Economy

Cameron Comes to Maidenhead (But Doesn’t Bring Any Answers)


Policies not working? No new ideas? Then just repeat the old ones, but louder and with a serious expression.

I’m a bit late to this one (somehow my days having been eaten by the combined monsters of writing and Skyrim), but last Thursday saw the Dear Leader, David Cameron, leave the Westminster bubble briefly on a jaunt to Maidenhead. Actually, it was something of a week-long jaunt, which saw him go all the way up to Salford and annoy, in addition to everyone he came into direct contact with, nurses nationwide.

But in Maidenhead he met with a group of 100 business men and women, for a Q&A. Obviously, things aren’t going to plan on the economic front. He said that cutting public spending to the quick would get growth going; it hasn’t. He said that the destruction of untold numbers of public sector jobs would result in a private sector employment boom; it didn’t. He said that his government would reduce borrowing; it hasn’t.

So what to do if you’re a staunch conservative whose policies and ideology are having the exact opposite affect you (but few others) expected them to do? Blame it on ancillary factors! The biggest “commitment” to come out of Cameron’s Maidenhead photo op was a pledge to cut away the red tape. This means deregulation, the very thing which everyone has pretty much agreed caused the financial crisis in the first place.

Cameron wants to remove a whole tranche of worker protection regulations. We’ve already heard how workers will have to have been employed for two years before they can go to a tribunal if unfairly dismissed, but the Tories want to make it even easier to sack people.

They believe that it is too easy for a sacked worker to take their former-employer to court and get compensation. I don’t think this stands up to any sort of scrutiny really, and I’m not the only one, but I struggle simply with the idea that making it easy to sack people will improve the situation.

The suggestion that the reason that there are so few jobs available because cautious employers are too nervous to take on workers that they may not be able to sack is ridiculous. There are so few jobs because businesses cannot afford to take on staff. The economy is crawling along, and the banks aren’t lending to small businesses- something which the government’s Project Merlin was supposed to solve, but didn’t.

Added to that, if you make it easier to sack people, then consumer confidence will take a huge dent. If people are worrying that they could be sacked at any moment (the counter-argument seeming to be that whilst there are unscrupulous employees, there would never be unscrupulous employers; I’m sure we all believe that…) then they aren’t going to rush out and spend, they’ll save. Which would cause another contraction in economic growth. Which is exactly what we all need.

In short, Cameron came to a Q&A in Maidenhead with a lot of ideological waffle, but still nothing in the way of actual answers.

I wrote something…


Yep, just a quick note to highlight another article I’ve written for the New Political Centre. This one is about how the government’s present economic woes are largely of their own making.

Please read, and whether or not you agree let me know your thoughts and views either here or over there. The folks over there are working hard on what is frankly an awesome cross-spectrum blog, and are always looking for contributions. So if there’s something political you think you could  wax lyrical on, why not drop them an email?

Many Questions, Few Answers


The UK has many questions about employment and the state of the economy. Unfortunately, the government don't seem to have any answers.

This evening, I attended for the first time in my life a recording of BBC Radio 4 discussion programme Any Questions? For those not familiar with the programme, it is similar to it’s TV equivalent Question Time (which it predates) and even has its own Dimbleby.

Today’s offering was broadcast live from St Mary’s School, in Ascot, and featured Chris Grayling (Minister for Employment), Chuka Umanna (Shadow Secretary for Business, Innovation and Skills), Kevin Maguire (Politics Editor at the Daily Mirror) and Rita Clifton (Chairman of the world’s largest branding firm). It was fairly lively, in quite oppulant surroundings, and was a lot of fun.

This was enhanced by the fact that my question was one of those selected to be asked. It was: “Do the unemployment figures this week show that the government’s economic strategy has failed?”

The unemployment figures in question are, of course, Wednesday’s revelations that unemployment had increased by 114,000 between June and August to 2.57 million- a 17 year high. It’s particularly devastating for young people between 16 and 24, for whom unemployment is at 21.3%.

Chris Grayling, as Minister for Employment, had a particularly rough time around this issue. He tried, quite admirably, to blame it on the EU to begin with. Which makes little sense to me- people aren’t losing their jobs because the Euro is on the way down. Then, naturally, switched onto Labour.

This is becoming tiresome. The coalition have been in government for sixteen months now, and things have gone nowhere but down. The coalition is insistent that it is cutting the deficit in the national interest, but really it was only ever in the Conservative interest.

Osborne and Cameron created a fallacy that the UK was comparable to Greece and Portugal, and nearly bankrupt. Neither was true, but they talked the economy down to such an extent that the markets and the electorate both believed it. Basically, they campaigned themselves into having to cut drastically and deeply. (Though, the Lib Dems don’t have the same excuse. Make of that what you will)

When Labour left power, the economy was growing. Now it is stagnating. Chuka Umunna pointed this out, but Grayling was in no mood to listen. The fact is that the Conservatives have been pegging their political hopes on the lack of a real plan from Labour. Now Labour have announced a five-point plan for growth, and all the Tories can say is that it means borrowing.

Well, yes it does. In the short-term, a VAT cut and National Insurance holiday will require borrowing. But given that August saw record high borrowing, and still no growth to speak of, perhaps it’s just what’s needed. The analogy of the family credit card isn’t really appropriate, but to since people insist, let’s continue with it. What the coalition is doing is the equivalent of quitting your job in order to focus full-time on your debt. It’s just barmy.

So whilst Chuka actually took the time to acknowledge that these unemployment figures are people, whose lives are being torn apart, and focused on growth strategies and how to breathe life into our flat-lining economy, Chris Grayling only had partisan grenades to throw.

It’s not enough. The UK needs answers.

No Win, No fee, No Access


The cuts to legal aid, and proposed restrictions on No Win No Fee represent an assault on democracy, and a real threat to justice in the United Kingdom

I’m currently deep in the studies for my final year exams, so I had decided I wasn’t going to blog until those were done. But life is unpredictable, and occasionally something will come along that outrages me so much that I have to rant about it, just so I don’t have a coronary.

Some background first. I’m a third year law student (studying at the University of Sussex, if you really want to know). I’m also a left winger, a Labour Party member, and a keen believer in equality and justice (of the social and legal variety). And I have a keen interest in politics, hence why I was watching the Budget on Wednesday afternoon.

And it was there that I heard George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer in a government increasingly dedicated to social and economic vandalism, announce that No Win No Fee cases were to be restricted, as part of a “growth” strategy to free small businesses from, I’m guessing, frivolous cases. This is part of a larger assault on the rights of employees, but that’s not where I’m coming from with this.

I’m not an ardent supporter of No Win No Fee (otherwise known as Conditional Fee), because it does have the potential to encourage both ambulance chasing on the part of law firms, and frivolous cases by claimants. However, the background and context of Conditional Fees should be considered.

They were introduced in 1990, in the Courts and Legal Services Act, as a part of the reduction in the scope of legal aid. The idea was that instead of the state paying large sums in legal aid, lawyers could be allowed to charge no fee to their client, except upon victory. Not a particularly positive move in my view, but you can see where it was coming from.

The current proposal to restrict Conditional Fees comes in a climate of heavy cuts. The Legal Aid bill has not escaped this. Legal Aid is being removed for matters of family law, clinical negligence, education, employment, immigration, benefits, debt and housing. Which is a fairly sweeping attack on the civil law.

The cynics amongst you may notice that certain of these areas are subject to cuts and “reform” in themselves, and that the cuts to legal aid in these areas will reduce the number of challenges the government will face on those matters. Whether or not you want to think that is deliberate is up to you, but it certainly seems suspicious to me.

But the really chilling aspect of this is just how many people will now be unable to access the courts in search of justice. One of the key principles of a free and democratic society is that the courts should be open to all, and that justice should be for everyone. Or at least, that’s what I believe is essential in a free and democratic society. Apparently the government disagrees. Restricting Conditional Fees is one thing, but when it excludes thousands of people from pursuing just cases simply because they don’t have the money, it becomes a disgrace and a repression of justice.

Please note, when I say “poor”, I don’t in fact mean poor. Lawyers are expensive. Very expensive. Whatever you think of that is irrelevant, because it’s how the situation stands. Only the richest can afford to pay lawyers to fight their case in the courts- anyone on middle, low or no incomes will not be able to afford it.

This will, no doubt, be lost in a squall of other arguments. The rest of the budget was far from exclusively good news, and I expect that arguing over tax cuts, cuts to inheritance tax, and economic growth will take precedence, but this is essentially important. The whole concept of the rule of law requires that unlawful behaviour and unjust acts can be challenged in the courts. These measures threaten that ability, and represent a chilling, terrifying assault on justice and democracy. This needs to be seen for what it really is.

Despicable Him


 

"I'm havin' a bad bad day/If you take it personal that's okay/Watch, this is so fun to see/Huh, despicable me"

No, this doesn’t have anything to do with the film Despicable Me, good as it was. This is about George Osborne and his Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR).

 

I know it’s over a day late, but to be honest I was so shocked and disgusted with Osborne’s announcements yesterday that I didn’t know what to say. I’d been expecting it to be bad but… I somehow failed to appreciate how awful it would be when it actually came around. Now, I could go on and on about the various people who will be horribly affected about this, but frankly you already know.

No, what I’m going to do is a lay person’s assessment of the economic madness this constitutes.

Now, the financial crisis was caused by the banks, behaving irresponsibly and taking outrageous risks. They did this because they were greedy bastards. They were able to do this because of poor regulation, which I accept was Labour’s bad. However, as Alan Johnson pointed out yesterday, Osborne himself was arguing for less regulation leading up to the crisis. So it’s fallacy to believe the Tories would have done anything different.

But it was Labour’s mistake. Their only real mistake in all of it, in my opinion. When the crisis hit, Brown and Darling responded immediately by nationalising the banks and pouring money into the economy. It worked. The recession ended, and we started the slow road to recovery.

Unfortunately, it left us with a deficit. A rather large deficit. But the decision at the time was that a deficit was better than a collapsed economy. Personally, I still agree with this. But anyway, along came the election and the Tories painted a picture of imminent financial disaster, making (false) analogies with Greece, and saying that everything needed to be cut immediately to plug the deficit as quickly as possible.

Now, the majority of people didn’t agree with this, but the Tories ended up in government and pursuing their cut-cut-cut agenda anyway (thanks to a spectacular U-turn by the Lib Dems). Which brings us to the CSR. The cuts are just as massive as we were promised, but somehow they come along with the promise that they will save the economy. To my mind, this doesn’t stand up.

The prediction is that this will result in half a million jobs being lost. Half a million. Given that the recovery has been faltering over the summer, this doesn’t seem smart. These people are going to have to be paid redundancy packages. Then a lot of them will end up on job-seekers allowance, unable to find jobs that don’t exist in the private sector. And those who are lucky enough to find jobs will be further inconvenienced by the hike in rail fares, making commuting all the more difficult.

This, it seems to me, is not going to help an already fragile economy. Especially when you look at the Republic of Ireland, who Osborne used as an example of how it should be done. They had a coalition government. They launched a similar program of massive cuts. They slipped back into a second recession. Funny how the coalition aren’t shouting about Ireland any more.

But aside from this gambling, this risk taking, this economic idiocy, there was something that disgusted me more yesterday. If you watch the footage back, Osborne is loving every minute of this announcement. Never mind that these cuts will cost at least 500,000 jobs. Never mind that they will cause misery for millions more. Never mind that they risk destroying the economy. He was enjoying it.

And so were the rest of the government benches. Why? Because these cuts are nothing to do with necessity. This is what Tories have longed to do, ever since Thatcher cut public services in the 80s. Even if there was no deficit, they would still want to cut back the state, this just gives them the opportunity. And the fact is that these measures will hit the poor hardest. The news is filled with economic analyses that show this. And meanwhile, the bankers, the tax dodgers and all of Osborne’s chums get off scott free.

That’s Tory fairness for you.

The Red Dawn


Ed Miliband, 20th Leader of the Labour Party

Okay, that sounded more revolutionarily socialist than I’d intended, but let’s run with it…

Yesterday, the result of the long, hard campaign for the new Labour leader was revealed, and Edward Samuel Miliband was elected as the new party leader. The moment itself was something of a shock, as indicated by the surprised gasp that went around the conference when it became apparent that firm favourite David Miliband had been beaten by his younger brother.

Now, those of you who follow this blog will know that Mr Miliband was not my first choice. But that doesn’t matter. One of the many positives about this leadership campaign has been the quality of all the candidates. There were none of them that I would not have been happy with at the head of the party.

But now the contest is done, and we have our new leader. The attention must turn to the rest of the conference, and to fighting the cuts that will decimate our unsteady economy. There’s still a way to go before Labour is in full opposition mode, after the Shadow Cabinet has been elected, and appointed by Ed.

What needs to happen now is a mass mobilisation of the public, against what is to come. Ed needs to work with all sectors of society, to place Labour at the forefront of the wave of public outcry which will be rising up once Coaliton cuts set in. The biggest danger he faces, and all of Labour faces, is internal division.

The last 13 years in the Labour Party were hampered by the Blair-Brown divide. What we cannot have now is that same divide manifesting through Miliband E and Miliband D camps. So far there has been no hint of that, with David’s congratulations to Ed feeling genuine and loving, if understandably a little put out.

The other danger is listening to the right-wing media. Already accusations are being made that he is a creature of the unions. It’s true, that the union vote was what put him over the top. But that doesn’t mean he’s a slave to them, or that there is something amiss about his election. Labour is the party of the people, it’s connection to the unions is long and esteemed. The union role in the leadership election reflects their contribution to the party, and ties the party to its political beneficiaries: the working people of the United Kingdom.

The Tory-skewed media is naturally going to try and bring Ed down over this. The party cannot listen to it. The only way we are going to be able to fight the Tories and the Lib Dems is if we are united. We did great things in the 13 years of Labour government, and now the average person of this country needs us to fight these disastrous cuts with everything we have. In government we could afford to have internal divisions, even if they handicapped us. In opposition, we don’t have that luxury.

So I’m adding my voice to those greater than myself, to all those in the party. We’ve gone through this election to find our new leader. We have found him. Now we need to unite behind him, and move onto the real fight. We need to present a single, strong and united front, against an already-fracturing Coalition government.

This is where we begin our fightback. This is where we make our future.