Tuesday, 7 May 2013

No. You didn't pay into the "state pension", it's a fraud

One of the most cruel and callous lies of the pension system in the UK is that it involves people paying all their lives "into a system" that they get "paid back" from.

This myth has been created and perpetuated by politicians, and is sustained by the lie that is "national insurance".  It isn't insurance.  Any private company that offered a voluntary scheme that resembled "national insurance" would face legal proceedings and its directors would be convicted of fraud.  I have heard it once described as a PONZI scheme, which is what is resembles.

The problem lies in several dimensions.

Taxpayer funded old age pensions originally were established to address the poverty of the elderly, back in the days when life expectancy was in its mid 60s.  The issue simply being that when people were too old or frail to work (during an age when most work was physical) there was a lot of support for providing for the elderly poor.  This translated eventually into a basic universal pension to avoid poverty, but not much else.

What came beyond that was the idea that people could have more, and that it could be contributory.  "You get what you pay in" sounds like a fundamentally fair principle.  So came "national insurance", essentially a tax that would be a contribution through your life that would reflect in a higher pension once you retire.

Except that it was an unintended fraud.

Unlike individual pension schemes, where there are accounts kept, where the money is invested for a return that will be reflected in the final pension amount, national insurance contributions were treated as taxes.  

The state spent the lot.  It saved nothing and invested nothing.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

UKIP could do so much good, but needs to professionalise properly

There is a good reason for UKIP existing in UK politics.  Its original raison d'etre, to support UK withdrawal from the EU, is a position that was ridiculed for so long by the three major parties.  Indeed, it was long thought that the Conservative Party was denying itself electoral victory by opposing the Euro and having a strong Eurosceptic wing to it.

Those days are long gone, and given EU attempts to expand regulation across business, spending on rent-seeking industries and its persistently unaudited accounts, there are sound reasons to promote leaving the EU on economic liberal grounds, and retention of sovereignty. 

So there is a space for a party that seeks to leave the EU.

UKIP's views on immigration, which are decidedly not libertarian, are still views that no major party has been good at taking on.  Support for a points based immigration system, that means migrants are clearly net contributors, is not racist or nationalistic, but likely to be acceptable to many who reject immigration for more unsavoury reasons (i.e.  don't like foreigners, especially ones who work harder than me or for less money).  Similarly, opposition to an absolute open door for migration from across the EU does have a sound basis in terms of managing the obvious claims to the welfare state, and being able to exclude convicted serious criminals.

Beyond that, the real potential for UKIP is to be the party to keep the Conservatives honest to certain key principles.  Like less regulation rather than more.  Like believing in not only fiscal responsibility, but in reducing public debt and the size of the state.   Like promoting a simpler tax system, with lower rates.  Like encouraging competition and choice in public services, and confining the welfare state to relieving poverty as a safety net, not providing support to people on middle incomes.  

However, to do that UKIP needs three major internal steps to transform itself.  These have become apparent in recent weeks with the dramatic growth in candidate numbers, and the symptoms of a party that has grown from a small bunch of enthusiasts to a large bunch of amateurs.

It has parallels to what happened to the BNP, which has had very brief bursts of popularity, but has long been so toxic, rightfully so, that is only attracted people who either wanted to join but retain a low profile, or those for whom BNP participation wouldn't ruin their employment or business prospects.  That's because they weren't that good in the first place.

UKIP can be different.  It does explicitly ban BNP, NF and EDL members from joining, but does so on an honour basis.   However, it has a lot of people who have joined with little experience of politics and has developed an ad hoc approach to policy.  It has a window of opportunity to change this.  Criticism leading up to the county council elections will do little harm, but UKIP ought to be aiming to come first next year in the European elections, and do well in the larger scale local elections.  To do this, it needs to ensure it harnesses what is good and negates what is bad:

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Scrap planning laws and urban growth boundaries, and go back to property rights

Give some credit to Nick Boles, he's actually making an effort to confront part of the problem with housing - the socialist central planning focused planning laws that make just about any alteration to a property a matter, not for the property owner, but for "society".

That means the immediate neighbours, the near neighbours, the people down the road, the local residents' association, the local environmental group, maybe a competing business, a charity and of course, the council itself.  

Your property isn't yours, and it isn't about protecting the property rights of others, it is simply about gaining the consent of those whose property it isn't.  In other words, it is communitarianism.

So I applaud the attempts to simplify planning laws, to make it easier for property owners to build on their own land, and to change the use of properties from commercial to residential purposes.

However, it isn't enough.  The fundamental philosophy behind the planning system is rooted in 1940s style socialism - the belief that property is communal, not private.

This needs to be scrapped and replaced with a new approach, based entirely on private property rights.

My recent backbencher articles

Recently I've been penning short pieces for the website The Backbencher, here are the last two:

The NHS is no envy of the world

Voluntaryism: We need to talk about welfare

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

What's wrong with much of the UK after Thatcher's legacy?

Few can be surprised at the sight of handfuls of people cheering Thatcher's death, although the ones seen in Glasgow yesterday must have been remarkably political active in their nappies, as virtually all were in their 20s.   Just goes to show how education is so powerful in transmitting not just knowledge, but ideology.

Journalists have been seeking out Thatcher haters, in Liverpool (where half of those broadcast by the BBC liked her), Durham, Glasgow and other towns where Thatcher's government finally pulled the plug of taxpayer subsidies and protectionism on the sunset heavy industries of coal, steel, shipbuilding, car assembly and the like.  Industries where the militant Marxist-Leninist trade union movement had fought any redundancies, any liberalisation of labour practices (consider industries where multiple unions protected individual parts of the production line, none letting any workers combine processes even if technology made it possible) and stubbornly refused to allow any form of industrial democracy, in the form of secret ballots.  Preferring the rule of the mob and the bullying of any dissenters, their ever increasing demands for higher pay without higher productivity gutted these industries.  They could no longer sell their products competitively, when faced with more efficiently produced imports from Europe and elsewhere, and so needed other taxpayers to prop up their sunset industries.  It was 30% more expensive to buy British coal than import coal

For whilst Labour politicians talked of the tripartite union-business-government cozy deals that they witnessed in some countries in western Europe, the unions were more interested in the philosophy being applied in eastern Europe.

So the subsidies ended, businesses that could never be internationally competitive, and couldn't even compete on domestic markets, closed, and whole towns lost their major employer.  

It's easy to argue that maybe more could have been done for these towns and cities, indeed there have been more than a couple of attempts at "regeneration" for some.  "Regeneration" meaning taking taxpayers money to tidy up public spaces, refurbish old buildings, maybe put in some new road or other transport facility, and hoping some new businesses arrive.  However, more often than not they didn't.  The legacy has been a generation or two of towns with declining populations, as those with aspiration leave, and others remain - their children raised on legends and teachers spreading their bile that Thatcher "destroyed" their communities.

What did they do to rebuild them?

Monday, 8 April 2013

Thatcher stopped the rot

She was no libertarian.

Yet she did much to open up the economy.

She took on the Marxist trade unions, and the Soviet bloc.

She made a few mistakes, but on balance she turned Britain around and pointed it in the right direction.

Labour's attack on payday loan companies ignores the underlying culture of irresponsibility

As the Labour Party strives to become popular, and be seen as new, dynamic and able to "think differently", it shows itself to be anything but that.

The announcement that it wants to increase the power of local authorities to ban a type of business that it doesn't like just shows Labour has really only got one answer to everything - more statism.  It discourages individual responsibility, and I don't just mean by those whose behaviour is self-destructive, but by those wanting to change their behaviour.  Passing laws to stop people harming themselves or selling goods and services to a few people who do so, does not promote better behaviour.  It's the uncivilised tool of the big brother bully saying "do as I say or else" rather than convincing people to change on the merits of your argument. 

The BBC reports that Ed Miliband wants councils to be able to ban bookmakers, payday loan shops and pawnbrokers, motivated no doubt by the desire to want to reduce gambling, borrowing and sales of assets by the poor.

Yet there is little doubt that plenty of people on low incomes waste their money gambling and foolishly take out payday loans (although I am far from convinced that pawnbrokers are necessarily thriving on poor decisions, except of course offering thieves a chance to cash in their gains).  Given the increasingly prevalence of online gambling and online and mobile phone based payday loan companies, shutting down the retail fronts is hardly going to do much to limit access, but it will cost jobs.

It thinks that by reducing the supply and availability of such businesses, it will reduce demand and save people, but it will do little to do any of that.  Indeed it smacks of middle class champagne socialist distaste for such shops in the local high street, and the people who go into them.  You can't really imagine anyone on the Labour front bench going to any of them.

Which is what Labour means when it says when "people" say "no, enough is enough", he actually means middle class do-gooders.  Because if people, generally, didn't want those businesses, they wouldn't exist, they wouldn't be viable.   It's the flipside to HS2, because people aren't actually willing to pay for it, but politicians say people want it.

People go to bookmakers for recreation, and yes often with a misguided sense of hope that it might change their fortunes (albeit in most cases relatively modestly).  The do-gooders who want to shut down those businesses could take responsibility for promoting their point of view, by buying advertising time explaining the poor odds of winning and the alternative of saving (although the QE mainstream means that saving in a bank account is a losing battle with inflation).  They could actually take the initiative instead of using force to shut down shops that people evidently want to patronise (which also employ people).  Taking responsibility for promoting responsibility would be a positive move, but not one that Labour even recognises.  It is addicted to using force.

Payday loan companies exist for a reason.  Banks wont loan to the people who take out these loans, because they are a bad risk (and there is a broad consensus that the state backed banking system should be highly risk averse).  This is something endorsed by the Labour Party.  It doesn't want banks lending to people who can't pay the loans back.  So now it wants to stop those who risk their own money lending to such people, for potentially high returns.   The implication is that nobody should take out payday loans.  However, people with few alternatives do so for a range of reasons.  Of course those who do so to fund whimsical consumption (like a night out, or a holiday) are just plain stupid.  They eventually will reap the consequences of their behaviour, and learn from that.  However, some take up such loans for other purposes, such as paying for emergencies like car repairs (which in some cases means being able to get to work or not), or to replace an appliance or pay the excess on an insurance claim. Restricting such loans would harm those people, and drive some into the real loan shark industry of informal loans from gangsters willing to use violence to extract their repayment.  That's the real risk of limiting pay day loans.

However, once again, the responsible approach would be to counter-advertise.  Why don't those who oppose pay day loans produce ads that explain the consequences of borrowing for consumption?  If you care so much for those who get harmed from such loans, then reach them directly.  In fact, why not set up your own pay day loan company offering loans at far lower interest rates, to help out people.  Of course the latter wont happen because anyone doing that would be flooded with applications and it would cost a lot to work through them to find the cases that were thought to be "justified".   So most people would simply revert to the high interest pay day loan companies.

The bigger problem across all of this is the culture of irresponsibility.  This is promoted by a state, and a political culture that implies that it will "save you from yourself" and ban things that tempt you to doing the "wrong thing".  The only way to change that is to promote the opposite, and for the state to stop saving people from themselves.  

I think, on balance, that most people would be better off not taking pay day loans, or gambling or pawning goods for far less than their value.  I also know that I actually don't know any better about anyone's individual circumstances, and so I shouldn't be forcing others around, including those doing business with them legitimately, without fraud.

Moreover, if you really do want to help the poor, the first steps ought to be reducing the tax burden upon them (raising the income tax free threshold to the minimum wage, resisting increases in retail taxation) and getting rid of measures that increase the cost of living and reduce employment (e.g. green levies on energy, restrictions on shop trading hours and other measures that reduce employment, opposing further QE and supporting freer trade).  

The next step is far more pervasive, and that is to change the culture of entitlement and short term whim worshipping that has been prevalent for several decades.  That means transforming the welfare state into a system of personal catastrophe insurance, scrapping benefits that encourage irresponsibility and opening up the education system beyond those who teach the culture of statism.

It's about returning to the poor and needy a sense of esteem, of belief that they can transform their lives, and that the answer is not to expect the faceless, amoral state to give it to them, but for it to get out of the way.   

All Labour is selling the poor is a patronising nanny state, that shuts down the things they like, keeps paying them to do nothing and rewarding them for breeding more, and telling them the reason they are poor is because they are big bad businesses out there ready to exploit them, and are not hiring them or paying them enough.  It's a malignant attack on personal responsibility and aspiration that keeps people addicted to the state, and it nobody any good except the politicians whose careers are built on pandering to it.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

The economic and moral vacuum of Ed Miliband's politics

According to today’s interview in The Times, Ed Miliband probably thinks he’s had a good week. After all, he converted the leader of the Liberal Democrats to press regulation and as a result got David Cameron to surrender as well. Then it became abundantly clear from the Budget that George Osborne’s approach isn’t delivering economic growth or fiscal discipline that remotely represents what he has said. This was cue for Ed Miliband’s “We told you so” barely concealed glee on the economy, that being the now clichéd “Tories cut too far too fast”, which is the single dominant message from Labour since the election – that the solution to a budget deficit is to oppose all spending cuts. Plain politically driven Opposition, as vapid as ever. 

Today Ed Miliband spoke at the annual Labour Party conference recycling the same old message, the claim that what has been called austerity, has strangled the economy. Meanwhile, he has churned out the same so-called answers, that higher taxes on those on highest incomes and taxes on wealth, offset by a cut in tax on consumption (which would be many times greater in reduced revenue than the tax increases), will deliver the sort of boost needed. The view that borrowing more for the state to build more state housing will reduce the deficit. Labour wants more people living in homes owned by the state. If that was the answer to prosperity, then the former Soviet bloc would have thrived. If massive capital spending saved economies, Japan would be booming, as the country is awash with bridges, roads, airports and railway lines that are grossly underutilised.  Yet Labour isn't promising to do anything of that either, except of course the cross-party totem of HS2.  

It wouldn’t be so bad if there wasn’t so much at stake, but there is. 

Public debt has gone up 38% since the coalition was elected and will be double that level by 2018. The coalition is essentially doing the bare minimum to avoid spooking the bond markets, assisted considerably by the money printing, euphemistically called QE, that is in part, monetising UK public debt, at a cost of a 3% haircut in people’s savings year on year (or 9% if you count the depreciation of the pound relative to the US$). Yes, don’t be shocked by Cyprus, for QE is doing the same, by stealth to bank deposits, and no major party opposes it. 

The private sector is sitting on piles of cash as security, and because of a lack of confidence in future growth. Cash that, when eventually it is spent, will unlock inflation and the inevitable monetary policy conundrum of whether to choke off the inflationary recovery with higher interest rates. However, wilful blindness to this is not confined to Miliband. 

However, his vision is one where the state restarts the economy by spending more so people spend more on consumption, by spending more on the commercially unsustainable “Green economy”. He happily embraces a UK economy where the state sucks up 50% of GDP, and talks of “supporting” families, businesses and every other group where he thinks there are swing voters. He preaches state dependence, state welfare and state corporatism. 

Ed Miliband offers absolutely nothing to change that, dismissing demands for what “he would cut” by saying “we don’t know what things will be like in 2015”. Well Ed, we do. At best, there will be a budget deficit of £100 billion to add to the public debt by then. We know the UK now has one of the worst budget deficits in the Western world. Ed might want to evade that fact, or he might think he can tax 1% of the population to fix it, but he can’t and that wont. He claims that if you “get people back to work” that will do it, but even if ALL jobseekers’ allowance and income top ups for the unemployed were eliminated, it would only save £13 billion a year. It’s exacerbated by his war on large businesses, his attack on energy companies, which charge customers more in green levies imposed by government than they charge to make a profit and which operate the most competitive energy market in Europe. Miliband ought to know, since the current system is the one he developed as Secretary of State for Energy. However, like his demand for another tax on the banking sector, it just shows his Marxist anti-big business credentials, with no regards at all for whether the taxes and regulations he wants will benefit the general public. At a time when there are concerns over a lack of new electricity generation capacity, his bashing of energy companies would accelerate an age of shortages. 

Miliband economics don’t add up. 

The moral vacuum is the class warfare that has infected, yes infected, the Labour rhetoric. Labour’s big message is that the Conservatives are the party of the rich, governing for the rich. It is pure Marxism from past generations, as it is just absurd to think that most people who are wealthy regard the state as a way to make more money. The message is “the Conservatives say they are trying to fix the economy, but they give tax cuts to their friends and deliberately target the poor to cut the deficit”. Yet conversely, Labour has opposed every attempt to eliminate welfare for the wealthy, including capping the total welfare anyone can receive to the average wage, and capping child benefit. Surely if the Conservatives wanted to help the rich, they would universalise benefits? 

Yet the moral abyss between Ed Miliband and reality is clearest here, and it is in the masterful use of Gramscian techniques of manipulation of language and discourse. It is riddled with shameless lies, but you know them already: 

 - “Tax cut for millionaires” to describe a drop in the tax rate for those earning over £150k;
 - “Bedroom tax” to describe the cut in housing benefit for individuals, couples or families in properties with spare bedrooms;
 - “Granny tax” to describe a one-year freeze in the tax free allowance for pensioners (instead of inflation adjusting it); 
- “swingeing cuts” to describe total cuts of just over 1% in two years in real terms. 

Yet none of that is quite so egregious as the denial of the fiscal bomb created by the previous Labour government. It was acknowledged by Alastair Darling, which was why Gordon Brown tried to fire him. It could be seen in public sector wage increases faster than that in the private sector, in the spread of middle class and universal welfare benefits. Had Labour won, it would have had to cut spending and raise taxes, now it is carefully spinning the lie that if it wins in 2015, it will have to clear up a mess created by the coalition. Labour wants to claim that it wouldn’t need to cut any spending at all or it would be “nicer” about it. It also has hitched its wagon to a war on taxpayers and tax avoidance, raising the vile vision that anyone obeying the complex and byzantine tax system, is immoral.  Ed Miliband even says keeping public sector pay rises to 1% per annum is "reprehensible", presumably he thinks taxpayers working in the private sector should continue to support greater pay rises in public sector workers than they get themselves.   Public sector workers will love him, but really how can any politician justify forcing the private sector to pay for public sector workers to get ever greater pay that they themselves get?

Fortunately, a sizeable proportion of the public are not stupid. They know Labour, including Ed and Ed, governed the country for 13 years, running budget deficits for most of that period. The initial lie that deficits were due to the one-off bailouts of banks, is lost now. Labour is relying on its core tribal vote of state sector employees and beneficiaries, and hoping to capture a broader set of middle class voters disappointed at the performance of the economy. 

Yet what does it offer them? Envy and disdain for those on higher incomes and demands to tax wealth, as well as income. A war on those minimising their tax bills legally, rather than a war on complex tax rules that benefit tax lawyers more than anyone. More regulation of energy companies, rather than efforts to boost supply. More council houses, and no efforts to ease up the socialist style planning system that places property rights at the mercy of the “people’s committees” in local authorities. 

Ed Miliband likes to think he has shaken off the “Red Ed” moniker, but his unwillingness to admit the last government overspent, his unwillingness to propose spending cuts, and his continue class warfare like attacks on “the rich” (a class he belongs to) and big business, are tiresome and not inspiring the middle English voters he needs to win an election. His best hope is that they’ll vote UKIP so he wins by default. The emptiness of his rhetoric and vision deserves more scrutiny.   He's a Labour leader for the unions, for public sector workers and beneficiaries. He wants to use the phrase "One Nation Labour" to be a unifier, but he is a divider.  His answer to fiscal incontinence is to deny it, and want more tax from those who impose the least burden on taxpayers.  

He is in fact a "Two Nation" Marxist - promoting "them" (the rich, excluding he and his comrades of course, as rich and privileged as they are) against "us" (the proletariat).

Old Labour tribalism, and it's the kind that could (and should) cost him an election.  

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Budget 2013 - not a budget for growth

It isn't the "omnishambles" of 2012, it isn't radical, but it is a steady programme of slight reductions in spending across non-ringfenced budgets, a few tax cuts, and some tax increases.

So what matters, and what doesn't? 

The big picture is that the budget deficit is high, very high.  The myth of cuts and austerity should be obvious as spending has not dropped, and not because of a blowout of welfare benefits due to unemployment, as some on the left claim, it is simply because spending cuts have been modest, and are more than offset by real increases in spending on the NHS, overseas aid and schools.

Only an Opposition politician or hardened socialist would think that George Osborne is some great slasher of the state.  He's not, he's stemmed the growth of it, but given that there will still be a budget deficit in 2018.

There are 67 individual measures listed in the Budget.  I'll only discuss those with implications of more than £100 million a year, which means 24.  I'll rate them as being highly positive through to highly negative for economic freedom and a smaller state.

Budget 2013 - a very modest wishlist

It wont happen, but it needs to.  George Osborne needs a budget that facilitates two goals, and will help deliver a third one if he is lucky.  Sadly he is expected to do very little to support both.

Those goals should be:
- Economic growth;
- Balancing the budget.

He has been pursuing a modest programme of spending cuts and freezes (and increase reductions) and tax rises to address the latter, but wont be in balance until 2017, if the economy picks up.  Meanwhile it is stagnant, and needs to be set free with measures that don't involve modest pieces of tinkering, or throwing cash at crowding out private investment in housing.

Below is a modest wishlist, modest because it keeps a lot of taxes intact, modest because it keeps a lot of spending intact, and state activities.  However, it will reduce the size of the state, it will kick start employment and investment, and it will pave the way for a transformative reduction in the regulatory burden on the economy.

Cut taxes

Corporation tax rates have been dropping incrementally, but it is time to make them the most competitive in Europe.  Lower Corporation Tax to 10% as of 1 April.  That will send a loud and clear message that Britain is open for business, it will slash the need to pursue the ill-motivated concern towards tax avoidance.   Treasury will wring its hands over the deficit, but the growth in business activity will erode the difference in a couple of years, and the effect on employment and investment will be dramatic.

Freeze business rates for the rest of the life of this Parliament. Perpetual increases in this tax affect business and are particularly hurting the retail sector.  

Abolish the punitive 45p tax rate, accelerate the lift in the income tax free threshold to the minimum wage and inflation adjust all income tax thresholds  The Government will continue to get flack from Labour from "cutting taxes for millionaires" which is a lie, but eliminating this punitive income tax rate and taking the poorest out of income tax will also help stimulate demand and assist those hurt by a stagnant economy.  Meanwhile, the threshold for the 40p rate should be inflation adjusted, so that all taxpayers benefit from the income tax free threshold.

Abolish the top rate of capital gains tax and increase the tax free threshold to match that of income tax.  Again, this taxes business and investment, and should be more closely aligned to a general lower tax approach across incomes.

Scrap employer national insurance and simplify the system, which is a hidden tax on employment.   It effectively adds a tax on employing people above paying their taxed salary.  Removing this will remove a considerable burden upon the cost of employment.

Abolish the planned fuel duty increase and declare that fuel duty will not rise for the rest of this Parliament, set aside 10p/l of fuel duty revenue to a new roads fund.

Abolish the beer duty escalator for this year and half beer duty for next year, declare that duties on alcohol and tobacco will not rise for the rest of this Parliament.  Beer duty in the UK is the second highest in Europe, it should be cut when the budget is balanced, and the other sin taxes simply tax people's pleasures.  

Scrap the TV licence fee.  The BBC should be funded at a capped level through till the end of this Parliament, and be required to develop proposals for self-funding by that time, including subscriptions, donations and commercial activities.  Meanwhile, the TV licence fee should be scrapped, and all pending prosecutions for non-payment to cease.

Cut Air Passenger Duty to the base £13 for all flight from all airports except Heathrow:  Air Passenger Duty should be scrapped altogether when the budget is in balance, but meanwhile cutting it to the lowest level for all airports except Heathrow will provide relief to the regions and encourage a modest transfer of demand between London airports.  It should also parallel an immediate withdrawal of the 

Cut spending

Abolish the ringfencing of health and aid.  It is ridiculous that DFID and the NHS shouldn't face the 1% reduction in spending that other departments are having to face.  The 0.7% GDP target is partly being met because of economic stagnation.  Aid should be voluntary, and the public should not be expected to fund ever increasing amounts of transfers to developing countries.  Freeze that budget for the life of this Parliament.  The NHS demands more money and the state provides it.  This is unsustainable.  It is time to freeze NHS spending in real terms for the life of this Parliament, and to look at reforms to make people more accountable for paying for their own healthcare through an insurance based model.   Meanwhile, introduce charges for home visits by GPs, except to pensioners, and for non-attendance at scheduled NHS appointments.  

Scrap new applications for child benefit.  It is time the state stopped paying people to breed, so should declare that one year from now, there will be no new child benefit provided for children born after 1 April 2014.  None. People wanting children after that point will have to rely on their own means, including whatever remaining benefits they may be on.

Reform pensioner benefits.  Abolish the exemption on prescription charges for those aged between 60 and 65 (and higher as the state pension increases), scrap winter fuel allowance for pensioners on the 40p income tax rate and for those.  Raise the age for free bus passes to 65 and for off peak travel only.

Abolish the legal obligation of local authorities to house all residents. Ceasing this legal obligation will mean local authorities will no longer be required to pay for hotels and other accommodation for people who turn up wanting housing.

Abolish income support for mortgage payments.  If people take out mortgages they should buy mortgage protection insurance, not rely on taxpayers, many of whom do not own a home, to pay for their mortgage.  No new applications for mortgage payment support should be accepted, and existing ones should have a one year transition period.

Scrap HS2 and subject all state spending on rail capital projects to financial sustainability tests.  Road users pay a fortune in net taxes, but rail users continue to get the majority of the costs of their preferred mode paid for by taxpayers.  There should be no more new capital support by the state in rail projects that wont pay for themselves, and Network Rail should increasingly be expected to borrow and fund rail capital projects from track access charges on train companies.

Announce the scrapping of the Departments for Culture, Media and Sport, and Business, Innovation and Skills as their functions will be wound down, abolished and residual ones transferred over the life of this Parliament to a single Department of Transitional State Affairs to manage low cost matters such as weights and measures, advise on company and business law reform, reform of competition and consumer law, liberalisation of media law, censorship, gambling and the arts.  

Revise the Barnett formula, by funding the devolved governments on an identical per head of population basis.

Increase spending as a transition

Ringfence revenue from vehicle excise duty and 10p/l of fuel duty for roads into a fund that can receive funding bids from local authorities, the Highways Agency and the Welsh, Scottish and NI governments.  This will be a net increase in spending on roads, which will match reforms to commercialise and privatise roads. This will be a transitional funding arrangement until privatised road companies charge motorists directly in what ever way they wish.

Privatise and restructure the state sector

Sell Channel 4 and the Royal Mail getting the state out of these two competitive sector and raising funds to retire public debt.

Announce a fundamental restructuring of energy policy on market grounds scrapping surcharges for green energy, subsidies for "sustainable electricity" and introducing a property rights framework for energy resource exploration including fracking.  

Repeal the Climate Change Act, as it is utterly absurd to have a law binding the state to a policy. 

Transform the Highways Agency into several regional companies and privatise, initially being funded from motoring taxes, but having the powers to introduce tolls with direct refunds of the fuel duty dedicated to road spending.

I'll be surprised if there is much more than a hint of any of these of course.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

UK press regulation is a matter of freedom

so says City AM editor Allister Heath in today's editorial, commenting on the press regulatory deal between two three parties that pay lip-service to freedom.  It is an editorial that points out very clearly what is wrong and the more fundamental philosophical point.

He's right.  It is worth reading his entire editorial, as he points out that the abuses by the press were illegal, the real issue was enforcement and corruption of the Police who colluded with the press on these actions (and the proposed law does not touch the Police, funnily enough).  

When you consider the reality and truth evasion that is part and parcel of contemporary politics, and the hyperbolic partisanship expressed by the Labour Party on this issue, it ought to send shivers down the spines of anyone who claims to be liberal minded. He says consensus in politics is a disaster, primarily because it means something has been surrendered.   He says:

few people would support cartels in business, so why are cartels of politicians so often welcomed? Ideological and political competition is just as important as commercial competition

Indeed, moreso.  I am far more threatened by a political monopoly, than having only one company selling a product that I am not forced to buy.

Heath says that it is "the thickish end of an enormous wedge, the first time since 1695 that newspapers will be subject to statutory regulation", noting that it is unclear whether the provisions are compatible with Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, protecting freedom of speech

UKIP members and supporters, and indeed freedom loving Conservative might be given pause to consider their usual antipathy towards this piece of international law, that was born not from Brussels, but the Helsinki Accords, which opened the first crack onto the totalitarianism of the Soviet bloc in 1975.

Heath points out that the first amendment to the US Constitution would ensure that such a law would never occur, because it would be blatantly unconstitutional.  Constitutional monarchists and other defenders of the "unwritten" British "constitution" would be wise to consider this as well.

The Labour Party has chosen to make this an almost class oriented, even mildly xenophobic war on Rupert Murdoch, presumably for spurning Gordon Brown in 2000.   It pointedly focuses on his newspapers, ignoring those of other proprietors equally guilty of breaking the law and engaging in unethical behaviour.  To be so blatantly partisan about one set of newspapers should have meant it was shut out of any discussions on this matter.  You can't negotiate with a political party which is driven by political vengeance.  It is in itself a threat to freedom of speech, and its record in government is not glowing on this issue.  You can be sure that if the Sun and the Times had warmly embraced Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, a very different stance would be taken by Labour.

It has, of course, been working hand in foot with the Hacked Off campaign, a clever campaign, led by the charismatic and generally well loved Hugh Grant, with a leftwing agenda based on attacking the press for pursuing profit and commercialism, among other things (as if the contributors to that campaign work for free).     It has seconded victims of press criminality to harness their anger (few would sympathise with wealthy celebrities who get caught breaking the law) and garner public sympathy. 

The Liberal Democrats have a strong proud tradition (as the Liberal Party) of being scrupulous on these issues, but have been star struck by the Hacked Off campaign, and has continued to sell out principles it once would hold high.  It ought to drop the "Liberal" moniker once and for all, and replace it with "social" or some other insipid homely to distinguish itself as the socialist party that isn't aligned with the union movement.

Most disgusting though is how the Prime Minister has surrendered principle for political peace.  Not only did he let Hacked Off participate in discussions between the three main parties about press regulation (with the press excluded), he decided he's rather silence the braying mob and his political opponents by, in substance if not in form, agreeing with them.

Conservative MPs who hold freedom dear should cross the floor in disgust, indeed I cannot understand why such MPs who, if it were Gordon Brown proposing such legislation, would fight tooth and nail to oppose it, will tolerate David Cameron leading them anymore.  What freedom supporter in good conscience can now back a Conservative MP who will support this legislation, when the Socialist Democrats and Labour are all one and the same?  Even Dr Sarah Wollaston MP who stood up for free speech in the House of Commons yesterday is a vibrant advocate of minimum priced alcohol.  Most of those who speak of freedom always have a "but not here" in their pet area of control.  

UKIP, of course, has a golden opportunity to lead on this issue by principle.

Heath hits it on the nose with the core issue - freedom.  The public simply don't care.

 "part of the problem is that we have fallen out of love with freedom.  The public supports snooping, paternalism, curtailing civil liberties and endless regulation.  Many have no problem with the state dictating how much people can be paid and telling people what they can eat or drink, and what they can do with their property.  We may recoil in horror at the proposed state looting of bank accounts in Cyprus - but most Brits support wealth taxes.  Freedom , ultimately is indivisible; the only reason why regulation of the media didn't happen any sooner was because newspapers were too influential.  Now that their power is waning, they are fair game, like everything and everybody else"

and it is that, ladies and gentlemen, that is the problem.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and maybe even Ed Miliband, will do more than pay lip-service to freedom when people demand it.  For they are all and the same pragmatists whose key objective is to win and retain power.  

You have to let them all know that your freedoms are not fair game anymore.  Most of the newspapers are going to fight this, it is time you got behind those MPs who will fight it too.  This isn't a left-right issue.   

Index on Censorship has come out against it, you should too.   Cameron, Clegg and Miliband deserve your anger.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Cameron concedes to the left's war on private media

Let's be clear.  Some journalists broke the law.  

The McCann's sued for libel and won a six-figure sum, because of what the Daily Star and Express printed (although Portuguese press were far less generous).  Phone hacking of Milly Dowler's phone was utterly vile, particularly because Police knew about it and did nothing, yet her were allegedly offered a seven figure settlement.  Those acts, trespass and theft are all illegal.  There are means to address this.  Where the press broke the law, the issue is not a lack of law, but the unwillingness of the Police to enforce it.

So the Leveson inquiry was undertaken, and a lobby group was built up around demanding press regulation.  Its leading front man was Hugh Grant, whose main complaint against the press was he was caught receiving oral sex from a prostitute.  However, that campaign, "Hacked Off" soon turned into a parody of itself.  There was a strong undercurrent of specific prejudice against Rupert Murdoch and by inference his newspapers (The Sun and The Times).   Leftwing politicians jumped on board, with the Labour Party playing the same game.  It became war against one newspaper group, not the dominant media outlet in the UK by any means of course - that's the state broadcaster that criminalises anyone who doesn't pay for it - the BBC.

After Lord Leveson produced his report, which notably gave scant attention to online media, including blogs and social media (which was partially a blessing, but spoke volumes about his ability to really take a strategic view of where media regulation fits into a world where anyone can be the media, with very little effort), the Prime Minister's first reaction was to support a new industry established regulator, but not one established by statute.

Then came out the wolves.  Nothing focused Labour politicians, and to a lesser extent Liberal Democrats, so much as to paint the whole issue as a simple one of bashing the Murdoch press.  It went like this.

- Newspapers are bad, some journalists did bad things, you can't trust them, they can't control themselves (unlike the beloved state owned BBC you're all made to pay for, which you all love, of course).

- Newspapers are owned by people who only want to make money and don't care what happens to the people they hurt.  Especially Rupert Murdoch.  He's bad (not because he doesn't support us anymore, no, never).

- There are so many victims we have to stand up for.  Blank out their own successful lawsuits.  Blank out the Police connivance with these practices, because people like the Police.

- The Conservatives are in bed with the Murdoch press, probably so they can hurt the poor, enrich themselves and their friends, ruin the economy and win elections.

-  There needs to be a new law to control the press, to stop it printing bad things and doing bad things (that are already illegal).

-  A new law can guarantee newspapers can print what they like, except what the regulator will say is wrong.  That wont reduce what newspapers will print.  It guarantees what we call "free speech".

David Cameron, to his credit, fought this.  He supported the press coming together and creating a new independent industry-managed supervisory entity, that was not a creature of statute.  Meanwhile, Hugh Grant and his friends wouldn't let go, hand in hand with Labour, implying the government was just an arm of Rupert Murdoch's empire.

Finally, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour entered "all party" talks to reach a compromise, after Hacked Off had already been outed for having threatened senior Labour MPs with a press release that would excoriate them for being gutless.

However, Hugh Grant need not have bothered, the spinelessness resides in Number 10.  For David Cameron has caved in to accept "a little legislation", and while the parties were negotiating, the Hacked Out lobbyists were in the room with them.  No think tanks, lobbyists or other interests were allowed.  Apparently the transparency Hacked Off advocates doesn't apply to its own backroom deals with politicians, that affect not only an entire industry, but laws that bind us all.

What is the UK to get?

- A new law to underpin "Royal Charters";

- A Royal Charter to create a "recognition body" to oversee a press regulator;

- The Royal Charter will require two-thirds of MPs and peers to amend it (and presumably repeal it);

- The law to implement this will be a small amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, one that is already being used to set up a "green investment boondoggle bank" (so not drafted in haste is it now?);

- Newspapers that don't join up, will be liable for exemplary damages if a claim is upheld against them, as the Crime and Courts Bill is amended to do this (along with setting up a national crime agency);

- Newspapers could be fined up to £1 million and directed to publish apologies, on the front page if necessary;

- Newspapers could be directed to "leave people alone", whatever that means.  Is it different from court orders against harassment?

- Alleged victims will have a complaints system they can pursue without going to court.   There will be no costs at all, to complain, regardless of whether one wins or lose.  Consider how many politicians, celebrities and nutcases will now abuse it.

- The Royal Charter states it covers "websites that provide news-related material, published in the United Kingdom", whatever that means.  Presumably I'm doing that right now, maybe if I published it on my New Zealand blog it wouldn't count.

So a new system has been proposed, by all three main political parties.  No discussion paper, no single piece of legislation, but a patchwork of bills currently going through Parliament getting amended to push this through quickly.

It theoretically means someone can complain, today, about your blog, twitter account or whatever, and you'll pay the costs to respond to it, and they will pay nothing.

Consider that existing law, made it nigh on impossible for the press to seriously investigate and publish allegations about deceased BBC superstar and serial sex offender Jimmy Savile.

What should happen?

The braying crowd should be ignored.  

Freedom of speech does not require a law.   It could do with a written constitution to strike out law, but it doesn't need a statute.  Indeed it is defined by not having a law.   There aren't laws to enable me to live my life the way I wish.  Freedom is like that.  It only needs laws to stop people.

The press may wish to set up a new supervisory body that newspapers can choose to sign up to, that can be the gold standard for press ethics.  However, nobody should be forced to do that.

Media is changing, fast.  The UK has some of the world's toughest laws on defamation, and as newspaper circulation numbers continue to drop, amateur journalism continues to grow, as individuals write what they wish.   

Despite the rhetoric of some on the far left, the Murdoch press is not dominant.  The Sun sells well, but no newspaper in the UK has anything remotely like the penetration of the BBC.  2 million read the Sun, but 9.3 million watch the BBC News channel in the UK and 5.46 million watch a single BBC late news broadcast.

However, this was never about dominance. 

It was always ostensibly about "justice for the victims", but many of them have successfully won lawsuits or substantial settlements.  

What it really has been about is settling scores.  For certain celebrities to exercise power their money hasn't been able to buy (or rather it has through lobbying) and for politicians to exercise power and point score.

So we'll see, we'll see what happens when the first blog is subject to a complaint, when two-thirds of politicians amend the Royal Charter to "professionalise" journalism, of all kinds.

For me, I'll await to see if UKIP has the courage to say no to any of this, not that it will make any difference.  The Conservative Party has surrendered press freedom to avoid taking flak from Hugh Grant and Ed Miliband.

May as well be governed by Labour.

Sunday, 17 March 2013


Yes I will be blogging about the UK from here.  

Life, liberty and economics as if freedom mattered, and reason.

With a touch of objectivism, as a moral grounding for capitalism and freedom.

My core objective is less government, a smaller state and the implementation of the non-initiation of force principle.

That means respecting the rights of all adults to live their lives the way they see fit, as long as they respect the sovereignty of others to do the same with their bodies, property and their lives.  Children's rights to do the same are held in trust by parents or guardians.

It means believing that the role of the state is to protect and secure those rights from those who would initiate force, and fraud (force through breach of contract).  

No major political party comes close to respecting this, let's hold them to account and assert the right to own our lives.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Eastleigh by-election? UKIP or the Conservatives?

The Eastleigh by-election presents an interesting conundrum for those wanting a smaller state.  Labour is out of the running, and is even more appalling thanks to the vile Mike O'Farrell, who was disappointed that Margaret Thatcher hadn't been murdered and that Argentina's fascist military dictatorship hadn't won the Falklands War.  It puts him beneath the likes of Frankie Boyle, who specialises in comedy of extreme bad taste, because Boyle is joking, O'Farrell wasn't.  Fortunately, he will be a footnote, but if he is what Labour now considers a quality prime candidate, then David Cameron may not need to be so worried.  He has had less media scrutiny because he has no real chance here.

The race was meant to be between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, which on the face of it should be obvious.  Besides a handful of notable souls, the Liberal Democrats are liberal in name only, and are effectively a non-cloth cap brand of socialism with a heavy strand of environmentalism driving policies.  It's a party that deserves to be eviscerated at the next election, and a win in Eastleigh would delay that.  No one who believes in a smaller state can seriously contemplate for a party addicted to bashing the wealthy, addicted to wealth redistribution and committed to the environmentalist based evisceration of energy markets.  Those handful of real liberals left will only have a role when the party is eviscerated itself, for it currently offers absolutely nothing.   Oh and being a local authority politician doesn't impress in and of itself, it just means you are climbing the pole to more power when you are with a party that is about more government.

So what of the Conservatives?  Yes, a vote for Maria Hutchings is tempting to knock out the Liberal Democrats, and because she is Eurosceptic and more "true" conservative than the Prime Minister.  Yet, it will be seen as an endorsement of the current Conservative administration, which front loaded tax increases and modest levels of austerity, which still treats the NHS like George Galloway treats Islamists, which contemptuously increased the long run burden of the ponzi pension scheme, refused to reform the energy sector and has embraced totemic big state projects like HS2, whilst being utterly gutless on big private projects like a third runway at Heathrow.   In essence, the best that can be said for the current government is that it is better than Gordon Brown, but then Major was better than Kinnock - it isn't saying much.  Hutchings isn't a bad candidate, but when the main endorsement of her is that she isn't the Liberal Democrat, it isn't really enough.

If she wins, she wont in herself change much, but if she loses - to UKIP - it will.  It will show that a referendum on Europe isn't enough, and that performance over the economy is not impressing anyone.

UKIP becomes the obvious alternative.  Diane James has blundered with a stupid scaremongering attempt regarding Bulgarian migrants.  However, given she has a small chance of winning the seat, backing her has wider strategic importance in two senses.  The obvious one is to give a bloodied nose to the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives. As flawed as UKIP is as a party of small government (which is isn't consistently), it does represent a step change from the Conservatives.  It sends a message that people do not believe that the current policies are addressing the economic crisis adequately.   It will bolster Conservatives who want serious change, weeks before the Budget.

Secondly it will change UKIP.  Nigel Farage has been criticised for being too powerful in the party, and for not choosing to stand.  Diane James is probably not party leadership material, but if she won the first UKIP seat in the House of Commons, she would effectively take on part of that role.  UKIP needs to be a party of more than Farage, of more than craven populism and focus on blaming the EU for everything, and that leaving the EU will solve everything.  If she was elected, it would challenge that.

Finally, whatever the outcome, it will hurt two of the three main parties and only be good for UKIP.  Labour will look irrelevant for once.  If the Conservatives lose to the Liberal Democrats it will be taken that the party has been "too nasty", and so will be even more craven to the pragmatic unprincipled reactionary arm of the party.  If the Liberal Democrats lose to the Conservatives, Nick Clegg's leadership will be somewhat shakier.   Yet if both lose to UKIP, it will be a clear message that UKIP has established itself (and moreso than the Greens, which although with one seat, appear nearly invisible thanks to having a leader who isn't an MP).   It will force UKIP to be more open and scrutinise itself more, and will also mean it has become a party which many millions of voters may see as no longer being a wasted vote.  If it is to have the future, it needs the scrutiny of being in Parliament  - then we will see what it is made of.

So, if you must vote, vote Diane James for UKIP.  She'll work very hard to retain the seat at the general election, and she might shake up Westminster, and send a message that government needs to look to do less, tax less and regulate less.   Or she will disappoint, profoundly, and UKIP will be shown for what some think it is - a party of mere protest.  Either way, it will be good for the Conservatives to be shocked into thinking that the alternative to the status quo is NOT to be more like the Liberal Democrats.