Wednesday, 27 August 2008

No Way to Run a Government

It's not really news to report that Gordon Brown is deeply, truly, and quite incredibly unpopular. However, some think that a few policy revisions here, maybe a change of leadership there, and all will be well for the Labour movement. I'm beginning to wonder whether this is true, or whether the UK has (finally) begun to identify a systemic problem with New Labour.

A systemic issue, if one exists, would be one that manifests itself across a range of policies, and in order to be noticed it will have been apparent in a number of recent issues. So let's have a quick look back at recent arguments and issues where New Labour have not done too well.

Of course, the biggie is Northern Rock. If I recall correctly, there was a budding private sector rescuer in the form of Lloyds TSB, but Darling turned down their bid because it looked too expensive and then spent far more on rescuing the bank. Time then passed while he made up his mind as to what to do, by which point the damage to the business was done so no-one wanted it on his terms. So he had no choice but to spend even more and nationalise it.

Then there are the various suggestions that something is going to be done about Stamp Duty, in order to help the housing market. Of course, the natural and sensible reaction of those in the market to suggestions that there might soon be a relaxation of Stamp Duty is to hold on until things become clearer. So by letting it become known that things are being considered, but not saying what they are, New Labour has managed to stop the housing market stone cold ... in the name of helping it.

Car tax has be rumbling as an issue for quite some time. Announcements have been made about what the new rates will be, and they have been (on any measure) quite punitive in respect of quite ordinary cars. Now, in the light of the predictable adverse reaction, it has been leaked that there have been some second thoughts, and that something might be done about it. But, of course, in the meantime people have to get on with their lives. Decisions have to be made about whether to sell, buy, service and repair cars. All these decisions are contingent on the car's value; that (in turn) is dependent on the future rates of tax ... which are uncertain.

Some time ago, new rules for self-invested pension schemes (SIPS) were announced; investors would be able to add any asset they wished, such as a second home. This of course meant that you could buy a second home by the seaside for your pension plan, and only have to pay out 60% of its value, although when you used the home your pension plan would have to charge you a going rate for the use of the property. Many people made plans to use this opportunity; many reached an advanced stage of conveyancing including (I understand) the payment of deposits. Then, it was announced that too many people were planning to take advantage of this provision, so it would not be introduced as planned after all. Whatever you may think of the policy itself, this is no way to treat people.

Finally, we are now discussing a windfall tax. Apparently, it is just Labour backbenchers. Notably, they are not being told to shut up, and nothing is being denied. So, the energy companies who are the likely target must realise which way the wind is blowing, and if they have any sense they are putting money aside. The result of this is that money is being taken out of circulation; it is being neither returned to shareholders nor invested in the energy business. That is a loss to us all, caused directly by Brown's government.

So what is the common thread? In each case, it is the machinery of Government. No official decision is reached quickly or efficiently; there is always a long period of dither while the argument is allowed to run in public until a consensus is reached. Inevitably, it never is; such is the nature of political debate. Then, official decisions are only final decisions if the polls and the focus groups support them, so nothing can be (safely) relied on. No-one in government has the courage of their convictions; either they lack courage, or they lack any real political convictions.

This is where a decade of spin has led us to. A government that has no real set of core values; no ambition beyond power itself. Blair (at least) wanted to be Prime Minister in order to achieve his aims; Brown just wanted to be Prime Minister.

I can't help but remember an old criticism: "In office, but not in power".

A Quick Thought

Taylor Woodrow's profits have fallen, I hear, by 96%. Do those Labour MPs calling for a windfall tax on the energy companies also think that Taylor Woodrow (and others) should receive a corresponding bonus from the taxman?

Or is private enterprise under a Labour Government a case of "heads we win, tails you lose"?

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Funny? Maybe not...

Some time ago, someone posted up a petition on the No. 10 petitions site asking for Jeremy Clarkson to be made Prime Minister. It was obviously a joke, but 49,448 people supported it - which is probably more than would vote for Gordon these days. The petition has now closed.

Now, Number 10 is meant to respond to every petition. In this case, the response has been a little different. Instead of the usual cant - "we've considered this carefully but have decided that we know better", we have been given a video response. A camera shows the view on entering No. 10, scanning past the portraits of past PMs, then rests on a portrait of Clarkson before concluding "Maybe not...".

This is obviously a witty response to a joke petition. Or is it? The Tories have criticised the waste of money involved, which is a bit kneejerk, frankly, and somewhat weak as we can all see that the video must have taken all of 5 minutes to knock up, at best. Others have pointed to the video to prove that there is a real sense of humour in Downing Street. I think there is something more signficant going on. Let's assume that No. 10 decided to make a proper, serious response to the petition. What would it have said? How about:

Jeremy Clarkson can't possibly be Prime Minister because he has not been elected by the people in a General Election

Err, no, there's a small problem there, I think. Ok, how about:

You can't just huddle a few select people in a room to decide who should be PM.

Ooops, hang on, still a problem... Let's try:
Deciding the Prime Minister is not up to us, it's up to the people

Do you get my drift here?

So, instead, they made a (superficially) jokey video that avoided the issue. And it has been swallowed whole. But no; they don't have a sense of humour - they have a guilty conscience.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

The Joy of Summer

I've just got back from my summer hols.

Please, someone, explain to me why it helps to go on holiday when I now have to sit in an office trying to draft patent applications when this image is still fresh on my mind:

Or, when I can still remember the quiet time on the beach before the firework display:

Ah well .... back to work!

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Many people have commented on the planned fixed penalty of £110 for overfilling your bin. Most have pointed out the disparity with the £80 fixed penalty for shoplifting. This is indeed shocking, but is unlikely to be a major issue in practice given that the typical recipients of the £110 fine are unlikely also to be shoplifters.

To my mind, the really dangerous disparity is between the £110 fixed penalty and the fixed penalty fine for fly tipping which, according to this, is only £75.

Am I the only one who sees an obvious problem here...?