. This is clearly unsustainable. Debt levels are already too high, and much of it probably can’t be paid back. We should accept this and hit the reset button. Each household could be given a one off payment of £10,000, which must be used to pay off debt, be it mortgage debt or unsecured debt. Those who do not have any debt get to keep the £10k to spend on whatever.

Pie in the sky? In the current climate yes, obviously these things won’t be implemented, but in terms of the ideas being practical, affordable and beneficial for the majority? Yes, I think these policies are all those things. Got any of your own? Leave your ideas in the comments.