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Saturday, May 27, 2017

More questions about the Tory and Labour manifestos

I have already commented on the failure of both Labour and the Tories to even pretend to make the sums in their manifestos add up, but the last word as ever must go to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies.

As the Evening Standard points out, the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies hsve said that the Labour leader should abandon the “pretence” that only the rich would be hit when it came to fund his plans for more public spending:

In a damning report, it said there were “factual mistakes” in shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s budget plans and a reliance on tax revenues that were simply too optimistic, leaving a £9 billion shortfall even if a Labour government stuck to its budget.

The IFS also found problems in Theresa May's plans, saying her flagship promise to slash immigration would “cause considerable economic damage” and cost the Government £6 billion a year in lost revenues.

Benefits cuts for working people in the coming five years would be tougher than the cuts by the post-2010 Coalition, while austerity threatened “unacknowledged risks” to the quality of public services, it claimed.

In a searing conclusion, IFS deputy director Carl Emmerson said: “The shame of the two big parties’ manifestos is that neither sets out an honest set of choices. Neither addresses the long-term challenges we face.

“For Labour we can have pretty much everything — free [higher education], free childcare, more spending on pay, health, infrastructure. And the pretence is that can all be funded by faceless corporations and ‘the rich’.”

He went on: “The Conservatives simply offer the cuts already promised... with that offer come unacknowledged risks to the quality of public services, and tough choices over spending.”

Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell faced the most uncomfortable questions following the IFS study because it claimed to have found blunders in their sums.

It said tax measures that Mr McDonnell insists would hit only the “rich” earning £80,000 or more
would fail to raise the £49 billion promised for spending. The measures would instead raise only £40 billion in the short run — and less as time went by and companies invested elsewhere to avoid higher corporation tax, the IFS said.

“Their proposed plan for paying for this expansion in state activity would not work,” it said. “They would not raise as much money as they claim even in the short run, let alone the long run. And there is no way that tens of billions of pounds of tax rises would affect only a small group at the very top as their rhetoric suggests.

"The reality of Labour’s sums, said the IFS, would be “higher taxation affecting broad segments of the population”.

He continues: Tory tax plans would make 24 million basic rate payers some £33 better off a year but also see four million higher rate taxpayers gain £208 a head. But Conservative cuts to working age benefits would grab £11 billion from families and be harsher than cuts under the Coalition. They would make the lowest paid workers “significantly” less well off. 

In the longer term, Mr Corbyn’s promise to keep the retirement age at 66 despite longer lifespans would create a £50 billion black hole by 2050.

Mrs May’s abolition of the “triple lock” on pensioner incomes would save nothing in the next parliament. And Mr Emmerson dismissed her decision to means test winter fuel payments as making “a wholly trivial difference to spending”.

On immigration, the IFS said Mrs May’s plans would have harmful side-effects, while her target of cutting levels to the “tens of thousands” would “damage the economy and the tax base”. “Their continued focus on reducing immigration would, if effective, cause considerable economic damage as well as creating an additional problem for the public finances,” said Mr Emmerson. 

Some £6 billion of revenues would be lost, while choking the supply of keen young overseas workers would hamper efforts to tackle the national crisis in care provision for the elderly. “Denying entry to young, working immigrants would make that challenge all the harder to meet,” said Mr Emerson.

It seems that whoever wins on 8th June, the country is well and truly screwed.

Friday, May 26, 2017

UKIP at war during car crash manifesto launch


The photograph above is just one extract of possibly the most bizarre, xenophobic, authoritarian, patronising, illiberal and downright ridiculous manifesto so far.

Not only do UKIP wish to dictate what flags can and cannot be flown on public buildings but they even want to prevent teachers using yellow adhesive stars to reward kids because they look too much like the EU flag.

As if UKIP leader, Paul Nuttall did not have enough problems there is huge unrest within his party both about their plunging poll ratings and his performance as leader. As the Independent relates, rather predictably for UKIP, much of this unrest is expressed in ridiculous stereotypes:

Ukip activists have ridiculed their beleaguered leader Paul Nuttall, one saying he gives the impression he has “a whippet beside him”.

A second accused Mr Nuttall of overseeing a “car crash” when he stood as a by-election candidate earlier this year and called for him to quit after the election.

“He just comes across like an idiot,” said Maureen Vines, a former Ukip treasurer in Yorkshire. “We often wonder, if he came up here, whether he would wear a white cap, a white scarf and have a whippet beside him.”

And Allen Cowles, who is the Ukip candidate in Rotherham on June 8, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that Mr Nuttall should fall on his sword after the expected election defeat.

“Ukip will have to make a further change in my view,” Mr Cowles said. “I think we will have to have another leadership election.

“I think it’s very difficult to believe that someone can have the kind of car crash that happened in Stoke and then be expected to carry on.

This is a party that no longer has a role to play in UK politics. Its hankering for the glory days of empire and splendid isolation, its quasi-racist obsession with immigration and its irrational hatred of all things Europe has no place in the Twenty first century.

If they are now going to start fighting with each other then that is fine. They deserve each other. Can they not leave us out of it.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Why economic competence is the loser in this election

Ever since I have been involved in national politics, the Liberal Democrats and most of the other mainstream parties have endeavoured to produce a costed manifesto so that, if they win they are able to deliver on the promises they made during the campaign.

There have been times when this has been a hit-and-miss exercise, with the Liberal Democrats' tuition fees pledge being one of the more recent examples, but at the end of the day government is about making choices and I suspect that the party's Ministers could have insisted on freezing fees at least if they had felt strongly enough about it.

Of course broken promises are not always related to finance. After all Labour broke two manifesto promises when they introduced tuition fees and then trebled them despite the fact that they had a majority, something the Liberal Democrats did not have.

This General Election campaign appears to have changed that pattern. Not only have Labour produced a document which fails to cost key elements such as their renationalisation programme, but some of their other costings are tendentious at best.

The Tories have gone one better, they have failed to provide proper costings at all. And where they have provided costings they are disputed. It is almost as if they didn't care, as if they think they are going to be re-elected irrespective of what they promise.

The latest controversy is over the Tory pledge to provide free breakfasts for primary school pupils, a policy they resisted for years in Wales. According to the Guardian, Conservative promises to plug the hole in school budgets could be ruined by this pledge, after researchers found the policy would cost far more than the party claimed:

Figures compiled by the Education Datalab thinktank showed that even if only one in five of England’s 3.6 million primary school pupils ate just 25p worth of food, the costs for the daily breakfast clubs would cost £100m a year more than the Conservatives’ estimate.

“We think they are under-costing free breakfasts in primary schools by something like a five-fold factor. They say its going to cost £60m but we think it’s going to cost something over £200m to £400m,” said Rebecca Allen, the director of Education Datalab.

The free breakfast offer in the Conservative manifesto was to replace giving free lunches to all state school pupils up until the age of seven, with the savings used to plug the looming black hole in England’s school finances.

The analysis found the costs would far exceed the Conservatives’ estimate of £60m a year, with a 20% takeup costing more than £170m once staffing costs for the breakfast clubs – held an hour before the start of the formal school day – were taken into account.

“If breakfast clubs in schools act as a proper childcare substitute, we would presume that in the long run parents would switch from their existing provision of childminders and commercial providers into free breakfast clubs – and therefore we think takeup would be substantially in excess of 20%,” Allen said.

The researchers also found that if the offer proved more popular it could potentially wipe out savings from scrapping the free lunches.

Having abandoned the UK economy by condemning it to a hard Brexit, it seems that both Labour and the Tories have given up on economic competence as well.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Are leaks from the USA undermining our intelligence services?

There was an interesting article on Buzzfeed yesterday, which reported that UK and European intelligence officials are expressing concern over the fact that much of the information that emerged in the wake of the Manchester bombing has been sourced back to US officials.

They say that the information first came in the hours after the attack, including a US official saying that the leading theory was that the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber, and culminated in a report by CBS News and the Associated Press that cited US officials claiming to identify the suspect who is believed to have blown himself up during an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena, killing at least 22 people.

In contrast Manchester police would only later confirm the name of the suspect, 22-year-old Salman Abedi, to the press, and the arrest of another 23-year-old suspected in connection to the attack:

One Belgian counterterrorism official who spoke with BuzzFeed News between a series of meetings about the Manchester attack confirmed the discomfort felt in European intelligence circles.

"It happens sometimes when a larger partner like America assists on an investigation like this one," said the official, who asked not to be identified because he lacks permission to speak with the press. "You know you are trading the additional resources they bring for a chance of increased leaks. In this case, I suspect the Brits are livid — I know we would be — to have a suspect ID'd before they're ready, and obviously the recent performance of the Trump administration on leaking sensitive information can't be far from anyone's mind if they examine [the situation]."

Even US officials were frustrated by the leak. Some called the US decision to release information about an ally’s investigation before even that nation had released it “unprofessional.” Others said that if it were the US investigating an attack, they could expect the UK to not release information about the case.

“The least we can do is give them that same respect,” one US official told BuzzFeed News.

Although it is unlikely the incident will hurt the sharing and coordination of information between the closely linked UK and US intelligence services, one US-based expert questioned why US officials would leak in the first place.

“Why get in the way of what they are trying to do?” asked Thomas Joscelyn, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Follow their lead unless there is some good reason not to. The UK made a conscious decision to not release the suspect’s name. They have a good reason for doing that and US officials should probably wait for the UK to come out with specific details.”

Given the propensity of the President of the United States to give out classified material to representatives of other countries, just to prove that he is in charge, this sort of behaviour by United States authorities could add to a feeling of mistrust by European Countries towards the USA and undermine the work of our intelligence services.

If that happens then it will undermine efforts by everybody to fight terrorism.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Some thoughts on the Manchester bombing

There are no words. The concert audience contained children and young teenagers and yet that did not stop it becoming a target. This was a murder of innocents. There can be no justification for such a monstrous crime.

I am shocked, saddened and outraged by this bombing attack. My thoughts and my deepest condolences are with the victims, their families, their friends and their communities. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the emergency services who responded to this tragedy so magnificently.

Those behind this attack do not advance their cause through these actions, rather they demean and undermine it. Their actions make us stronger, their choice of violence over words make us more determined to defeat them.

This bombing is a direct attack on the freedoms and the democracy that we take for granted. It should make us cherish and value our way of life even more. Our resilience in the face of this evil will be what enables us to ultimately defeat it.

Those who are responsible for this deed do not belong in our society, nor to any community or any part of it. Their self-identification with any religion or faction should not be indulged. They are isolated individuals who must be brought to justice.

People of every faith and belief have come together to offer comfort and help to the victims. Our diversity, our openness, our tolerance and our resolve are what makes us unique.  It is our strength. Together we are stronger.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Are Tory social care plans threatening our homes?

Tim Farron, this morning, has highlighted the impact of Tory plans to shake-up funding for social care, which he says could see nine out of 10 English homes eligible to be put on the market to cover treatment costs.

As the Independent says, The Tory manifesto commits the party to get people to pay for their own care if they have combined savings and property valued at more than £100,000. If they wish to keep their home, payment can be deferred until after they die when it will be deducted from their estate.

Lib Dem research shows that, overall, 90% of homes in England would be liable to be sold under such conditions, and in the poorest 10% of local authority areas it would be 50%.

The party said that only one of the 356 dwellings sold in Prime Minister Theresa May's local authority area this year would be exempt from such an initiative.

This issue has already started to have an impact on the Tory poll ratings. Whether that will be enough to stop Theresa May getting an majority though, is debatable. It may though be decisive in some seats and of course when the Tories do try to implement the policy they will find some stiff resistance as a result both from their own MPs and in the House of Lords.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Tory manifesto fiasco highlights dangers of no opposition

When Theresa May called this election she no doubt envisaged that her party would walk back into power with a massive majority, freed from all those pesky small-l liberal commitments hung over from the coalition and David Cameron's re-election in 2015. She would have been confident in that belief because of the weak opposition she faces both in Parliament and in the country.

It may well be that she is proved right but if she is then that victory will underline the fragility of our democracy and how much it depends on effective scrutiny and opposition.

Governments have had big majorities before of course but never in these circumstances. Labour in the House of Commons has shown that it can barely tie its own shoelaces, never mind put the Prime Minister under pressure on key policies. The other parties have been either too weak, or too obsessed with their own agenda to make a difference.

And now the UK faces an existential crisis as we look set to leave the EU and the single market on the worst possible terms, under a Prime Minister determined to turn Brexit into a test of strength of her own leadership, irrespective of the best interests of the country.

And it is not just Brexit. This week has seen a Tory Party wobble as their manifesto was published. That document demonstrated better than anything I can write here how little regard they have for the weakest and poorest in our society, and their arrogance at thinking they can get away with anything because of Labour's ineffectiveness.

Labour are making the right noises but they have capitulated on the key issues of the day  Brexit and freedom of movement. They have already signalled that they will let Theresa May get her own way on these issues, plunging the country into a potential economic crisis.

Only the Liberal Democrats are arguing against leaving the single market, in favour of free trade and freedom of movement and in favour of giving people the final say on whatever deal is struck with the EU, whilst also wanting to invest in our health service and in education.

We cannot allow the Tories to eviscerate our democracy, our economy and our future. We need an opposition who will stand up to them and hold them to account for the unholy mess they are threatening in that manifesto. Only the Liberal Democrats can do that, if we get enough MPs elected on 8th June.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

More racist nonsense from a UKIP candidate

It has been quiet recently as far as UKIP goes. All we have had to chew on is leader, Paul Nuttall taking time out from his world-saving antics as Superman to confuse Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood with Natalie Wood or some other Natalie person.

And then, as sure as night follows day, another controversy about a UKIP candidate tweeting racist and offensive things pops up to reassure us that the party is as nasty as ever.

As the Guardian reports, Paddy Singh, who was standing in Wiltshire North for UKIP, has been suspended after posting abusive messages about Jews, Africans and other groups.

Tweets from Singh’s account accused Jews and Israelis of emulating the Nazis in their relations with Palestine and wondered whether the Holocaust was a bad thing. He also attacked Pakistanis and said that Africans were animals.

The paper says that Mr. Singh told the BBC that he has “never been racist” and “condemned anyone who is,” adding that he “did not mean to cause any offence or be racist” and was “just trying to comment on certain articles in anger.

The mind boggles.

Friday, May 19, 2017

UK needs more immigrants because of Brexit

For many people the European referendum was about immigration. They were convinced by the racist propaganda of UKIP and others that if we left the EU we will have more control over our own borders, despite the fact that half of all immigration comes from outside the EU and that the UK Government had failed to use all the tools at its disposal to control EU immigration.

The reality has always been very different though. Whole sectors of our economy depend on migrants. The higher education sector needs overseas students to be financially sustainable amongst other factors and of course, any free trade deal with Europe or any other country will require freedom of movement attached to it.

That is why the Tory's manifesto commitment to reduce net immigration to tens of thousands is both unachieveable and dishonest.

Just how dishonest that manifesto is has been exposed by a report by the thinktank, Global Future today. As the Guardian says, they argue that the British economy needs a net inward migration flow of 200,000 people a year, double the Conservative target, if it is to avoid the “catastrophic economic consequences” linked to Brexit. They attribute this to the UK’s low productivity, ageing population and shortage of labour in key areas, such as the NHS.

The net migration target recommended by Global Future is broadly in line with actual levels from 2000 onwards:

The figure, covering both EU and non-EU migration, is based on macroeconomic analysis and a bottom-up, sector-by-sector examination of existing labour shortages.

The report argues the labour market crisis is likely to become acute in the short term unless ministers give an early signal in the Brexit talks on the UK’s plans for EU residents and immigration.

The report says that even with a later retirement age, Britain faces a demographic time bomb, and needs migration of 130,000 a year to maintain the working population at its current level.

“The dependency ratio – the number of people of working age (16-64) versus those over 65 – is worsening. Between 1950 and 2015 this fell from 5.5 to 3.5. Only the recent increase in net migration has prevented it from falling even more precipitously,” it says.

“Between 2000-2050, the number of people over 65 will double, whilst the number of over-85s will quadruple. The working population would need to double in order to maintain the ratio at its current level.”

The report points out that the government’s own forecasting body, the Office of Budget Responsibility, has suggested migration is critical to reducing the fiscal impact of an ageing population. The OBR had suggested “spending on pensions, healthcare and social care means that in the absence of migration, debt as a percentage of GDP would increase from 75% in 2012 to 175% by 2057”.

The report also predicts the demand for skilled labour across social care, construction and nursing alone will require an extra 47,000 migrant workers a year, higher than the current migration of skilled, predominantly EU workers across all sectors.

In unskilled industries, such as hospitality, the industry will remain heavily dependent on migration, with the report predicting a continuing requirement for an extra 60,000 migrants a year.

Global Future points out that 22,000 of the permanent workforce in agriculture come from the EU, supplemented by 60,000 seasonal workers. In food processing, 120,000 of the 400,000-strong workforce are from the EU.

Overall, it suggests, UK industry will need at least 100,000 work-related migrants a year with the remainder likely to be students and people coming to the UK for family reasons.

It is time all the political parties took a more realistic stance on this issue instead of pandering to the UKIP agenda.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

An anecdote about Rhodri Morgan

The death of former First Minister of Wales, Rhodri Morgan yesterday was a great shock and tremendously sad. He was an intelligent, charismatic politician who took devolution by the scruff of the neck in 2000, and give it the stability it needed to bed down and become a success.

Widely respected across the political divide, Rhodri had the common touch that many politicians seek but few achieve. He was as at home in the pub talking rugby and football as he was greeting the Queen or discussing policy with other national leaders.

He had an encyclopedia-type memory and ready wit, constantly pouring out facts, jokes and anecdotes to suit any occasion. Sometimes it seemed like the whole of Wales was on first-name terms with him.

I remember the first time I met him. It was the first meeting of the Assembly in 1999. He was sitting near to me so I introduced myself and told him that his brother, Prys had been my history tutor at university. 'That's the story of my life'' he retorted, 'people only know me through my brother.'

On another occasion, he responded to a question I posed to him in Plenary with the quip that it was nice to hear from Peter Black on the black economy.

He took on the mantle of First Minister from Alun MIchael at a time when Welsh devolution was on the verge of collapse and made it his own. Every First Minister since will be measured against him and inevitably, they will be found wanting.

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