Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Mass Debate

I eschewed an episode of Top Gear on Monday night in favour of the “Chancellors’ Debate”, a televised argument between the current holder of the public purse and his two would-be successors. Well, I say two, actually there is only one.

Vince Cable, the self-titled Financial Genius, is alleged to have won the battle of the bean counters by virtue of his insightful commentary on the hindsight that he possesses. Cable produced applause from the audience every time he stated the obvious about house price inflation and easy credit. Unfortunately Vince, elections are not decided by clapometer, unless I missed a meeting. My former neighbour and I use to have conversations over the garden hedge about how unsustainable the economy was. But we were in no position to do anything about it. The Lib Dem treasury spokesman proved last night that his party has as much power as a flat double-A battery.

George Osborne, on the other hand, had Old Caterpillar Eyebrows on the ropes on a couple of occasions, eliciting such eloquent responses as “Er”, “Um” and the classics “the economy needs to be managed by people with experience” and “our economy is best placed to weather the financial crisis”, whilst glossing over the not insignificant matter of how he and his boss got us into the crisis in the first place through their inexperience and mismanagement.

Osborne is also the only one to have actually produced a concrete policy ahead of the election, which is the reversal of Darling’s planned National Insurance increase, a rise that will cost employees between £150 and £750 per year. Labour and the Lib-Dems say that the increase is needed – to fund Darling and Brown’s £178bn of debt, remember – and is not costed. Osborne retorts that the reverse will be funded from savings. I think that when the Tories finally get to see the books and the state of government on May 7th, they will find that they can fund this tax cut and many more from efficiency savings and cuts.

And not that Darling or Brown has ever worried about where their spending will be funded from. Billions thrown at failed banks, who have then rewarded themselves with 7-figure bonuses; billions thrown at two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but still not enough to fight the wars effectively; £12 billion on a failed IT system for the NHS; £10 billion on a vanity Olympics project. Who are Labour to preach on prudent economics?

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

What's Up Doc?

MPs are supposed to have learned their lessons from the expenses scandal, or so Gordon Brown keeps saying. But Stephen Byers and other MPs proved this weekend that they haven’t, as the stories surrounding the latest trousering scam highlight.

Not only are they constantly using inventive ways to fill their nose bags, but when they get caught, the excuse is always "but it's within the rules and I have done nothing wrong".

Don't they know the meaning of propriety?

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Watch your back, Darling

Rumours abound that miniature maniac Kim Jong Il has had his finance minister jailed and subsequently executed. This is because the unfortunate holder of the treasury office in North Korea could not implement the crazy currency plans of his boss, resulting in spiralling inflation. Sounds spookily familiar: out of leader dreams up an economic strategy that results in hardship and mountainous debt for his citizens.

All I can say is, if only we could adopt the same job recognition scheme in the UK…

Three – a magic number

The Red Rag today reported that government has spent nearly three-quarters of a billion pounds on internal re-organisations and renaming of departments. Which is £780 million pounds that wasn’t spent on defence capabilities in Iraq or Afghanistan, or new schools, or employing doctors and nurses, or keeping the streets safe.

But as we know from a couple of weeks ago, what can we expect from a former Chancellor and now Prime Minister who lied to the Chilcott enquiry about the level of funding to the military - he hasn't a clue how much money is being spent, or what on.

Now Brown says that maybe in 1 or 2 years after 2003, spending on defence was lower than he originally stated. In fact it was lower in three years, Gordon. Not only did he lie to Chilcott, but he can't even make a factually correct statement in his retraction of evidence.

And we wonder why the economy is up a certain creek without a certain implement when the man in charge can't even count up to 3?

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

How do you know the government is lying?

There were a couple of contradictory news items today that demonstrate the mendacity with which Labour will fight the election.

First, The Standard reported that Gordon Brown warned that the Conservative Party “could” cut funding to Sure Start centres to the tune of £200m, resulting in a 20% reduction in services. As with the greens and their passive conditionals, Labour thinks nothing of using conjecture to create a negative yarn. The Tories have said no such thing, but why let that get in the way of a good scare story.

And then in The Times, there is a commentary piece on how citizens are being means-tested at one Sure Start centre and rejected on the basis of perceived class. Families who are deemed middle class do not meet the “reach” of Sure Start in Hackney and are being turned away. So we have a situation where taxpayers who fund this scheme are not allowed to make use of it.

To use a conditional of my own, what if we did away with all the outreach officers who make up these nonsensical rules and reduced the astronomic £183k salary of the Learning Trust’s chief executive? Maybe that would allow a fair system for all and not just Labour’s chosen few.

Cutting costs in public services does not have to mean reducing the quality, level or “reach” of the services; but it can remove unnecessary staff, red tape and bureaucracy from the equation. Who knows, it “could” even mean that 20% more Sure Start centres can open.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Laugh and a half

Spot the difference:

And also:

Give me a break

Actors in the “webuyanycar” and “gocompare” adverts – you need to take a long, hard look at yourselves in the mirror. You are at the bottom rung of the thespian ladder. And the foot of that ladder is just below the deepest part of the London Underground.

Mr. Brown goes to war

So now we know that Gordon Brown thinks it was right for the UK to help the US to invade Iraq. Whilst I could wobble on about how us standing shoulder to shoulder with the Americans has not been reciprocated over The Falkland Islands, I won’t, as that is not the subject of this rant.

What miffed me about Brown’s appearance at the Chilcott enquiry – apart from the fact that the whole process is a waste of taxpayers’ money – is that the PM kept going on about how much extra money he had given the armed forces. At no point did any of the lame ducks who ask the questions think to ask if it was actually enough. Brown, as Chancellor, may well have given the armed forces more cash each year, but this in no way took account of the fact that the military was involved in two wars more than they had been since 2003. Even before Bliar made his pact with that old devil George Dubya Bush, the generals, air vice marshals and sea lords were struggling to finance the operations they were already involved in.

But the most astounding revelation – and which has not been commented on anywhere in the media – is that Brown handed over billions to the chiefs in charge of the war, and then blamed these same people for not procuring equipment quickly enough or in sufficient quantities. Brown doled out a staggering amount of money but did not bother to ask what it was going to be spent on. And this is the financial genius that is running the country.

That just about sums up Labour’s approach to economics: screw as much money out of the taxpayer as possible; then throw the money at every available cause without bothering to check that the money is going to be spent sensibly, or whether the outlay is required in the first place.

For “Snatch” Land Rovers, also read the £12.7bn NHS computer system, the Olympics, £178bn on bank bailouts and quantitative easing, high-speed rail, Trident 2 and anything else that Labour can financially mismanage.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Because we're worth it

MPs are to get a 1.5% pay rise, taking their salaries to just shy of £65,000. To predictable outcry from some sectors of the civil service, the increase has been denounced, on the basis that if the average government worker is receiving nothing extra, why should MPs. Which is fair enough, until you realise that the 1.5% is based on an average of 15 other public sector groups’ increase.

But why should anyone in government, MPs or otherwise, be getting any pay rise? When most private sector workers are receiving nothing extra, or in some cases taking pay cuts or enforced reductions in hours, the government sector should move away from their position of having an automatic right to annual salary uplifts.

The next government needs to break this cycle of yearly rises without any associated improvement in productivity. But this is not helped when the MPs themselves feel that they are also justified in getting a raise, and the case is also subverted when party leaders try to water down proposals to reform changes to politicians’ expenses.