Compare and contrast

People say Jeremy Corbyn is a weak leader, but which shows stronger leadership?

This?

Or this?

I know which I prefer.

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Labour were too left-wing?

Yougov published some interesting polling results today which in a lot of ways seem contradictory. They asked people about Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party, and the direction Labour should take in the future. Here’s the results (click to enlarge):

Screenshot 2015-05-18 at 6.27.01 PM

Around a third of respondents think that Labour under Ed Miliband was too left wing and 40% thought the new leader should move Labour more to the centre. This should be a surprising result, as Labour’s manifesto was not remotely left-wing, promising to continue austerity and talking tough on immigration and social security. To me though it shows the power of framing, and how media presentation can feed through to public perceptions. Constant reinforcement of ‘Red Ed’ and labelling certain policies as ‘communist’ seems to have done the trick.

If we contrast this with some other results from the same poll, the picture becomes a bit less clear as Yougov’s Peter Kellner explains in this blogpost. If you ask people where they sit on the political spectrum, the most popular answer seems to be ‘right in the middle’. You get a rather nice bell shaped curve like this:

Screenshot 2015-05-18 at 6.40.00 PM

“The centre is where I am” seems to be the mantra. You hear politicians talk quite a lot about ‘reclaiming the centre ground’. For example the Lib Dem’s entire strategy seemed to be based around placing themselves slap bang in the middle between Labour and Conservative. They failed miserably of course, but not for that reason. Tony Blair was probably the master of claiming the centre ground, but the main point for politicians I guess is that to be successful you need to reframe the centre as “whatever platform we are running on”.

Words associated with left-wing and right-wing have a lot of negative baggage attached now so trying to attach a positive message to them is probably futile. They have kind of lost all meaning now. Everything to the left of whoever is in power is labelled as dangerous socialism, while the same is true to a lesser extent of the right wing.

So what does this mean for Labour? It seems clear that whoever wins the Labour leadership contest will want to present themselves as being in the centre. A moderate. A safe pair of hands. This is probably unavoidable, but being in the centre doesn’t mean your ideas need to bland and middle of the road. If you look at the public’s opinion on a range of issues, they are quite ‘leftish’ on a number of things (while still calling themselves centrist). Here is another finding from the Yougov poll linked to above:

Screenshot 2015-05-18 at 6.54.08 PM

Previous polls have also shown strong public support for nationalisation of certain industries like the railways and utilities. Unfortunately (to me) though, the British people also seem quite preoccupied with making sure those unlucky enough to not have a job are not too comfortable:

Screenshot 2015-05-18 at 6.58.19 PM

To me though, this presents an opportunity. If you can successfully frame yourself as being part of the centre, you can promote some quite radical policies while keeping a lot of voters on side. The public clearly want to see less people dependent on social security payments, so why not give them that by offering a guaranteed job to anyone willing and able to work?

It seems also that people can clearly see that capitalism is working incredibly well for those at the top, but less well for everyone else. There are some quite radical ideas that can tap into this while still being “pro-market”. I liked this recent comment from fellow blogger Neil Wilson:

It’s time to stop being ‘pro-business’ and start being ‘pro-market’.

– If you’re pro-market then you remove power and size differentials wherever they may be to ensure competition is allowed to work.

– If you’re pro-market then you ensure that everybody has an alternative job offer open to them via a Job Guarantee, ensuring there is always competition for labour resources.

– If you’re pro-market you address monopolies and rentier issues to ensure that resources are always fully utilised and available at the best prices.

‘pro-business’ people take the opposite view on these points.

Business needs to be treated as cattle not pets. They are looked after and farmed for what the output they provide, but if they stop doing that then they are culled to avoid wasting resources better used by others.

I think that’s dead right and is an attitude that should have support from across the political spectrum. The more interesting thinkers on the right like Douglas Carswell often talk of their disdain for ‘crony capitalism’, and would likely sign up to policies that were ‘pro-market’.

‘The radical centre’ is a phrase I’ve often heard (usually by people who are neither radical nor in the centre), but it does sort of capture an approach that could be successful. Convince voters you are in the centre and they’ll feel comfortable coming out to support you even if your policies offer a clear break with the status quo. It’s all about hitting the right notes by framing your ideas in the right way. It will be hard for any Labour leader to achieve this though, but hopefully one or more will at least try something new. The early signs are not great though.

Are you one of the Lidl People?

The Sun ran an article penned by David Cameron today headlined “How I’ll help the Lidl People” (the article is paywalled so I won’t link to it). I’m not sure whether that’s Cameron’s phrase or the Sun’s, but it seems to mean a person who shuns the leading brands to find the best deal. The Sun thinks these people are the key to winning the election. I’m an Aldi man myself, but are you one of the Lidl people?

This got me thinking about other lazy, borderline insulting terms politicians and the media have come up with to label large groups of people. There was Tony Blair’s “Mondeo Man“, Nick Clegg’s execrable phrase “Alarm Clock Britain” and of course Miliband’s “Squeezed Middle“. Have I missed any good ones? I think this phenomenon just highlights how detached the people who want to represent us are from the real world. They can’t grasp what people might want unless they can segment voters into stupid stereotypes, and aim particular messages at those groups. I don’t like it. It’s infantile.

Spot the difference between the two main parties on tax avoidance

Noam Chomsky once wrote “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….”. There’s been a very lively debate recently about tax avoidance, following revelations from Switzerland about HSBC. Labour and Tory Ministers and Shadow Ministers have been chucking accusations around with abandon, but I can’t really see what the difference is between them. Here’s two examples.

1) Ed Miliband calls out Tory donors for tax avoidance. Ed Miliband avoided inheritance tax after the death of his father (kind of). George Osborne talks of cracking down on tax avoidance, but in a former life as a backbench MP, felt comfortable handing out advice on how to avoid tax. There are different types of tax avoidance. All are legal though. How can we trust MPs from either party to actually do something radical to ensure all pay their fair share of tax, when they are all hypocrites when it comes to tax?

2) A stupid row broke out after Ed Balls suggested people should always get a receipt – even for odd jobs they are paying in cash for, as to do otherwise would be facilitating tax avoidance. Iain Duncan Smith called this “absurd”, saying this demonstrated “Labour’s complete lack of understanding of how business works and how people get by”. It does seem a bit daft to expect people to do as Ed Balls wants, but he is saying nothing different than Tory Treasury Minister David Gauke did, when he said in 2012:

“Getting a discount with your plumber by paying cash in hand is something that is a big cost to the Revenue and means others have to pay more in tax.

“I think it is morally wrong. It is illegal for the plumber but it is pretty implicit in those circumstances that there is a reason why there is a discount for cash.”

Ed Miliband at the time refused to agree cash in hand payments were morally wrong, saying instead:

“What I say is that the job of government is to pass the right laws to clamp down on tax avoidance – that’s the most important thing of all.

So Tory makes a statement, Labour criticises. Labour makes identical statement, Tories criticise. Lively debate then within an incredibly narrow spectrum. Or two cheeks of the same backside as a certain Bradford MP loves to say.

Huge differences emerge between three main parties over spending on education

Or not.

David Cameron

“We are saying very clearly, when it comes to schools, that money that follows your child into the school, that money won’t be cut.”

Ed Miliband

“The next Labour government will protect the overall education budget.”

David Laws (Lib Dem education spokesman and expenses cheat)

“Liberal Democrats will protect the budgets for schools, early years and 16-19 education in real terms.”

Bizarrely, having announced an identical spending plan to Labour, Laws went on to say:

“Labour would fund their education plans through excessive and reckless borrowing, leaving today’s schoolchildren to pick up the tab when they start work. The £4bn that Labour would waste on debt interest payments would be better spent on schools.”

Anyway, take your pick. Do you prefer Blue fixed spending on education, Red fixed spending on education, or Yellow fixed spending on education?

Big Business vs Ed Miliband

In the last week or so a number of wealthy businessmen have given interviews in which they have criticised Ed Miliband and Labour for being anti-business. While I don’t particularly feel the urge to go in to bat for Miliband or Labour, this strikes me as ludicrous on two counts.

The first is the frankly laughable proposition that the minute differences between Labour and the Tories on their attitudes towards big business represents the difference between prosperity and catastrophe. I don’t know how any journalist can’t write up these interviews with a straight face. Of course Labour will show favouritism to different business people than the Tories have, but if Labour win, life ain’t going to get much tougher for big business. It may cost the top executives a few thousand pounds if the mansion tax goes through and if the 50p rate is brought back, and this is probably what these business people mean when they say Labour is ‘anti-business’.

The second count is the idea that big business people have any particular insight on how best to run an economy. If you look at the public statements made by Labour’s detractors, you won’t find much by way of reasoned argument. The first to break cover was Boots boss Stefano Pessina. Putting aside the fact he is not a UK citizen, resident or taxpayer, in the interview which generated the headlines, he says absolutely nothing of interest:

“The problem is, would they act that way or not? One thing is to threaten and to shout, but it is completely different to be in charge and to manage the country day to day,” he said.

Mr Pessina, a 73-year-old Italian who is estimated to have amassed a £7.5  billion fortune, declined to elaborate on which specific policies he disliked.

The Sunday Telegraph wrote this up as being “a major blow for Labour’s election campaign”. OK.

The FT went next, getting a comment from Carphone Warehouse co-founder Sir Charles Dunstone who said:

“As a business person I’m frightened of an environment where there isn’t sufficient emphasis put on growing the economy to grow tax receipts to spend more money,”

Frightened? His argument is basically trickle-down theory i.e. if businesses make lots of money there’ll be more tax money to spend on public services. Bullshit!

The last example, and probably the best came from Yo Sushi! founder and one time Dragon Simon Woodroffe, who came out with a whole bowl of wrongness on Newsnight:

“The world is right as it is. And we need to get on as a country, UK PLC, and make lots of money, be very successful …

You know, it scares me. I was a Labour Party supporter during the Blair-Brown thing and I was a supporter because I am a believer that politics needs to make money, that UK PLC needs to be a profitable business, and I thought they were a good management team.”

The world is right as it is? Stick that on the election posters! He uses the ghastly phrase UK PLC, making out a government should try and run things just like a business. Politics needs to make money? I don’t even know where to start with that one.

So I humbly submit that ‘business leaders’, although successful in their fields, have no more insight on how an economy should be run, or what the different party’s policies will mean for the general welfare of the population than you or I have, and their views should not be elevated beyond that of any other citizen. I think most people instinctively know this already, but Labour seem terrified and are now running round saying things like they are “aggressively pro-business”.

Brighton doctor’s open letter to David Cameron about the A&E crisis

Robert Galloway, an A&E consultant at Royal Sussex County Hospital put this open letter on Facebook yesterday after David Cameron and Ed Miliband clashed at PMQs over whether or not there is a crisis in A&E at present. It’s quite good, so I thought I would share it here:

“Dear Mr Cameron and Mr. Hunt

As someone who works in A&E, I hear with interest that you have said that things in A&E are just busy and we are preforming well and not in a crisis.

I though, would disagree. Maybe it is just your sense of reality, which has made you say this or perhaps a lack of comprehension of the words busy Vs crisis.

Is it not a crisis that up and down the country thousands and thousands of patients are being looked after in corridors because there are no free cubicles for them to be seen in?

Is it not a crisis that many hospitals are declaring major incidents (to just cope with normal winter pressures) and some are having tents built in their car parks?

Is it not a crisis that patients who need discharging from the hospital can’t because social services can’t cope with demand? This means there are no free beds for the patients to go to and so they stay in A&E for hours upon hours.

Is it not a crisis when thousands of patients are having their operations cancelled because there are no beds for them to get into?

Is it not a crisis when every department in the county cannot recruit A&E doctors and nurses because they are emigrating or changing specialty because of the relentless pressure?

Is it not a crisis when everyday A&E staff up and down the country thinks it is a good shift, if we get a cup of tea, no member of staff is in tears and no one dies in the corridor on our watch? (As opposed to deliver the standard and dignity of care we wish)

Or are you saying it is not a crisis because you don’t want to admit the real problem and are a tad embarrassed by your mistakes. Because when you came to power you promised to invest in the NHS and not re-organise it. But actually you lied.

Health and social care are inextricably linked and you stripped money away from social care whilst still finding the money for tax cuts for millionaires. But worse still, instead of trying to modernise and improve the NHS (which it needs) and working to prevent an absolutely predictable crisis, you spent the time and billions of wasted pounds on an ideological drive to increase the role of the private sector into the NHS, which has just put profits before patients.

The reality is that the crisis (yes it is a crisis not just busy) in the NHS, is shown up in the corridors of the A&E departments.

And if you don’t believe me, please join any of the thousand of A&E staff up and down the country whom are all going through the same problems. Then reality might kick in; seeing people in their 90s lying in a corridor as there is no bed to go to, patients who need to go to intensive care staying for hours upon hours in A&E whilst their condition deteriorates, ambulance staff not being able to get to 999 calls as they are waiting to get their current patients into A&E, nurses not having time to care for patients – just provide treatment, and for the consultants on the shop floor trying to create order and safety in a chaotic environment.

We are so lucky to have the training and skills to do the jobs we do – but we just need you to make it possible for us to perform the job we love to appropriate standards.

It may be hard for all of us who work in A&E, but it is nothing compared to what our patients have to endure. But amazingly it is them that keep us going – with humor, good will and not complaining about us despite everything going on, along with a diabetic inducing amount of chocolate being bought for us

Mr Hunt and Cameron – I also want to ask you why you think we are performing well? You say it is because around 85-95% of patients get seen and discharged or admitted with 4 hours. (still the worst figures since we started recording this data.)

But that hides the reality. It is easy to boost this percentage with easy patients with cuts and colds and minor injuries – but what about the care for the patients who are genuinely sick – the ones who need admission. How quickly do they get seen and admitted? That is the figure that should be made available but isn’t. I don’t know what the numbers are, but from recent experience from up and down the country, I doubt that at the moment half of patients who get admitted do so within 4 hours from when they arrive; remember delayed admission leads to worse outcomes. Please start releasing this important figure as it will give a much better barometer for how the NHS is doing.

So Mr Hunt and Mr. Cameron – come down to any A&E and see the crisis/’just busy’ and when you do so, listen to the staff who can explain what needs to be done as opposed to listen to your political advisors.
In A&Es throughout the country, we are buckling under the strain and it is only because of everyone’s hard works and dedication that patient care is being maintained to the extent it is and morale hasn’t yet cracked.

It feels that we in the NHS (from porters, to managers, to nurses, to support staff, to paramedics, to hospitals doctor and GPs) are lions being led by donkeys. We are facing 1930’s public sector cuts driven by politicians with the mentality of world war one generals.

So in summary – please Cameron and Hunt, stop thinking about your political ideology and start thinking about our patients. Remember the NHS was set up after world war two during a period of unprecedented austerity – stop destroying it under the name of austerity.

Rob Galloway
(A&E Consultant)

P.s. it must be quite easy going on question time and the like, debating fellow politicians and public figures who everyone knows have their own agenda. But the shop floor workers in the NHS have only one agenda – our patient care; so the debate may not be so easy with us. I would love to debate with you about the NHS crisis and offer some solutions. Are you up for it?”

Klass half full or half empty?

Ed Miliband seems to have had a bit of a dust up with singer Myleene Klass last night. It has been the talk of Twitter with some gleefully saying Miliband ‘got owned’. Here’s the video:

To me, I don’t see what all the fuss was about. Klass transparently objected to Labour’s policy of a mansion tax on the grounds that she might have to pay it. Miliband rather casually pointed this out I thought by saying “I understand people don’t like paying more tax”. Klass then went on to make ever more daft arguments, saying “you might as well tax this glass of water” (20% VAT is already charged on mineral water) and “you can’t just point at something and tax it” (that’s exactly what governments have been doing for thousands of years!). I just thought Miliband let her say what she wanted to say, and let that speak for itself. He’d probably quite like it if a few more rich celebrities came out against the mansion tax.

I’m not particularly over the moon with the way Labour want to design the tax, but the principal or taxing unearned wealth – or economic rents as economists call it – seems to me to be a sound one. It’s just a shame Miliband chose to justify the policy in this way:

He’s doing the frankly annoying politician’s trick of saying “we will tax this to pay for that”. That’s not how tax works. Miliband can win this debate, but he should be selling the mansion tax on efficiency/hard to avoid/reducing inequality lines rather than spurious “to pay for the NHS” ones.

In defense of Lord Freud (sort of)

Comments made by Welfare Minister Lord Freud have created a bit of a storm today after being raised at Prime Minister’s Questions by Labour leader Ed Miliband. Freud was recorded saying:

“You make a really good point about the disabled. There is a group where actually, as you say, they’re not worth the full wage.”

At the risk of incurring the wrath of my fellow lefties, I’m going to defend Lord Freud’s remarks while still disagreeing with the argument I think he was trying to make. I say think because what he actually said was pretty clumsy, and could easily be interpreted as offensive when viewed a certain way. So what do I think he was saying then?

It seems to me he was making a case argued by most opponents of the minimum wage. The argument uses what economists call marginal productivity of labour. This goes that firms will hire additional workers up to the point where the costs of paying the worker a wage is equal to the additional output they will achieve by hiring the worker. So if a worker can produce 5 widgets an hour, but only costs the equivalent of 4 widgets an hour, they will be hired, but a worker who costs 4 widgets but can only produce 3 won’t be. If the workers was willing to work for the monetary equivalent of 2 widgets though, the firm would hire them. If the minimum wage is set at the equivalent of 4 widgets however, this worker who can only produce 3 widgets an hour will be left unemployed.

So Freud is saying some people (in this case some disabled people) are not productive enough to produce enough to be ‘worth’ the minimum wage. This is probably true in many jobs, and I’m not just talking about seriously disabled people here, but also those who have been unemployed long term and/or are recovering from drug or alcohol problems. In economic terms this seems a rather uncontroversial thing to say and one that – despite what they may say today – most Conservative MPs  would agree with. So where I would defend Lord Freud is to the extent that he was only (rather clumsily) expressing a very commonly held belief.

But is he right though? I’ve already said that I agree there are some people who employers will view as not worth paying the minimum wage to. They could be right or wrong about this, but there is no doubt employers do not like to hire the long term unemployed, and discrimination on the grounds of disability remains a real thing. But those in agreement would argue that if there were no minimum wage restrictions, employers would hire those workers if they were willing to accept a low enough wage. This is where I disagree quite strongly. People with more business experience than me may say I’m wrong here, but I don’t believe employers make hiring decisions based on the marginal productivity of labour. I think they will always try to hire the best candidate at whatever is the prevailing wage rate. For evidence I would cite the almost total failure of Nick Clegg’s Youth Contract, which provided a wage subsidy to firms hiring an unemployed young person. Take up was atrocious.

Freud’s instinct (which he half expressed) was to favour an exemption from the minimum wage for certain groups, and to top up their wages with universal credit. To the extent that it was limited to certain groups, it would likely be ineffective as the Youth Contract demonstrated. I would also be suspicious that that was just the start, and that a complete removal of the minimum wage would be on the cards leading to a race to the bottom.

A further objection would be Freud’s implicit assumption that because the private sector won’t hire certain people at the current wage, it’s OK for them to pay those people whatever they think they are worth. But businesses are there to serve us, not the other way around. The floor on wages should be the amount at which a person is able to afford a decent standard of living. If the private sector cannot or will not hire everybody for at least that wage, then the government should act as an employer of last resort and tailor make jobs to each individuals talents.

For disabled people, previous governments have felt the need to create organisations like Remploy to create employment for those who struggle to find private sector work. This government scrapped a lot of Remploy factories, and few of those losing their jobs managed to find another one. It seems to me organisations like Remploy are more likely to be more at providing decent jobs for disabled people than scrapping the minimum wage ever would.

Nick Clegg responds to Ed Miliband’s memory loss

I’m often quite critical of the Labour Party, but Ed Miliband ‘forgetting’ to mention the deficit in his conference speech earlier this week, isn’t something I’d have a go at him about. As Chris Dillow rather succinctly put yesterday, the deficit just doesn’t really matter that much, and the point at which it might matter is so far away from where we are now, it’s really not worth spending any time worrying about.

Nick Clegg though disagrees. He thinks Ed Miliband not mentioning the deficit in his speech was a really bid deal, and said as much in what I’m going to call a torrent of gibberish. The Guardian quotes him as saying:

“For Ed Miliband or the Labour party to claim that a budget of £110bn annually will be solved magically by spending £2.5bn extra, it will not.

If you do not know how to pay things for in the first place you cannot support the public services.”

Clegg seems to think Labour’s announcement of a small increase in NHS spending was their solution to the budget deficit (whatever solution means in Clegg’s world). Either that or he thinks we’re all idiots. The second sentence just exposes Clegg’s ignorance. He believes government has to collect tax before it has any money to spend rather than the other way round which would be more accurate.

With someone like Ed Balls, you get the feeling that he knows better, but pretends otherwise because he thinks that’s what people want to hear. With Clegg, I think he genuinely believes the rubbish he comes out with. It’s a little embarrassing sometimes.

Picard