Electile Disfunction

April 9, 2010

As there is allegedly an election coming up, I thought it would be a useful exercise to compile some round up pieces, just to spread some general awareness around the cyber-ghetto.

As you’ll all no doubt be painfully aware, there is a facile dispute “raging” over Labour plans to increase National Insurance contributions from employers. A coalition of business-types has staged a heroic revolt against Comrade Brown and his presidium, and a general theme has been put out into the mediasphere suggesting that raising NI is a “tax on jobs.” Except that it probably isn’t, as the Guardian’s Ruth Sutherland persuasively argues, the Independent’s John Rentoul agrees, and even the Telegraph‘s Edmund Conway backs up.

Aside from NI, there is an issue over “efficiency savings.” Apparently, New Labour say that they will find £15 billion in such savings across the public sector. The Tories, masters of efficiency that they are, claim to have located £12 billion more in waste, a figure which Gordon Brown now says represents a “back of an envelope” calculation. Perhaps. Rather than back of an envelope stuff, however, the Tories are saying that their numbers come from private sector headcrushers Dr Martin Read (“a former board member of British Airways”) and Sir Peter Gershon (“who chairs a private health care firm”).

Instead of being actual experts on actual public sector activities such as running hospitals, providing social care, building roads, running public transport and policing (and, yes, killing Afghan civilians) these men are just bruisers with an ideological axe to grind against public spending. Naturally. Yet the Financial Times disagrees, calling the protagonists “efficiency titans” all of whom come from business backgrounds and, the paper revealingly notes, “came out yesterday in favour of cutting “government waste” this year to halt Labour’s planned national insurance rise next year.” No wonder they want to cut back on government spending.

To its credit, the FT is sceptical of waste calculations, quoting University of Manchester professor Colin Talbot, who argues that “The idea that £25bn can be saved in one year is just fantasy.” Another illusory debate full of grandstanding and myths, no doubt.

What else have we got for you? The Times headline reads “Gordon Brown bets house on beating George Osborne in spending battle.” Unfortunately the house is rather metaphorical, although perhaps politicians should have to stake their homes as collateral for their honesty? The Times also quotes Talbot as saying that “If you add Peter Gershon’s £12 billion on to at least £15 billion promised by the Government they will have to find over £27 billion. They will only be able to start doing this about six months into the financial year and nobody has even attempted cutbacks of this scale in one year. Frontline services are bound to be affected.” So another dagger into the Tories’ flabby intellectual underbelly. Probably won’t matter all that much though.

Reuters reports that Brown has pledged a “crackdown” on bonuses. Hurrah! But wait a minute. Why now, after “incentivised” turds in glass dildos have decimated the economy and been amply rewarded by the public for so doing? Oh yes, an election. No matter, for Comrade Brown is pledging to allow the Financial Services Authority to compel banks to rein in bonuses that “encourage reckless risk-taking” – an elastic and evadable definition if ever there was one. At the same time, Brown is pledging to the money men “not to raise the capital gains tax or the corporation tax levied on company profits.” So banks and investors will not be incentivised to invest in long term projects like factories or research, and companies will be encouraged to seek super-profits from off-shoring, dumping toxic waste in Africa, bribing third world countries and, yes, over the counter derivative trading.

Here’s something that you might hear Brown saying on GMTV: “I don’t want to raise tax in any sense…unless we have to, but we’ve got to get the deficit down.” But here’s something you won’t: “We will not raise capital gains tax…It is 18 percent…We will keep the corporation tax reductions, which have gone down from 33 to 28 percent during the Labour government.” During the “Labour” government? So corporation tax will remain low, low, low, with 2 for 1s on mortage derivatives, but NI, VAT etc.. will go up, up, up. Just don’t tell Lorraine Kelly.

What else? Well, the Tories have come up with a wizard idea that will rescue urban ghettoes and raise a generation of caring, wonderful young people. Apparently, every 16 year-old will have the “opportunity” of joining a National Citizens’ Scheme where they will be re-educated, sorry, will learn how to be good British citizens, thus avoiding a “pointless waste of potential.” £50 million will be siphoned from the government’s Prevent programme, which is good as the Prevent programme is intended to “prevent extremism” amongst muslim youths, thereby encouraging them to feel victimised and unwanted (and patronised) while being a jolly good waste of money. But it’s bad as £50 million will be… a jolly good waste of money.

For one week, those signing up will be taken to the countryside (which for some reason promotes good behaviour) where they will be taught rock-climbing or canoeing. The second week “the teenagers [will] live together near their homes and help out their community” (not in their homes? Where they will live in this phase is oddly unclear. Maybe on the streets? or in Morrisons?). Or perhaps they’ll be barracked in the pub? As Cameron says, “In our society the closest thing to a rite of passage is getting drunk on your eighteenth birthday. Of course we have all done that. But I think we can do a lot more.” Yep, we can get drunk every day for eight weeks. It’s quite hard to mug people when you’re drunk you know.

Yet wherever they stay, “The teenagers [will then] return home in their third week and carry on working with their social action project for a further five weeks.” But what is a “social action project“? From what I can gather, it is a project, which involves action, within society. It is, in short, almost anything you could do, as long as you can justify it as socially positive. Magic.

But how is this going to be funded? Assume that 100,000 kids take up the offer. They all go away, and come back, and then have 5 weeks on a “social action project.” Assume that most of these are run by charities, which need money to expand their schemes into poorer urban areas. Let’s assume that 100,000 kids cost £200 to take away for a week to the countryside. So it costs £20 million just to implement the first week of the 8 week scheme. There’s then £30 million left over to spend on the educational and social aspects of the scheme, which works out at (maximum) £300 per participant. That’s £8.50 per day to spend on “social action.”

I applaud the charity who can make a dent in the problems experienced by inner city communities on £8.50 per day, assuming that a tuck shop doesn’t qualify as a “social action project.”

Right, so what of the Lib Dems? Remember them? Well, big news. Heather Mills has endorsed the them! On a more serious note, Clegg has made the sensible, (boring) and helpful pledge to curb bank charges which afflict millions of people every week. He wants banks to be barred from charging excessive fees for administering overdrafts and calls for a cap on credit card charges, while the Lib Dems are more generous on income tax than other parties, pledging to raise the threshold to £10,000 per year (a meagre favour perhaps, but worth noting). This is all good.

At least Clegg and the Lib Dems have not been drawn into the unseemly NI “debate” and have resisted the temptation to float ridiculous “citizenship” centred social policies which have zero chance of tackling actual social problems. Out of the three major parties, they come out of today’s round up as the Political Establishment Slightly Less Evil Cabal of the Week, or PESLECOW, for short. Well done Cleggy.

Now vote Green. Please.

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