Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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If you don’t do politics, politics will do you

So said Rick Edwards on ITV’s #LeadersLive debate during his introduction to an online only Q&A programme with our political leaders targeted at the under 30s age group, which started yesterday. First up was Nigel Farage.

You can find the video below.

Today’s Autumn Statement proved the point young people need to engage with politics or the politicians will not listen to them. Politicians only listen to people who vote: it’s as simple as that.

The headline announcement was the reform of stamp duty. This is good – in the short term (more on that in a moment) – for house-buyers of today but a redundant announcement for the hundreds of thousands of young people who can’t even cobble a deposit together to get a mortgage never mind work out if they can afford the stamp duty on top. But by the time these young people – if they ever can – are able to pull the required deposit together the stamp duty reform will have helped to increase house prices as sellers will now accept bids above the old stamp duty thresholds because they will know buyers will have more money to play with because the artificial cliff-edge barrier which saw stamp duty rise by thousands of pounds (e.g. from 1% to 3 % when £250,000 was passed, as in the old system) will no longer be there.

Nearly all the announcements were aimed at middle income earners with families and older people: the two groups who vote the most. You always hear politicians talk about “hard working families” or pensioners who’ve “worked hard all their lives”. You will never hear George Osborne talk about the childless singletons who pay huge amounts of income tax and VAT but very rarely take from the public purse (they even have to pay for their bin collections – around £100 a month considering they don’t use any of the other council services).

The NHS will receive another splurge of tax (£2bn a year for the foreseeable future) but in my view this is just throwing good money after bad. The NHS is a highly inefficient organisation that is ripped off by drugs manufacturers because there is no competition to drive prices down with wasteful spending by doctors, nurses and managers from top to bottom, such as spending £80 million on paracetamol prescriptions which cost as little as 19p in supermarkets. This is allowed because there is no incentive to keep control of costs when the organisation is so sacred and revered by all political parties, even including UKIP! The taxpayer will just keep footing the bill, won’t they?

Weirdly, the general view amongst young people is the NHS is great, although I did hear a young man in his early 20s on the train a few months ago complaining to his mate about the woeful NHS care he had experienced and how he didn’t understand why people criticised an insurance based system like in the US – as the young man put it: “at least the care in the US is better and it’s not as if the NHS is “free” anyway, it’s paid out of of National Insurance.” I could not have put it better myself.

Back to our young people: what was the policy in today’s Autumn Statement aimed at those below 30? Oh yes, a personal debt. The chancellor announced Government-backed student loans of up to £10,000 are to be made available for postgraduates!

If you’re under 30, you’ve got to do politics and VOTE or politics will just keep doing you!

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The lack of political leadership is making our politics dull

Osborne doing Blair

Follower not leader: UK Chancellor George Osborne

Right, I’m going to start blogging regularly again without having to wait to write a New Year’s resolution to motivate me!

I think one of the reasons I am blogging less is because of the way all the mainstream parties have coalesced in the centre ground, which has resulted in a very dull political landscape in Britain. This has been ongoing since the early 1990s with the speed of dullness being turbo powered by Tony Blair’s Government and obsession with focus groups. It is only in the last five years the status quo is being punctured by UKIP and previously (albeit on a much lower scale) by George Galloway’s Respect party.

Melanie Phillips, the Times columnist, summed it up well on the BBC’s Question Time last night when she said the problem was a lack of leadership. So true – leadership is vitally important as it gets things done. This is the case everywhere not just in politics – look at how Tesco has fallen to its knees since Sir Terry Leahy stepped down as CEO to be replaced by the now defunct and hapless Philip Clarke. The difference between Nigel Farage, the Respect leader and Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband is the UKIP and Respect leaders have a set of principles and they are not afraid people will disagree with them, as they believe they are right and want others to follow them.

Political leadership can move countries and the world: Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan undoubtedly had it. Many would say Tony Blair had it too – but did he? Mr Blair actually achieved very little himself as he admits in his autobiography, A Journey, – ironically, it was Gordon Brown who did the most change in implementing a client state paid off in benefits and tax credits and unleashing the banks to fund his spirally welfare coffers and public sector wages bill. Those were highly destructive actions but it required thousands of civil servants to implement them, which required leadership. Tony Blair may have had the brightest smile but it was Gordon Brown who was actually running the Government between 1997 – 2007, which made it even more ironic he failed so spectacularly in the most senior position when he became prime minister.

But where is the leadership now? A photo on a popular right-wing political blog (displayed above) struck me today as encapsulating the political class who follow rather than lead. One Gideon Osborne is doing his best to look like Tony Blair – not in any sense of mockery but because of admiration – even down to the thumb on top of hand gesticulation, which Blair mastered so not to be all ‘pointy’ in his speeches, which the professionally offended would find, well, so offensive.

And why has the Submarine Chancellor surfaced today: to announce a lack of leadership. The EU have sent us a bill for £1.7bn. Two weeks ago David Cameron went to Brussels and enacted a faux anger over the bill, prodding his finger on the lectern to make his point, almost knocking it off the stage into the press pack. The anger was not real – David Cameron is from aristocratic stock: the first thing mother says to you when you are born into the aristocracy is: “Never get angry”. Emotion is treated as wrong by the upper-class, which shows you what an actor David Cameron has become. Just like a Mr T. Blair. Leadership is not acting – that’s following someone else’s script, in this case UKIP’s.

Now Mr Osborne claims to have cut the ‘surprise’ bill in half. But has he? The small print tells us differently – the EU will use Britain’s rebate to pay off the rest. So the money we get back each year (although we still plough into Brussels £6bn more than we get out each year!) is being used to pay this new bill. So the Chancellor hasn’t reduced the bill at all.

And who secured the annual rebate: one Margaret Thatcher. It takes leadership to make a real difference.


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Whilst the cat’s away…

It's a go: Boris will become a Conservative MP again in May 2015

It’s a go: Boris will become a Conservative MP again in May 2015

The Prime Minister is on holiday (in Portugal again, wearing his holiday uniform of navy shirt and brown loafers) so Boris thought it would be a good time to announce his intention to stand for Parliament at the General Election next May.

In typical Boris buffoonery style, he announced during his Europe speech at Bloomberg this morning he would be trying to get selected and elected to the Mother of all Parliaments next year. He made it out as if he might not even find a seat. In reality, Boris will be selected for a very safe seat and will be elected to Westminster with a stonking majority.

Word is, submarine Osborne is stirring below the water…


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Miller resigns

 

maria

Bye

Culture Secretary Maria Miller has finally fallen on her sword scuttled out the back door and has resigned from the Government after a week of torrid headlines for the Conservative Party and Coalition Government.

I wouldn’t be surprised if submarine Osborne gave the order for Miller to be sunk when his excellent economic news from the IMF on the UK’s growth rate was sidelined to the FT as the mainstream press were still focusing on the arrogant and expense fiddling cabinet minister.

The prime minister does not come out of this well. David Cameron backed Mrs Miller to the hilt, despite her 32-second non-apology and “I’m more important than thou” attitude which swarmed around her. The PM’s reply in the traditional resignation letter exchange continues to show up David Cameron for the toff he is when he still doesn’t realise it is her behaviour in dealing with the expenses investigation that is almost worse than the expense fiddling itself. The PM thinks this is how one must deal with such matters – perhaps in a Jane Austen novel, Dave, but it’s just not how ordinary people think and behave.


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Osborne helps savers in Budget

Chancellor George Osborne and his Treasury team outside Number 11 Downing Street before he delivered his fifth Budget today

Chancellor George Osborne and his Treasury team outside Number 11 Downing Street before he delivered his fifth Budget today

First up, I’m sorry for not blogging for over three weeks. I have recently had a big change in my life as I moved away from Ipswich, where I had lived and worked (in business and politics) for nearly thirteen years, to Chelmsford in Essex. It was sad to leave Ipswich but it was time for a change and since stepping down from active politics as a local councillor and Tory activist the opportunity was there to open a new chapter in my life.

But (unfortunately for some I am sure!) you won’t stop hearing from me in the electronic world as I will continue blogging on politics, mainly nationally and internationally until, perhaps, I feel the need to comment on the shenanigans of local politicians in the county town city of Essex.

So here goes with another post..

George Osborne has today announced his fifth budget for UK plc, with key headlines for me being the increase in the income tax threshold to £10,500 (delayed until next year) and the big one: increasing the ISA allowance (in either cash or shares) to £15,000 from July this year. This is great news for everyone (as all are entitled to earn up to £10,500 without paying income tax) and savers, who have suffered far too long since the banks and the Labour Party wrecked the economy in 2008.

It was interesting to see two MPs who I personally know – and have campaigned for – standing on the doorstep of Number 11 next to George Osborne at the customary photo op when the Chancellor of the Exchequer holds up the red box before driving off to the Commons to deliver his budget. Both Nicky Morgan (Con, Loughborough), who is Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and Rob Wilson (Con, Reading East), who is the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor, were in Downing Street with Mr Osborne for the group shot of the Chancellor’s team before he took centre stage.

We had the announcement at the front-end of the income tax system on the personal allowance but Mr Osborne also told us the higher rate tax threshold will rise from £41,450 to £41,865 next month and by a further 1% to £42,285 next year. Not a lot but it will help the 1.4 million (since 2010 alone) who are, frankly, on modest incomes (especially if they are the only breadwinner) but have been dragged into the 40% bracket. Let’s not forget the LOWERING of the 40% threshold was a deliberate Coalition Government policy since 2010 to pay for the increase in the personal income tax allowance. So all in all higher rate taxpayers are still losing out – some (in fact most) will say “so what?”, as the majority do not earn enough to pay 40%, but I remind you hundreds of thousands earn just over the threshold and their increase in salary due to a promotion is then swallowed up by HM Treasury – hardly fair.

I’m no where near about to retire and won’t be able to afford to do for many decades thanks to the out-of-control housing market and Gordon Brown’s raid on pensions back in 1997 when he removed the tax relief available to pension funds. But I am pleased George Osborne has started to recognise the huge problems being stored up for those on defined contribution pensions, which, if they have a pension at all, nearly everyone in the median working age group (i.e. my Generation) has rather than the gold-plated salary pension schemes (also known as defined benefit) my parents’ generation enjoy. I won’t begin to try and understand the detail (not yet anyway) but the Chancellor has removed tax restrictions, meaning defined contribution pension holders won’t need to buy an annuity if they do not wish to, and the taxable part of pension pot taken as cash on retirement is to be charged at normal income tax rate, down from 55%.

Straight after the budget, Sky News went to Wakefield to interview two local businessmen (and yes, they were men!). Both interviewees were positive about the chancellor’s announcement with the key word “confidence” being used. Most ordinary workers are yet to feel the benefits of the economic fixes the Conservative-led Government is putting in place to rectify the monumental mess the Labour Party, of which Ed Miliband and Ed Balls were very senior members, left the country in 2010. But I sense a warming amongst the electorate towards the Conservatives when it comes to the economy, which will be THE most important aspect of the General Election in 2015. “It’s the economy, stupid”, as Bill Clinton said.

However, David Cameron’s Conservatives have an uphill struggle if they are to actually win a general election for the first time since 1992! The constituency boundaries are skewered in Labour’s favour, thanks to the cry-baby antics of the Liberal Democrats when they weren’t given Lords Reform (something not mandatory in the Coalition Agreement although boundary changes were if Nick Clegg’s party got their referendum on the Alternative Vote system, which they did) and the general feel in the country that the Tories are still the party of the rich, which Labour leader Ed Miliband focused on again today during his budget response in the House of Commons. The surge of UKIP, to be boosted further when they may indeed win the European Elections in May, will also be a major factor on whether Mr Miliband takes the keys to 10 Downing Street or not. The yellow peril for all their puffed out chests in government (despite losing seats in the 2010 election), are an irrelevance.


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Raising the Minimum Wage is a moral duty

min wage_coins

The UK is the sixth largest economy in the world and the third largest in Europe, behind France and Germany, with predictions being made we could even overtake Germany by 2030.

So why are we still not paying our unskilled and semi-skilled workers enough to eat and heat in Britain today? The Minimum Wage – the hourly take-home pay set by law – is £6.31 for over 21s. This is immoral considering the inflation-busting cost of energy and food we have seen in this country over many years and boosted by the Labour Party-induced crash of 2008. And this does not even take into account the exorbitant rents and house prices.

It seems George Osborne – at least on the surface – thinks the same. The Chancellor has signalled he intends to raise the Minimum Wage to £7 an hour. This will still leave many living from hand to mouth and still heavily reliant on housing benefit and tax credits to make ends meet but it is a start.

I personally am in favour of the ‘Living Wage’ being enshrined in law. This would be £8.80 in London and £7.65 in the rest of the UK. 

This isn’t a Right versus Left argument (anymore). Labour’s Ed Miliband’s advocates a Living Wage as does Tory London Mayor Boris Johnson who has said he is in favour of people being paid a decent wage for a decent day’s work:

“Paying the London Living Wage is not only morally right, but makes good business sense too.”

We don’t know how Boris (if he was ever in national power) would implement a Living Wage. We do know Ed Miliband would bribe businesses by offering a tax rebate if they sign up to his policy.

But I don’t think businesses should be bribed one penny. The Living Wage should be legislated and let the businesses suck it up. Oh, what’s that? Do I hear some sections of the Tory squirearchy, who opposed the Minimum Wage at its inception, braying it would lose jobs? No it wouldn’t. Read the first paragraph of my post again. Britain is awash with money – it’s just mainly funnelled to the top 1% or to the Exchequer in middle-class tax intake. It is disappointing to read Ipswich’s very own Ben Gummer is not even in favour of raising the Minimum Wage let alone imposing a Living Wage. I personally like Ben so I won’t try and guess why he thinks this – I am happy for him to use the Comments to let us all know.

Raising the Minimum Wage then looking at introducing a Living Wage is a win-win scenario. It means more people paying tax and less money spent subsidising wages through tax credits and rents through housing benefit. In an economy which is the third largest in the EU single market, it is frankly obscene the British Government is forced to subsidise unskilled and semi-skilled workers’ wages with tax credits. This will not end overnight but we must travel in the direction of businesses paying their workers a decent wage commensurate with the profit they make for their owners.

Coupled with the Government’s policy on welfare, soon to be capped at £26,000 and hopefully being pushed lower in the coming years, a raised Minimum Wage will help to show the thousands languishing on benefits that work pays. And it may just help with the number one concern of British people after the economy: uncontrolled immigration. With more incentive given to the indigenous workforce for taking unskilled jobs, it will make Britain less attractive to temporary foreign workers.

The politics of New Labour and Gordon Brown never wanted to deal with the problem of low pay, happy instead to pay unskilled people off with tax credits and benefits, even ghettoising them into whole neighbourhoods. But the politics of George Osborne (even if it is insincere) may help to make this country a more moral place to live.


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Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Chancellor George Osborne announced £0.5bn improvement to Great Eastern Mainline today (Picture credit: Ipswich Spy)

Chancellor George Osborne announced £0.5bn improvements to the Great Eastern Mainline today

Conservative Chancellor George Osborne was in Norwich today to announce a £550 million package to improve the Great Eastern Mainline shortening journey times between Norwich and London with a promise for services to and from Ipswich taking just 60 minutes.

Mr Osborne praised Ipswich MP Ben Gummer and fellow Tories in the region, Chloe Smith (Norwich North) and Priti Patel (Witham) for the work they have done to date lobbying transport ministers and their Railway Manifesto published in conjunction with local councils. In keeping with Coalition protocol, the Chancellor also gave a nod to Liberal Democrat Simon Wright (Norwich South). Today’s announcement looks like it is putting the flesh on the bones of the announcement made by the Government in January, which stated Network Rail (owned by the taxpayer) would be spending £1.4bn on the Great Eastern mainline infrastructure improvements between 2014 – 2019. Back in January, the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin was yet to green-light the scheme. It would seem today’s announcement in Norwich tells us half the budget has been approved.

The Chancellor, speaking today at Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “East Anglia is one of the fastest growing regions in the country and is establishing itself as a world leader in science, technology and manufacturing. To support this growth we need to have modern, efficient rail services and improved connections.

I am absolutely behind the region and that’s why I’ve set up a taskforce to see how we can build on the excellent work by Chloe Smith, Ben Gummer, Priti Patel and Simon Wright.”

Ben Gummer along with his regional parliamentary colleagues mentioned by Mr Osborne will sit on the taskforce. I am sure Mr Gummer’s focus will be on introducing “Ipswich in Sixty” (hat-tip on the phrase: Ipswich Spy), ensuring Ipswich commuters’ journey times into and out of London are reduced to 60 minutes, which will make a big difference. It is not clear from today’s announcement by Mr Osborne how that will be achieved.

The Department for Transport has also asked Abellio, parent company of the Greater Anglia franchise, to start refurbishing their rolling stock, including making them more business-friendly by introducing power sockets into carriages to charge laptops and mobile phones.

£550 million is a lot of money so some improvements are going to happen – the key is for local MPs to explain how those changes will reduce journey times.