Tuesday 29 June 2010

More Kneejerk Knockabout

When I first began studying economics in the 1950s it was a commonplace that the British labourforce was relatively geographically immobile, and that one of the obstacles to greater mobility was the problem of council house tenants finding another house in the areas where the work was. In those days there was a shortage of council houses and councils had long waiting lists which normally gave priority to local people.

The shortage of social housing, as it is now called, still persists, the shortage still acts as an obstacle to mobility, and Ian Duncan Smith has now realised this and decided to do something to help. I haven't yet had time to find out exactly what he proposes to do, but the instant reaction of labour leadership candidate Ed Balls that it is a return to the days of Norman Tebbit and "get on your bike" is really rather silly.

Respect for politics and politicians will not increase until we put a stop to this type of knockabout, subject proposals from any source to reasoned scrutiny and debate, and are prepared to welcome a sensible proposal even if it comes from another party.

Maybe we should abandon the present confrontational House of Commons chamber, turn in into a museum, and build another semi-circular one somewhere near York.

Monday 28 June 2010

To PR or not to PR...

I have just spent a long weekend in London (hence no posts for several days), principally to attend the AGM of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS). The main debate was whether to launch immediately "a campaign of education and lobbying against the current voting system and in support of AV and preferential voting FULL STOP, or to continue "and further to use the campaign to promote Proportional Representation by the use of the Single Transferable Vote for future House of Commons and other UK election."

The "full stoppers" argued that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get rid of the primitive First Past the Post system (FPTP), and that the Tories and much of the Labour Party will campaign against, so there is no guarantee that the referendum will be won. We should not therefore muddy the waters and weaken the campaign by arguing that AV is not really much of an improvement, and that if we want to win we must swallow our reservations and embrace AV with unqualified enthusiasm.

The "continuers" also argued that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, that, following the expenses scandal and the failure of FPTP's USP (that it magnifies a minority into a strong and decisive one-party government) the electorate is genuinely interested in and ready for electoral reform. AV is not a step towards PR, we are not likely to have a series of referendums which enable us to move gradually towards a proportional system, and it would be crazy for the Society (which was originally called the Proportional Representation Society) not to grasp the nettle and put the case for STV to the electorate.

In the end the "coninuers" won. I am one of them, but I do recognise there is a genuine dilemma. The way forward seems to me to persuade MPs to amend the government's bill so that the STV option is included in the referendum, then ask a two-part question:
a) should the electoral system be changed?
b) if it is, which of these options, AV or STV, would you like?

Paternalists and conservatives (small "c") argue that the electorate is incapable of making not one but two decisions on anything so complex. Reformers are more optimistic.

Wednesday 23 June 2010


In the wake of the expenses scandal one of the closing themes of the last parliament, and then the general election, was the need to "clean up politics" and restore respect not only for politicians but for the political process itself. There was little in yesterday's debate on the budget which demonstrated any progress in this area.

Calling the opposition party liars and deceivers, which is what the the coalition's claim that the outgoing government had left the nation in an even bigger mess than they'd admitted amounts to, does nothing to restore respect. Even if it is true, and the evidence is at best ambiguous, there is no reason why the new government should not just put their heads down and get on with the job, rather than invoking the tired cliché of trying to shift the blame on the last lot. There are thousands of situations in business,education and other walks of life where a "new broom" simply gets on with the job without trying to denigrate the previous administration.

Then Harriet Harman accused the Liberal Democrats in government of betraying our principles in order to get ministerial cars. She knows perfectly well that this isn't true, that had the Liberal Democrats and Labour between us won another dozen or so seats Liberal Democrats would have been sitting along side her, that the actual parliamentary arithmetic made the present situation unavoidable, and that the real reason why Liberal Democrats are accepting unpalatable economic measures is that this is the compromise necessary to obtain our long-term goal of constitutional reform. Her speech was clever slapstick but did nothing to restore respect for politics or politicians.

Finally, although about a third of the the present MPs are new there seems to be no change in the behviour of the House of Commons as a whole. They were debating serious measures on which there is scope for serious and genuine disagreement and which will have a serious impact on the lives of many ordinary people, especially the most vulnerable in our society. Bear-garden yah-booing is totally inappropriate in these circumstances. In fact it is questionable whether it is appropriate in any circumstance.

If respect for politics and the democratic process is to be restored then government, opposition and all back-benchers need to change their style.

Tuesday 22 June 2010

An open letter to Simon Hughes

Dear Simon Hughes

First congratulations on your election as deputy leader. I hope you see one of your functions as being to keep the social liberal flame, and our Keynesian traditions, alive.

I am increasingly concerned that, as Seumas Milne put it in the Guardian (For the Lib-Cons, this is an excuse to shrink the state,17/06/10) “cuts have become, like light touch financial regulation before them, conventional wisdom” and that this view, which I believe to be profoundly mistaken, appears to be unchallenged by Liberal Democrats in government.

The view that cuts now are inappropriate and unnecessary is held by many distinguished economists, including David Blanchflower, Matin Wolf, Giles Radice , and Paul Krugman, who all argue that Britain’s public debt is not dangerously high, that the risk of a downgrading of our debt rating is minimal, and that cuts before the recovery is assured pose a great danger of a double-dip recession. In his article on Monday 14th June the Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott wrote: "The determination to cut budget deficits in (the present) circumstances does not show that policymakers of probity and integrity have replaced the irresponsible spendthrifts of 2008 and 2009. It shows that the lunatics are back in charge of the asylum." (my emphasis).

I’m strongly of the opinion that the Liberal Democrat Party, heir to the party of Keynes and Beveridge, should be opposing the current policy of immediate deficit reduction. I understand that we are the junior partner in the coalition and cannot impose our views on the major partner. However, we needn’t be heard supporting them in public. After all, it is part of the coalition deal that there should be reform of the electoral system, but David Cameron has reserved the right to campaign against that. If Liberal Democrats in government are not, under the terms of the coalition, similarly able to campaign openly against these economic follies, then they should be doing so privately. But there is little evidence of this, in fact the opposite. Both Nick Clegg and Vince Cable claim to have been converted to the necessity of immediate cuts. I feel that this has damaged our credibility and perhaps our integrity as well.

In addition to trying to avoid, or at least ameliorate, economic policies which are both unnecessary and likely to cause pain and distress to thousands of our fellow citizens (especially the poorest 20%) we should remember that our party is supposed to have retained its independence and will fight the Conservatives in by-elections and the next general election. In these campaigns we need to be able to claim credit for our policies, especially of constitutional reform, which we have gained as a result of the coalition, and dissociate ourselves from the economic follies which are against our tradition, our stance in the election campaign and our reason.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Wrigley

Sunday 20 June 2010

Forty years on

The humorous writer Arthur Mashall often described how "treat jostled with treat" in his sleepy village, and I find much the same in my retirement. Yesterday two treats jostled together: a conference on the Steady State Economy which I may refer to in a later post, and a party to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of first standing for parliament in the Liberal interest, thrown by David Shutt.

The 1970 general election was actually on the 18th June, 30 years after de Gaull's famous call to arms to the French (though I didn't realise it at the time.) David was candidate for Sowerby, I was candidate for Batley and Morley (which has now been split: the Morley half is now Leeds South and held by Labour leadership candidate Ed Balls) and a third attendee was John Smithson, candidate for Richmond (the North Yorkshire one.)

None of us won, but David and I did save our deposits, no mean feat in those days when Liberals were not exactly in the ascendancy and you had to get twelve and a half per cent. In fact, to be boastful for a moment, I was one of only a handful of Liberal candidates who increased not only their total vote but also the percentage share. In those high and far-off times Liberals had to look for consolation in small things.

Both David and John have made enormous contributions to the survival of Liberalism. John became a founding father of the Association of Liberal Councilors (now ALDC) which revolutionised the party's campaigning techniques, and, despite his reputation for abrasiveness, a highly successful and diplomatic deputy leader of Kirkless Council. David, though unsuccessful in several subsequent elections for the House of Commons, was eventuality elected to he House of Lords (yes, elected - for those not in the know Liberal Democrats are so addicted to democracy that the party leader is required to make most of his nominations the to Upper House from a list of hopefuls elected by party members.)

One of the minor ironies of the coalition is that David, a birthright Quaker and a pacifist, is now Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard, his official title as Deputy Chief Whip.

Friday 18 June 2010

Mind your language

It is gratifying that Nick Clegg's fluency in German gained him such kudos on his recent continental trip. Unfortunately his use of English is not producing such positive results.

Last autumn Clegg referred to the need for "savage cuts." Presumably he soon regretted it and as far as I know has never used the phrase again, but the record cannot be altered. The left-wing press refer to it again and again to try to demonstrate that Liberal Democrats share the Tory penchant for cutting back the state.

Earlier this week Clegg talked of "gold-plated public sector pensions" and I suspect that that bit of hyperbole will haunt us and him as much as the savage cuts. In yesterday's Guardian, in an article headlined "For the Lib-Cons, this is an excuse to shrink the state" (well worth a read) Seamus Milne pointed out that public sector pensions average £4000 a year in local government and £6000 in the health service. More tin-plated than gold-plated.

It is true that a number of senior executives in local government, the health service and even Whitehall have obtained private sector style salaries and perks, and this is to be regretted, but their excesses should not be used to tarnish the entire public service, who by and large work for salaries and pensions which are modest, but regard this as suitable compensation for the security they enjoy.

A friend of mine who knows about these things assures me that most if not all local government pensions are "funded" and, as such don't cost the taxpayer a penny. Teachers' and civil servants' pensions are not "funded" in the same sense, but that is not to say that we haven't paid for them. Six percent of my salary was deducted throughout my working life. If the authorities chose to use that money for current expenditure rather than putting it into a separate fund that was not my choice. And it will have helped to keep down the taxes of everybody else, inducing the private sector who are so prone lick the cream when times are good and to bleat and turn on the public sector as soon as the going gets tough.

Liberals are rightly proud of the contribution our party has made to the establishment of the welfare state. Whilst rightly seeking greater efficiency our priority should be to protect and nurture it, not to jump on a populist bandwagon and tarnish its image by thoughtless gibes.

Thursday 17 June 2010

CRB times three

Child protection charities are warning the government not to go too far in scaling back the vetting of adults working with children. Here is a simple change which would make the system less cumbersome and less expensive.

At the moment I have three CRB "clearances," one because I recently did some teaching at a local school, one because I am a licensed Reader in the C of E and occasionally take services and preach sermons at church, and one because I am a member of a Scout Fellowship, where my duties so far have extended to being in charge of the chocolate fountain at the Beavers' Fund Day, and guarding the lemonade and biscuits during a St George's Day service.

Each "clearance" costs the organisation £64, and must be a nice little earner for someone. To allow a clearance gained for one situation to apply to another would cut down the cost and bureaucracy without, as far as I can see, much adding to the danger to children.

Tuesday 15 June 2010


I have now discovered (after helpful advice from a friend) how to change the dating and timing system from US Eastern Standard Time to GMT. The dates at the head of each post are now correct. Happily the corrections are retrospective so apply to all previous posts.

Strong language

Here are three extract from the Guardian's economics editor, Larry Elliott, in yesterday's paper:

Title: "The deficit hawks need their talons clipped."

"The determination to cut budget deficits in (the present) circumstances does not show that policymakers of probity and integrity have replaced the irresponsible spendthrifts of 2008 and 2009. It shows that the lunatics are back in charge of the asylum."(my emphasis)

"...why is the government (cutting)? Is it, for all Nick Clegg's
'progressive cuts', that the real agenda is to finish the demolition job on the welfare state that began in the 1980s? Or are the deficit hawks simply crackers?" (my emphasis)

"...we now have the bizarre spectacle of China, Japan, the eurozone and Britain all set on reducing budget deficits while simultaneously pursuing export-led growth. This is a logical absurdity - someone somewhere has to be importing all the exports."

If competent Liberal Democrat economists such as Vince Cable and Chris Hume cannot win the argument against the present folly inside the government, then in public we should dissociate ourselves from the cuts in the same way that Cameron has dissociated his party from zeal for electoral reform. Pretending, for the sake of the chemistry of coalition unity, a conversion having seen the figures, is hypocritical nonsense which diminishes our credibility. and, worse, questions our integrity.

Sunday 13 June 2010

Not President Cameron

Notwithstanding the Cleggmania arising from the first debate I still believe that three leaders' debates, and nothing much from other major contenders for office placed too much emphasis on the personalities of the leaders and not enough on the policies of the members of their teams (see previous post.)

Although he has broken no new ground David Cameron has continued the presidential style in this first month that he has held the office of prime minister.

Each Wednesday he reads out the names of soldiers killed in service overseas and expresses the government's regret, a pratice begun by Mrs Thatches but which would be more appropriately done by the minister of defence. He has visited Cumbria after the devastating killings there. Surely member of the royal family could best express the nations condolences to the bereaved, and the home secretary, the person responsive for law and order, is the one who needs to know from the police and other authorities what lessons, if any can be learned. He has held talks and a press conference with President Karzai, although he has a foreign secretary in whom, presumably, he has confidence. He is about to talk to President Obama about BP when he has an excellent business secretary who could well do that if he felt it really necessary.

This is not new politics. Althugh it would be churlish to doubt Cameron's sincerity in respect to the bereaved in Cumbria and the relatives and friends of soldiers killed in action, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that these and the other instances mentioned have an element of public relations. Real new politics would be for the restoration of cabinet government and for the responsible ministers to take the lead, in public where necessary, in their departments, and not find themselves upstaged by the prime minister every time a public relations opportunity arises.

Friday 11 June 2010

Equality is Better for Everyone

Yesterday I attended a lecture by Richard Wilkinson, joint author with Kate Pickett of The Spirit Level:Why Equality is Better for Everyone. Their thesis is that, whilst a rising physical standard of living obviously improves the quality of life in poor countries, in rich countries, growing even richer doesn't.

The key factor is the level of equality. In the more unequal countries (which include the US and the UK) levels of a whole range of factors:infant mortality, homicides, imprisonment, teenage births, obesity, mental illness, trust, social mobility and even literacy and competence in mathematics, are worse than in the more equal societies (eg Japan and Sweden)

They find that it doesn't seem to matter how the level of equality is achieved, be it by a relatively narrow range of incomes, as in Japan, or high taxation and generous welfare payments as in the Scandinavian countries. And in these more equal countries, it is not just the poor that benefit from greater equality, but the improvements extend to the majority of the population.

If the coalition government gives way to the lobby against raising capital gains tax, or the pleas of the CBI for a reductions in taxes at the top, then our already unequal society will be moving in the wrong direction. Alas, even that part of Liberal Democrat tax policy winch the coalition has accepted will have the same effect. By co-incidence Wilkinson and Pickett were co-signatories to a letter in yesterday's Guardian which concluded:

"Increasing the income tax threshold to £10 000...by itself will not help the poorest 3 million households. If this is paid for by an increase in VAT then inequality will rocket... (and) the health of our communities will be badly damaged."

If the Liberal Democrat Party had resisted seduction by fashionable monetarism we could now be on the side of the angels on this issue. However, there is still a chance, I hope, to prevent an increase in VAT.

PS If you buy a copy of this book, if you do it through the link above, 5% of what you pay goes to a Trust set up to campaign for more equality.

Thursday 10 June 2010

We are not alone.

In his comment to an earlier post scarier takes me to task for suggesting that we should have "banged on" about different forms of PR during the election campaign. I take his point. Until recently I spent my leisure hours trying to brush up my schoolboy French. I would ask one of my colleagues in the French department a simple question and he would pin me to the wall and try to teach me three new tenses. We STV advocates tend to be susceptible to the same vice: so enthusiastic about the virtues of this wonderful system that we go into far too much detail when we get or take the chance to talk about it. There are suggestions to how to put the essentials over simply and clearly and we should use them.

One advantage of the attention PR received during the election campaign is that at least some of the serious press, and presumably their readers, now understand that AV is not proportional, and may be even less proportional than FPTP. Nevertheless, as a result of Liberal Democrat timidity, AV is the system for which we must now struggle.

Well, AV is better than nothing, and we shall need all the allies we can get in the referendum campaign. The Labour Party pressure group Compass is running a campaign to urge PR on the leadership candidates. What version of PR they mean, or whether simply AV, I don't know, but I urge you to sign their
petition. You don't have to be a labour Party member. In the words of Tesco, "every little helps."

Wednesday 9 June 2010

A whiff of new politics.

On Monday Nick Clegg said in parliament that the coalition was prepared to re-examine its proposal to grant anonymity to defendants in rape cases, a measure voted for by the Liberal Democrat Conference in 2006 but not included in our manifesto.

There have been serious objections to the proposal, and Nick's response was: "...we do want to listen to everybody who has a stake and expertise and insight into this. and if the idea we have put forward does not withstand sincere scrutiny, we will of course be prepared to alter and change the proposals we have made."

This reasoned approach is in stark contrast to so much policy in recent years which has been driven by dogma rather than evidence. This has been particularly true in the fields of education and crime.

If this reasoned approach becomes a feature of coalition government then this really will be the new politics. It can, however, easily be knocked off course by accusations of U-turns, backtracking, retreat and even betrayal. I hope the coalition will hold a steady course, and will try myself not to use the term "U-turn" again.

Tuesday 8 June 2010

No new politics yet - just an old Con trick.

So David Cameron is warning that the cuts in the forthcoming budget will be the most drastic in a generation, so severe that they'll change our whole way of life, and it's all the fault of the previous administration who've left an even bigger financial mess than anticipated.

There's nothing "new-politics" about this. Blaming the last lot is the oldest political cliché in the book, rivaled only by a softening-up processes so that the cuts, when announced, don't seem too bad after all. I'm quite sure that most people who take only a casual interest in politics will see this as just "the mixture as before." The coalition has a honeymoon period of goodwill and it is rapidly wasting it by using these tired tactics.

It is even even more alarming that no-one in any party is making the Keynesian argument, supported by such distinguished economists as David Blanchflower, Martin Wolf, Hugo Radice and others (see previous posts) that cuts of any sort are a potentially disastrous policy in the middle of a recession, and quite unnecessary as the UK's public borrowing is well in line with both history and that of other major developed economies. We act as though he 1930s had never happened and Keynes had never written.

In spite of the debacle produced by the pursuit of monetarist policies and allowing free rein to market forces, a neocon consensus still prevails and the Tories are using it to justify their penchant for cutting back those parts of the state on which the vulnerable depend. If Liberal Democrats, as the junior partners in the coalition, are unable to oppose, we should at least remain silent.

Monday 7 June 2010

Why the Clegg bubble burst, (3)

The 2010 general election demonstrated that the British public will not be converted to Liberalism/Liberal Democracy in a three-week election campaign, even if we are the centre of attention for much of it. I believe this would have been true even if Nick Clegg had been preaching the milk of unsullied social liberalism as exemplified by the teachings of Jo Grimond via Alan Beith and Simon Hughes through to Tim Farron, and totally free from monetarist influences.

What we fail to do is prepare the ground by propagating our principles and policies "all the year round." The founders of AL(D)C realised that,if the media would not publicise these principles and policies then we could do it ourselves through "Focus" leaflets. Sadly, these, and much other election material, have degenerated into lists of local issues on which Liberal Democrats have achieved or hope to achieve success, the deficiencies of other candidates, and past-result bar charts claiming to prove that the Conservatives, Labour or BNP or whoever "can't win here." There is rarely any mention of what Liberal Democracy is really all about other than producing conscientious representatives who care about the locality and work "all the year round."

I am not suggesting that every Focus leaflet should contain a learned treatise on the undoubted virtues of proportional representation by single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies, with perhaps an endnote comparing the Droop and d'Hondt quotas, but simply that every piece of literature we expend so much time, money and effort in producing and delivering should contain at least something about our fundamental values and ideals. If this is done, then a perfectly logical, humane and robustly explained policy of an amnesty for "clean living" illegal immigrants after 10 years may not come as such a shock.

This might also attract to our active numbers some of those other rational altruists who share our ideals.

Sunday 6 June 2010

Why the Clegg bubble burst, (2)

During the election campaign Liberal Democrat policies were reduced to a mantra of: fair taxes, a fair chance for your children, a fair deal in politics and a fair future in a greener Britain. Like motherhood and apple pie it is difficult to oppose any of these, but the aspirations were not distinctly different to those of the other parties and, when exposed to critical examination were found to contain little meat, or meat of dubious quality (eg the £700 tax cut).

In education the pupil premium was and is a good idea, but is was not and is not clear who is going to get it. We proposed reducing SATS, slimming down the national curriculum, and phasing out university tuition fees but did not have the courage to propose abolishing any of them. Nothing to set the educational world on fire.

In the reform of politics we stressed proportional representation but failed to hammer away that it should be by STV, and agreed with the Tories both on the reduction of the number of MPs (hardly compatible with improving the quality of our democracy, and making STV more difficult to operate)and in the questionable policy to allow groups of special interest campaigners to attempt to demand the recall of any MP who upset their prejudices.

Local income tax, reform of company law to give workers rights similar to shareholders, positive engagement in the European Union and other great Liberal causes (three cheers for a land tax) seemed strangely absent. As one commentator put it, once the media and electorate started to listen to us, the Liberal Democrats didn't seem to have much to say.

Saturday 5 June 2010

Trust in Local Government

During the election the Conservatives appeared to have been converted (or maybe, post Thatcher, reconverted)to the long established Liberal belief in powers to and trust in local government. Unfortunately the signals so far from the coalition are that this is more campaign rhetoric rather than a belief to be put into practice.

One of the economies proposed by the Treasury is that Council Tax is to be frozen for two years. This sounds reminiscent of the cartoon character who, in financially strained circumstances, decided to cut out the wife's beer. Today there is an announcement that local councils are to be forced to publish details of all items of expenditure over £500. (This pettiness from a government about to spend umpteen billions on the fictional prestige to be gained from renewing Trident.)

It seems that the bullying central state is still alive and well.

Friday 4 June 2010

Why the Clegg bubble burst (1)

Liberal/Liberal Democrat veterans such as myself have always supposed that if only the media would take some notice of us then the electorate would be so impressed by our "oh so beautiful" policies that they would flock to us in their millions and we should be swept into power. For a brief period towards the end of the February 1974 campaign the media did take notice of us and there was even speculation as to who would be in the Liberal cabinet (no talk of the half-way house coalitions in those high and far-off times), but the surge came too late for our policies to make a deep impression and the electorate turned back to the mixture as before.

By his outstanding performance in the first debate Nick Clegg achieved the Liberal dream. For almost the whole of the campaign we were not, as heretofore, on the sidelines trying to elbow our way in, but the centre of attention. Why then, was the electorate not convinced? I think there were two reasons: our policies were not sound enough and we have not done enough groundwork in previous campaigns, continuing, local and national, to tell people what Liberal Democracy is really all about (other than "working for you all the year round.")

One major policy which I believe to be unsound is to cut taxes by raising the income tax personal allowance to £10 000. Cutting taxes in a recession is standard Keynesian policy, but it was not sold as such. Instead it was offered to the electorate as a bribe: again and again Nick Clegg repeated the mantra "Every taxpayer will be £700 a year better off." This approach did not seem to make sense in the context of repeated references to the "black hole" in the nation's finances, and critics quickly, and rightly, pointed out that the policy did not and does not help the poorest with either no jobs or low-paid ones, and doubly benefited and will benefit higher-rate payers.

If it were thought too bold to stimulate demand by raising unemployment benefits, since unemployed people are major victims in a recession, or the imaginative policy of a Citizens' Income, or time-limited vouchers to pensioners or all recipients of welfare payments, then we should have concentrated on government expenditure directed at improving the infrastructure and green investment rather than a tax cut.

Thursday 3 June 2010

Listening- but to whom?

In the contest for the leadership of the Labour Party there is much talk of listening to the electorate and reconnecting with party members and core supporters.

Of course, now that the electorate is party members they will listen to committed activists, but during general elections, and between them, the listening is to focus groups. The aim is not to seek to stimulate the faithful throughout the country and inspire the nation with a vision of how society should be, but to discover how to attract the support of a handful of "floating" voters in a handful of marginal constituencies.

This might be acceptable if these floating voters were serious minded citizens carefully weighing up the views of contending parties and deciding where to put their cross (or, one hopes, in future, their Number 1). However the "floaters" are more likely to be those on the fringe of democratic participation for whom the decision is not for whom to vote but whether or not to bother to turn out to vote at all.

The democratic ideal, in which principled leaders urge on the electorate their different views on how society should be organised, is turned on its head. Now leaders ask the lowest common denominator of the electorate:" What are your principles? OK - well adopt them."

This will continue to be the case as long as elections and decided in that handful of marginals, and the Alternative Vote will do nothing to change that. The best way of encouraging real debate, both within and between the parties, is STV.

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Israeli attack on relief ships

The Israel/Palestine situation must be one of the most intractable in the world. The original Balfour Declaration of 1917 in which the British government, "view(ed) with favour" the setting up of a national home for the Jews in Palestine, continued with the phrase "it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine" (my emphasis.)

The ignoring of that condition is the source of the problem: there is, in my view, a very real sense in which Palestinians are being made to pay the cost of assuaging European guilt for the treatment of the Jews in the 1930s ands 40s. Nevertheless the state of Israel exists and it is unrealistic to expect it to cease to exist. A politically negotiated two-state solution seems the only answer.

In the meantime Israel must be made to recognise that disproportionate reactions to acts of Palestinian terrorism are unacceptable. An obvious step is that the US government, alleged champions of democracy (and Hamas was democratically elected) should cease arming and funding the Israelis.

There may seem little we as individuals can do, but the philosopher Burke said that no on made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do little. To that end I've just signed this petition at Avaaz.org:

We call for an immediate, independent investigation into the flotilla assault, full accountability for those responsible, and the lifting of the Gaza blockade.

Please join me in signing at this link:


Tuesday 1 June 2010

Liberal Democrat U-Turn

Both Nick Clegg and Vince Cable give the economic problems of Greece and the eurozone as the reason for Liberal Democrat support for public spending cuts now rather than when the recovery is assured.

In an article in the New Statesman David Blanchflower, the former member of the Monetary Policy Committee and the one who got things right, sates bluntly: "The deteriorating conditions in the eurozone have made it even more dangerous to cut (public) spending now."

The Conservative argument for cuts now is that they will boost confidence in the financial markets, floating on this bed of confidence industry will invest, and private spending will more than fill the gap left by the cuts in public spending. Given that the eurozone is our major export market, if it is in trouble then an export led stimulus becomes more difficult. In addition, to quote the Blanchflower article again: "If the pound... appreciates against the euro, the progress that the stimulus achieved in the UK would be thrown into reverse and growth would be even lower."

Blanchflower also points out that the US, which at roughly 12% has a similar level of current public borrowing as the UK, is not cutting public expenditure, nor are most of our major competitors

I suspect that the Liberal Democrat conversion to cuts now owes more to the malign effect of the chemistry than to the economic realities. We should stick to our Keynesian guns.