Tuesday 30 November 2010


In a comment on an earlier post Chris Wales confesses that he's not too keen on the state trying to preserve a measure of equality in society. Rather,if I've understood him correctively, he is in favour of unfettered (and not necessarily equal?) opportunity.

This is an interesting question and deserves a full post (and perhaps several) rather than an additional comment.

Most modern states, as Chris acknowledges, accept that there should be some sort of welfare safety net to prevent too severe destitution, and we have had such as system, with varying degrees of generosity, in this country since the Elizabethan Poor Law. It was Jo Grimond, in an article, I think in the Observer the early 1960s, who alerted my to the concept that the democratic state also had a duty to prevent some people becoming too rich, because, as I recall, they endangered democracy. Lord Aschcroft, Rupert Murdoch and Silvio Berlusconi are prime examples of how right he was (as in so many other things.)

A few rich individuals perhaps add a bit of glamour to society (the Dockers provided it in the 1950s, though, as far as I know, they paid their taxes, and at a pretty high rate) but a substantial section of society who become so rich that they are detached from the rest of us, live in gated communities and cease to be affected by our common concerns endanger the cohesiveness of our society, just as does the detachment of the bottom 20% into their separate Toynbee "caravan." We would be so much happier as a society if we really were "all in this together." This explains so many people's nostalgia for the war years, when the rich as well as the poor had a chance of being bombed out of their homes or called up for service.

It is a sad reflection on the current spirit of the Labour Party that, although Ed Milliband seems keen to retain the 50% higher tax rate as a matter of principle other senior members aren't so sure. When Neil Kinnock was their leader his book choice on Desert Island Discs was R H Tawney's "Equality", which contains this wonderful passage:

"It is possible that intelligent tadpoles reconcile themselves to the inconvenience of their position by reflecting that, though most of them will live and die as tadpoles, and nothing more, the more fortunate of the species will one day shed their tales , distend their mouths and stomachs, hop nimbly on to dry land, and croak addresses to their former friends on the virtues by means of which tadpoles of character and capacity can rise to be frogs"
(Allen and Unwin edition,1931, page 142)

As Tawney clearly saw, equality of opportunity is merely equality of opportunity to become unequal. To become unequal and not pay your dues to the society that enabled you to do so is even less acceptable.

Monday 29 November 2010

At-Home Days

The British winter no longer comes as an annual surprise, but we are still not sufficiently certain that it will be so regular and prolonged as to make it worthwhile to invest heavily in snow-clearing equipment on the scale of, say, the Alps.

So when there is heavy snow, as today, the the intermediate solution for avoiding chaos is for local authorities to have the powers to declare an "At-Home Day." This would mean that all non-essential workers - most shop and office workers, teachers and students, etc. - would be instructed to stay at home, leaving the roads clear for essential workers - power suppliers, police and security workers, medical workers, firefighters and rescuers, and of course, the snow ploughs, - to go about their business.

This idea was put to me by the deputy head of a school at which I worked in Bradford in the early 80s. He was called Wally, which as far as I know was his full first name and not a diminutive. It was not regarded as either pejorative or funny at the time

Sunday 28 November 2010

An Airy-Fairy Measure

Having been enthusiastic about David Cameron's proposal to measure Gross National Wellbeing, it is rather disappointing to find that he is proposing to do it in such an airy-fairy manner. Both he and the statistician in charge at the ONS talk vaguely about asking people how happy they feel. While as a social scientist I cannot decry the value of trying to measure subjunctive feelings it is disappointing that solid facts such as hours worked, a measure of equality, suicide rates, the stability of marriages and partnerships, etc (see earlier post) are not to be taken into account. Perhaps Cameron is frightened of what objective data might reveal.

Friday 26 November 2010

An Assenting Voice

On the 28th October the coalition produced a White Paper “Local growth: realising every place’s potential”

My friend John Cole, like me a retired teacher of economics and also a lifelong Liberal/Liberal Democrat has written a detailed critique for his colleagues which begins with the following paragraphs:

General Comments:
I approached reading this white paper in the hope that it would give me confidence that the coalition had a sound and credible route map towards economic recovery and sustainable growth. Whilst there are many good ideas in the paper, I remain unconvinced that the coalition is going to have the UK economy in a far better place in five years time. In short, it is a curate’s egg of a white paper – good in parts but with, in my view, some woeful deficiencies.
The main shortcoming is the total reliance on “supply side” measures. There is much talk of incentives to invest and to build. Inward investment will be attracted. The planning system will be totally reformed, streamlined and barriers to development reduced. The workforce will be up-skilled and those on benefits will be incentivised to work. In the North East and other non-metropolitan regions public sector jobs will be cut but new jobs, created by the private sector, will more than take up the slack and the economy will be re-balanced. All will be hunky-dory.
What is totally absent is any reference to the “demand side”. Firms will only invest and produce if they confidently expect there to be a demand for the final product, be it a good or service. “Confidence” is the key word. At present business confidence is low, as is consumer confidence. After the binge spending of most of this decade individuals and corporations are now retrenching. If firms are disinclined to expand because of thin order books, the new jobs will not emerge. In a wiser age governments would step in with counter-cyclical policies, in this case to boost demand by increasing government spending – pump-priming expenditure which could be reduced as the economy moved into a private-sector sustained growth. Such counter-intuitive thinking would appear to be beyond not only “The Daily Mail” but George Osborne. It should not be beyond the grasp of Liberal Democrats with our Keyenesian lineage.

And so say all of us.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Our Friend in Need

George Osborne is quite right to offer £7 billion to help bail out the Irish economy, though one is disposed to wonder how a country of only 4 million people can build up such a massive crisis and, indeed, buy more British exports than India, China , Brazil and a fourth country the name of which escapes me, combined.

However, what most people will be wondering is how it is that a month ago it was absolutely essential to slice £7 billion from public expenditure since we couldn't possibly afford to maintain public services at the present level, and now, out of the blue £7 billion is available for another, albeit important, purpose.

The truth is that the £7 billion will be borrowed as, unlike Greece, or Ireland, the British government has no difficultly in borrowing at competitive rates. "The markets" are not breathing down out necks.The rates are, I suspect, not quite as competitive as the BBC1 news suggested last night - that Britain would borrow at 1.5% and the Irish would repay with 5% interest. If today's Guardian (page 13)is to be trusted the interest the governments have to pay on 10 year bonds is 3.5% for the UK and 8.1% for Ireland, so we shall still make a tidy profit.

The message of our contribution to the Irish bailout is that when the government wants, it can find the money at competitive rates. The curtailment of public expenditure is therefore not of necessity, but ideologically driven.

Although "the markets" are not yet at the throats of Britain, the signs are that they will now turn their attacks on to Portugal and Spain. It is high time the international community put a stop to this nonsense by agreeing to a Tobin-type tax on monetary transactions. Policy in democracies should be determined by the people, not financiers' greed.

Monday 22 November 2010

Students and the Immigration Cap.

There are forecasts that the proposed cap on immigration is likely to reduce vastly the number of foreign student in our universities. This seems to me to be totally dotty. Higher education is one of the few "products" that we offer which is "World Class": why on earth stop people buying it? As anyone studying "A" level economics will tell you, a foreign student coming here to buy one of our courses is the equivalent of an export (that's without taking into account the additional money they will spend in living expenses and entertainment while they are here.) Stopping then buying the product is the equivalent of refusing to sell Rolls Royce engines to the Australian. By pandering to the prejudices of the tabloids and Tory right the government is about to score a devastating own goal.

It is also a devastating comment on the values of our society that whereas top class footballers are to be excluded from the cap, top class scientists are not. If our universities are to maintain their "World Class" status then they need to be able to employ the best of international talent.

We get the impression that Vince Cable is trying to resist this nonsense: all power to his elbow.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Out of the mouths of...Lord Young

Lord Young's forced resignation seems to be to be part of a conspiracy by the political classes - by the Conservatives to justify their ideological attack on the welfare state (to "prove" we can no longer afford it) and by Labour as a convenient stick with which to tag the Tories as unfeeling and unaware of what "real life" is like in the UK.

But there is a great deal of truth in what Lord Young claimed.

First, on a technical point, he spoke of this "alleged" recession, and he has some justification, in that a recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth , and we are now in positive growth, albeit not exactly racing ahead.

But his point that "(t)he vast majority of people in the country today...have never had it so good." has real validity. I'm not so sure that "vast" is entirely justified, but very many of us are very comfortable and doing very nicely indeed. Those with mortgages who retain their jobs are having a bonanza, since as a result of low interest rates they can be receiving a tax-free bonus of up to six hundred pounds a month. We don't hear too much about them. For the rest of us, in work, or with secure pensions, life is good: food prices are still low and form a relatively small part of our expenditure, clothing is absurdly cheap and many other commodities are being heavily discounted in order to promote sales. Soon after Christmas we shall be seeing estimates that the "average" child has received some £300-worth or more of presents.

Quite frankly, even for the vast majority, indeed the overwhelming majority, austerity this is not.

The period of the Second World War and the ten years or so afterward can perhaps more accurately be described as "austerity", though I cannot remember ever being seriously hungry or cold (except that in those days convention dictated that little boys should wear short trousers, even in the depths of winter, so our knees and inner thighs became "chapped" and red-raw. Some stuff, "Snofire" I think it was called, which we were given to relieve pain, was not very effective. Today's boys, in long trousers as toddlers, don't realise how lucky they are.) Even this war and post-war austerity was the lap of luxury compared with average life in the Third World. I once asked one of my Malawian colleagues, a senior educationalists, if he gave his children Christmas presents. "Yes", he replied proudly, "I buy each of my children a bottle of Coke." Puts things in perspective.

The problem is, of course, that in spite of government claims, we are not "all in his together. The main pain of the premature and misguided corrective economic measures will be felt by the bottom 20%, that part of Polly Toynbee's caravan which is now in danger of being detached from the main body and becoming a separate entity, and who didn't get their fair share of the 1990s prosperity either. In addition are those who lose their jobs and, no longer able to pay their mortgages, may lose their homes.

As a nation we are some four times richer that we were in the 1940s (when we could afford to establish the NHS, introduce family allowances and other new aspects of the welfare state.) With the political will and a modicum of generosity we can easily afford to make the lot of the bottom 20% more tolerable and re-incorporate them into society, and provide "tidying-over" measures for those temporarily without adequate incomes as a result society's failure to control the banking system. A courageous government would call upon Lord Young's "never had it so good" cohort do our bit.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

A Welcome Tory Initiative

David Cameron's proposal to try to measure what the media are pleased to call our Gross National Happiness would have been received with derision by earlier generations of Conservatives, but his recognition that: "It's not just the economy, stupid." is to be welcomed.

It has long been recognised that crude GDP per capita figures are not a reliable guide to wellbeing in developing countries, and the UN has for a long time produced a Human Development Index (HDI) which, along with per capita GDP includes infant mortality rates, percentage of children in schools, adult literacy and longevity. Although developed countries are included in the index, the differentiation is not particularly meaningful.

Although no-one, as far as I know, has yet produced one, there are many ideas as to what should be included in an index of Gross National Wellbeing (GNW). Here are some:

1. per capita GDP needs to be included, but should be refined to deduct rather than add "bads" such as the use of non-renewable resources, pollution and the cost of clearing it up.

2. A measure of equality. The Gini Coefficient is an established and objective method of measuring this. As the work of Wilkinson and Pickett, among others, demonstrates, more equal societies are happier societies.

3. Medical factors such as infant mortality, longevity, the incidence of mental illness and stress.

4. Social factors such as crime rates and the proportion of people in prison, the incidence of suicide, the stability of marriages and partnerships,the extent of human rights, working hours and the number of holidays, the percentage receiving higher education, the level of unemployment and homelessness and access to cultural experiences.

There would need to be much discussion as to what should and should not be included, and the weighting given to each factor, but an internationally agreed index would be a useful tool of comparison between countries, and a useful measure of the success or otherwise of governments within countries.

Monday 15 November 2010

Lest We Forget

We seem to be moving towards a Remembrance Season rather than a Remembrance Day. This year it covered a four day period, with Armistice Day itself on Thursday and Remembrance Sunday yesterday. In between my next door town of Morley held its own "Festival of Remembrance" on the Friday evening (at which the Choral Society to which I belong was invited to sing) and the national "Festival" followed on the Saturday evening in the Albert Hall.

In my view spreading out the period reduces its impact and poignancy. The Guardian reported that many parts of the country fell silent at 11am on Thursday the 11th, though nothing much seemed to happen, or rather stop happening, here. Then on Sunday, still the "official" silence, those who had already made their observation could be excused for carrying on as normal. We need to make up our minds on which day the silence is to be and then join forces to encourage its observance.

We also need to think about the name. My dictionary defines a festival as "festal day,celebration, merry-making." There is absolutely nothing to "make merry" about millions of young people sent to be slaughtered and millions of families bombed out of their homes because politicians have failed in their diplomacy. The best alternative I can think of is a an "Observance" though I admit it does not pack much punch. The observance, for want of a better name, should have no martial music, uniforms, medals and marching in step, all designed to sanitise and glorify war, but should involve depictions of refugees feeling their homes, soldiers dying in agony,the mutilated struggling with their futures - to remind us that war is not noble but horrible.

Finally, there seem to be subtle moves to use Remembrance to justify present wars and drum up support for them. Of course it is right that those killed in conflicts since 1945 should be included in our thoughts, that we should mourn their loss and offer sympathy and support to their families, but we need to be careful to separate these feelings from actual support of all the conflicts in which they have been involved.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Another broken promise.

Both parties in the coalition claim to be committed to devolution of power: in fact a lively level of local participation in government is one of the longest standing traditions of the Liberals/Liberal Democrats. So how can we condone Michael Gove's decision to remove what powers remain for local authorities to distribute funding to schools, and impose a rigid formula from on high? This is yet another broken promise and a reversion to the "Whitehall knows best" syndrome for which we have so rightly criticised labour.

The Conservatives' breaking of their explicit promise not to impose yet another reorganisation of the NHS has passed almost without comment compared with the present furore surrounding Liberal Democrat MPs' promise not to vote for a raising of tuition fees. The riposte that it was Tony Blair's New Labour who first introduced tuition fees, having promised not to do so, then tripled them, is yet another reminder of a broken promise. Is it any wonder that the electorate is so cynical about politicians and the political process?

One of the most disheartening responses to enthusiastic and idealistic canvassers is the weary accusation: "You're all alike." The coalition seems to be going out of its way to confirm this.

We were promised a new, more honest, politics: the schools funding edict is yet another example of "more of the same."

Thursday 11 November 2010

A very American coup?

In the past few months I've read both volunes of Chris Mullin's diaries - both a very good read and highly recommended.

One gem - Tony Benn on Neil Kinnock: "A vacuum surrounded by charisma." Unkind, and not really apt, but funny.

Quoi qu'il en soit (French for "Be that as it may" which contains a subjunctive and can be popped into an essay at almost any point and earn an extra mark at A level)the diaries prompted me to read Mullin's novel, "A very British coup." This, also highly recommended, tells a fictional story of how a combination of Britain's right wing press, senior civil servants, military chiefs, security services and at least one trade union leader conspire to overthrow a democratically elected left wing Labour prime minister whose policy is to remove US military bases from Britain.

We in the "rest of the world" find it incomprehensible that the US can turn against Obama's leadership. (I happened to be in the US when Reagan defeated Carter, and couldn't comprehend that either.) Maybe there's a similar sort of right wing anti-democratic conspiracy there.

Tuesday 9 November 2010


The government's proposal to introduce workfare for those unemployed for over a year and, in the view of officials, not trying hard enough to get another job, has received a muted response, even from the Labour Party. Only the Archbishop of Canterbury is reported as having spoken out against.

My own view is that if there is work to be done in cleaning and tidying up our environment than we should pay people the going rate to do it. The only exceptions should be willing volunteers, such as the Ramblers' Association, who organise working parties to keep footpaths clear, and people convicted of a crime but not a danger to the public, who should rightly be given non-custodial sentences which may involve such tasks. I see no reason to humiliate this latter group by forcing them to wear distinctive clothing that identifies them as doing compulsory "community pay-back."

What, then, of that one and a half million unemployed who, in tabloid jargon, are too idle or indifferent to get a job, and who need to be "remotivated" by a bit of stick? Frankly, I believe the overwhelming majority would dearly like a job and will have tried very hard, until it seemed hopeless, to get one. We should not allow those who are not in this category, whom I believe to be a tiny minority, to stigmatize the entire group. I think it was the sociologist Peter Townsend, founder of the Child Poverty Action Group, who wrote that: "when the economic history of this age comes to be written, the problem of the skiver will not merit so much as a footnote."

Some years ago I heard a non-religious speaker on Radio 4's "Thought for the Day." He argued that all peop0le have three basic psychological needs: to know that somebody cares what happens to them; to feel that at sometime someone has benefited from their existence; and to be able to pay their way. It is the last point that is relevant here: although some might put a brave face on it, no one actually wants to be a perpetual "hanger-on."

It is high time our society relaxed over this issue and adopted the Green Party's proposal of a Citizens' Income, to which all are entitle by right of citizenship. Then we could forget about the "skivers" and all get on with our lives.

Monday 8 November 2010

More on Tuition Fees

One of the arguments against a graduate tax as a means of funding higher education (see earlier blog No Graduation without Taxation) is that such a tax would only produce a stream of income in the future, whereas the universities need money now.The National Union of Students, which favours a graduate tax, suggest that this circle could be squared by selling bonds, which would provide funds now against the promise of the future income stream.

As far as I can see there is no similar scheme in place to provide "upfront" cash for the universities now from the £6 000 to £9 000 fees which future students are to pay back when their incomes reach a sufficient level, but not now. So from where is the cash needed by the universities now to come? Presumably from the government.

If that is the case, than the hike in fees, and the extension of loans to part-time students, is going to increase the government's current expenditure, not reduce it. Yet the coalition's excuse for the draconian fees hike is that it is necessary because in the current "difficult economic circumstances" (which, if they exist, are entirely related to current government expenditure) "the current system for funding higher education is unaffordable." (Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat News, 5th November 2010).

If there is something in the above that I've missed, then I'd be grateful for enlightenment.

The coalition gives the impression that there is no alternative. Here is an assortment:

pay for it out of general taxation, as was the case when my generation (and that of most MPs) received their higher education. Yes, I know there are nowadays a lot more students, but then, the country is also a lot richer.

raise corporation tax to the average OECD level, as proposed by the UCU, who argue that the increase would be sufficient to finance HE. According to Caroline Lucas (letter to the Guardian, 5th November 2010), if corporation tax were raised to the G7 average, "the extra revenue would generate...more than enough to abolish all tuition fees, increase investment in higher education , and still leave the UK's main corporation tax rate below France, the US and Japan."

levy a small percentage extra "education" tax on all firms for every graduate they employ, with reductions for any training schemes they actually carry out themselves.

Sunday 7 November 2010

A False Prospectus

Last Thursday George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, faced questioning by the Treasury Select Committee of the House of Commons. According to the Guardian's report (5th November) he was accused of "misleading the public" by claiming that at the time of the election Britain was facing "unprecedented levels of debt," in a "financial danger zone" and in danger of losing our AAA status from the credit rating agencies. MPs pointed out that, of six leading industrial countries, including the US, Japan, France and Germany, we have the lowest national debt as a proportion of GDP of all.

Even the Tory chairman of the committee, Andrew Tyrie, said that Osborne's claim that Britain was "on the brink of bankruptcy" was "a bit over the top."

Yet Liberal Democrats in government repeatedly use this distortion of the truth to justify support of the Tory policy of cutting back the state, and, more recently, to justify breaking our promises on tuition fees. In his front page article in Liberal Democrat News this week, Vince Cable blames the U-turn on "these difficult economic circumstances" and Michael Moore used a similar excuse (I can't remember the exact words) on Friday's Radio 4 "Any Questions."

The Labour government lost the confidence of the public and did incredible damage to the political process largely as a result of leading the country into the Iraq war on a false prospectus. The coalition, which promised to try to restore faith in the political process, and create a "new politics," is in danger of going down the same route. To quote the Tory Andrew Tyrie yet again, we should "tell it as it is."

Saturday 6 November 2010

Four Rays of Liberal Sunshine

Four rays of Liberal sunshine have emanated from the coalition government in the past week: the decisions to share some defence capabilities with the French, to grant (some) prisoners the right to vote, to refer Murdoch's BSkyB bid to the media regulator, and the successful passage of the referendum on voting reform through its final stage in the Commons.

Of course, not all of these are cause for unalloyed Liberal Democrat joy. On defence many of us would like to see more determined steps towards disarmament, but the decision to share with the French is is a step in the direction of realism.The coalition can't take all the credit, as I believe the initial negotiations were started by the Brown government, but it is reasonable to suppose that, without Liberal Democrat support Cameron may not have had the strength to stand up to his chauvinist "Little Englanders" and carry the process through. Coupled with the earlier "decision to postpone a decision" on the like for like replacement of Trident until the next parliament, this is genuine Liberal Democrat progress.

Acceptance the ruling of the ECHR on prisoners' right to vote is another area where Cameron will have been grateful for Liberal Democrat backbone. Let us hope it leads to some improvement in the appalling conditions in our prisons and the purposeless incarceration of so many damaged a vulnerable people. Again, coupled with Ken Clarke's conversion to a more liberal policy, this is something for us to shout about, and shout about it we should. I hope that our Focus editors are not so scared of frightening the horses that they ignore it or, worse still, condemn it.

Thank goodness for Vince Cable's unhesitating action in referring the Murdoch bid to the regulator. We are told that the Tories are "much more relaxed" about the possibility of a further extension of the Murdoch empire, so Liberal Democrat steel has certainly been important here.

Finally, the "referendum on the voting system" bill may not be on the system most of us would have preferred, and it is unfortunately coupled with a reduction in the number of constituencies and a revision of their boundaries. This might reasonably be described as an attempt to rig the system against Labour and so give them an excuse for voting against the entire package. But it does give the lie to those who predicted that the coalition was not strong enough to get the bill through. Of course, it still has to pass the Lords.

In spite of all these reservations, these are four rays of kindly light to relieve the gloom encircling those of us who are dismayed and bewildered by Liberal Democrat support for economic policy which is the antithesis of common sense and all our traditions.

Thursday 4 November 2010

A Personal First

Last night I took part in my first telephone conference, or actually telephone briefing, since there was no opportunity to contribute. This was held by the "Yes to Fair Votes" campaign. After all the fuss and palaver of getting "selected" to take part (applying by Email, being given a telephone number to ring and a password) it was a bit of a damp squib. Maybe my mood was not as positive as it should have been as the event coincided with The Archers, so I was forced to miss my daily "fix" of vicarious rural life.

The conference or briefing began with a long period of curious "space odyssey" type music, followed by such a long silence that I presumed the whole thing had "crashed" and was tempted to ring of and switch on The Archers anyway. Then a lady whose name sounded like Katie Gooche or Goose (I have checked with the website but can't find any mention of her to verify this)told us that thousands had applied to take part in the event, we were the lucky 500, and explained that AV would have the advantages that:

Votes would count for more
MPs would have the support of at least 50% of their electorates
MPs would have to work harder

and that we must keep the message simple.

I suppose that an AV vote will "count for more" in that it will give us a second choice as well as a first, but I do not necessarily want MPs to "work harder" on the constituency welfare cases which so preoccupy them, but in fact should be done by properly empowered local councilors while MPs reflect on the great issues of the day and hold the executive to account.

Willie Sullivan then told us that the "other side" would have big money from Tory -supporting businesses, but we had the advantage of enthusiastic activists such as myself so we can "beat them on the ground." "They" will buy advertising but we have regional organisers in place and training sessions are being planned.

Two questions from named contributers on the lines of "What can I do to set up an organisation in my area" received routine answers. My own question, submitted beforehand, " What can we do to get proper PR by STV in multi-member constituencies on the ballot paper?" received no mention, nor did any similar basic issues. Perhaps it's too late for that, but I can't help feeling we've let the opportunity for genuine reform go by default.

The event only lasted around ten minutes, so I was able to catch the end of The Archers. Linda is having difficulty in casting the village pantomime. Sets the blood racing at about the same level as, so far, the campaign for electoral reform.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

A Century

This is my 100th post. Since I started blogging on 8th April, 208 days ago, that is almost but not quite a post every other day. As I've had several long and blog-free holidays in that period that's not to bad a record.

Blogging has replaced my previous hobby, which in pre-blog days was studying French. Many older people seem to suffer from insomnia, which seems to take two forms: those who go to bed but can't get to sleep, and those who drop of easily but wake up very early. Thankfully I fall into the second category and, rather than waste time tossing and turning and trying to get back to sleep again, I get up and do something useful but undemanding. For over ten years the undemanding routine was to attempt a few French language exercises, revise a few pages of my French vocabulary book and conjugate a few irregular verbs. Now all that has been put to one side and instead I blog.

Friends ask me how I feel about the fact that possibly no-one is reading it. Obviously some people do since there are occasional comments, and I'm grateful to Chris and Jaime for regular contributions. I have not signed up to one of those systems that tell you how many "hits" you've had. My only guide is the number of "views" of my profile. This has now topped 300, although some of these are me looking to check the total, and obviously many of them may not have looked at the blog more than once. However, although I'd appreciate a wide audience (and being quoted by LibDem Voice)I'm happy to regard the blog as a diary of opinions which happens to be available to the public.

I stand by my first post written during the election campaign, which deplored the fact that all three major parties took the idea of a financial crisis as a given, that this is nonsense (and still is) and that the Tories are using it as a heaven-sent opportunity to roll back the state. I remain bewildered and dismayed that the Liberal Democrats, heirs to the party of Beveridge and Keynes, have fallen for this ploy

Monday 1 November 2010

The Daftest Cut of All?

The funding of HMRC is to be reduced by 15% (£3.2bn) over the next four years, and 13 000 personnel whose job it is to collect taxes are to lose their jobs.

Yet in the latest tax year, 2009-2010, according to HMRC itself, £42bn of taxes went uncollected. This amounts to 9% of all tax revenue, and is £2bn more than the amount uncollected in the tax year 2008 -2009.

In the latest year £15.2bn of VAT was uncollected, £6.9bn of corporation tax was uncollected, and £6bn of income tax was uncollected. (In response to a comment below, for the source of these figures click here)

The Public and Commercial Services Union believes all these figures are underestimates, and that the total of uncollected taxes is in the region of £130bn.

By contrast, the estimated cost to the Exchequer from benefit fraud is in the region of £5bn.

I will not insult readers' intelligence by drawing a conclusion.