Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Why I wont be signing Labour's contract...

Labour recently released a contract of what they will do in power immediately once they are in power, words taken directly from their statement, and my responses:

  1. Freeze gas and electricity bills until 2017 and reform the energy market

    I do like the irony of the former Energy Secretary leading with this, as if his three years in the post weren't sufficient for reform... Obviously energy bills need to come down - or at least stop increasing so rapidly.  The irresponsibleness of this though is the prospect of frozen bills for 20 months will lead to companies increasing their price just before the next elections - meaning people are worse off to begin with,  In addition a freeze on bills could easily lead to a freeze in investment which is needed. 
  2. Get 200,000 homes built a year by 2020

    Unfortunately home building is a slow process so it will be 2016/17 before we're seeing the full impact of the coalition on the number of homes being built.  If Labour do get the figure up to 200,000 that is very admirable (although they set a target of 240,000 back in 2007 and didn't get close - I will blame the credit crunch for that one though).  Last year more homes were started (122,590) than in anyn year since 2007, so this is moving in the right direction.  There is still a long way to go - if Labour get in I hope they succeed with this.
  3. Stop families that rent being ripped off and help them plan for the future with new long term predictable tenancies

    I find this a little patronising but I can see the admirable aim.  I wonder if this is the correct way to go about it.  I do like the idea of letting fees being scrapped for tenants - although I'm sure then letting agents will want to cover this loss of income so will push the cost on to the lessor who'll want to recover this with higher rent.  This is probably preferable though than to have to pay out up front for fees.

    I am in favour of longer term contracts (as long as the tenant is free to request a shorter term) as long as any rent changes are clearly highlighted in the contract.  The problem with a longer term contract is that there would usually be steeper penalties for someone wishing to break the contract (particularly the tenant), this would also be a concern.

  4. Cut income tax for hardworking people through a lower 10p starting tax rate and introduce a 50p top rate of tax as we pay off the deficit in a fair way.

    First of NO! Just NO!  Labour please go back and read that sentence, correcting it for something that can actually be done.  A deficit is not the same as debt!!!  In this country we currently are running a deficit due to spending more than is being received in taxes, this in turn increases our total level of debt.  A deficit is not something that can be paid off - it can be reduced until we reach a surplus, but we wont have paid it back just because the books become balanced!  I don't think in my lifetime we'll see the debt reduced at all - yes I expect the odd year of a surplus, but it will be a drop in the ocean compared with the level of debt (currently nearly £1.375 TRILLION) which obviously we finance resulting in money being spent on interest payments rather than on other things like schools and healthcare... anyway back to the actual point...

    During this Parliament the Personal Allowance has already increased to £10,000, which has massively reduced the amount of tax paid by the low paid.  Introducing a 10p rate of tax is not as progressive as increasing the allowance before people pay any tax (even if both thresholds were adjusted so the same amount of tax was being paid by a person in the 20% tax band, this is because those who are only just into the tax paying threshold will be paying 10p rather than 0p).  I realise he's trying to differentiate from the coalition and the Liberal Democrat's fantastic work in this area but it doesn't make this policy good.  (I wrote more about the 10p tax rate here - I actually do like a 10p rate, but not at the expense of an increased PA)

    Regarding the 50p rate, I am in favour as long as it increases tax revenues (and isn't just a populist measure to be seen to be effectively punishing people for being rich).  Unfortunately the richest in our society are also the ones able to obtain the best financial advice which is probably why when the 50p rate was introduced late in the last Labour Government's tenure we saw income declared to the tax man fall among those who were now eligible for this tax.
  5. Ban Exploitative zero-hour contracts

    I am just against this on pure principle, again I find it patronising that Labour feel that zero-hour contracts don't work for anyone.  I'm sure there are many cases where they work for both the employee and the employer, Only 27% of those on a zero-hour contract state that they are dissatisfied with not having a minimum number of hours in their contracts.  Just because an employee is contracted doesn't always mean that the employee has to accept the work, with only 15% of employers saying that it is always mandatory, and 80% of employees saying that they aren't penalised for not working.  If Labour/Ed really feel strongly about these being exploitative then I personally would reform them in order to say that someone should only have to be available to work for the number of hours on their contract - which means for a zero hour contract there'd be no requirement from either the employer or the employee allowing flexibility on both parts.
  6. Make work pay by strengthening the Minimum Wage and providing tax breaks to firms that boost pay through the Living Wage

    The Lib Dem's current policy of linking the Minimum Wage to the personal allowance would help to strengthen it.  In order for the boosting pay to work the tax breaks would have to be sufficient enough that it is more beneficial for the business, which could be rather costly indeed.

  7. Back small businesses by cutting business rates and reforming the banks

    Business rates fine (assuming it's just for small businesses), I'd like to see them all revalued though since I believe it's still based on data from 1990 - i.e. 24 years ago!  Not sure what specific banking reform we are supposed to be expecting here - particularly vague promise.
  8. Help working parents with 25 hours of free childcare for three- and four- year olds

    Can't argue with this promise, the Liberal Democrats/Coalition have already made childcare effectively tax free as well as increasing the number of free hours for 3/4 year olds to 15 per week, but obviously more can be done, and should be done as it increases the participation of women in the workforce.
  9. Tackle the abuse of migrant labour to undercut wages by banning recruitment agencies that only hire foreign workers and pressing for stronger controls in Europe.

    I know there have been instances of jobs only advertised in Polish, but I haven't heard of many cases.  Without knowing how much of an issue this is (as it doesn't appear prevalent in my area) I can't really comment, but the fact it is in here just sounds like pandering to the UKIP crowd.  I worry that it's stirring up even more xenophobia.  
  10. Back the next generation with a job guarantee for the young unemployed and more apprenticeships.

    I don't think anyone can argue with the aim of getting more people into work, and I whole heartedly agree that apprenticeships are good - which is why I'm pleased that there were around 510,000 starters on apprenticeship courses in 2012/13 compared with just 279,000 in 2009/10.  I know from my personal experience that the government schemes are helping as my employer is looking to take on an apprentice starting in the 2014/15 academic year.

    The jobs guarantee however worries me.  It's all about how these jobs are guaranteed - i.e. what the jobs are and how the arose.  For instance, ensuring that someone who has been unemployed for 2 years can have 6 months stacking shelves in say Tesco, means that Tesco will need an incentive to take them on, replacing a job that would have already existed.  This means that a Labour government would therefore end up subsidising Tesco - providing them with cheaper employment rather than giving the job to someone else who's currently say short-term, meaning that these people will now be claiming benefits.  If on the other hand the jobs are created as public programmes then this might work - although would be costly. 

So there you have what Labour promise to do, my thoughts on each issue.  As much as I'd like to think otherwise I'm sure they'll win the next election - if they don't (considering the fall off in the left vote from the Lib Dems and the split in the right vote between Tories and UKIP) then Labour will have had a disastrous campaign.  

Overall it seems very populist with a lot of give-aways - I understand these are their tempters/hooks to try and reel in voters but I have to wonder how they can afford this whilst "paying off the deficit" as they put it since very few if any of these will increase revenue.

Lets see how they do with these in Government, assuming Ed doesn't mess it up. 

One thing I hate about politics is...

...Scheming/infighting/plots.  Years of watching Tony Blair's government it seemed that people were only there for their own advantage - trying to get themselves to a higher position and not for the good of their country or even their party.  You only needed to look at Gordon Brown to see him eyeing up the job that he really wanted.

As much as I hate the confrontational nature of the different parties - always fighting and rarely working together, opposing for oppositions sake to seem populist/trying to paint everything that the opposition does in a bad light, I find this even uglier when it comes from within a party.  

Now I'm not saying that Lord Oakeshott shouldn't have commissioned a poll at all, but doing so in constituencies without the knowledge of their MPs, then sitting on the results and releasing them at the time that could be deemed most damaging to the leader just screams at putting his own interests ahead of his parties.

Apparently that poll cost in the region of £20,000.  I'm also definitely not saying what Lord Oakeshott should be spending his money on (I'm sure he's been very generous where the party is concerned), but I bet there are a few former counsellors/MEPs that could have put that money to use benefiting the party.  Personally I'm gutted to see Graham Watson no longer an MEP.  

I am of the opinion that only positive campaigning can win back support towards our party, positive messages being put out about what we have manage to achieve, even as the junior partner in the coalition and what we want to achieve from 2015:
  • Income tax threshold increased to £10,000 (basically changing the way people think about income tax for the low paid).
  • Restoring the Earnings link with Pensions.
  • Introducing the Pupil Premium (£1,300 per eligible pupil in primary schools and £935 per eligible pupil in secondary schools in 2014-15)
  • Ended Child Detention.
  • Equal Marriage.
We should be screaming these and everything else from the roof tops!

Yes people find us untrustworthy after the tuition fees debacle but we should be pointing out our positive influence still - that even part time students don't now have to pay fees up front, that effectively they'll be paying off their maintenance loans first  - which are larger than they would be if there were no fees, meaning students themselves are better off unless they become successful in which case they are making a larger contribution than previously to their education that made them successful.  (I am not saying that this is the exact policy I would have, but it's better than when my parents had to pay over £1,000 up front each year in order for me to attend University!) 

We should be shouting out what a future parliament including the Liberal Democrats would mean for people in this country, not shouting at each other.  If we don't have a message of what we believe in and what we hope to achieve from 2015 why would people vote for us?  Ed Miliband may be putting forward a lot of barely thought through populist nonsense, but at least he is trying to carve an identity for his party.  

The Liberal Democrats are a democratic party, we win together, we lose together, this in fighting is doing nobody any favours and making us look as bad, if not worse than the rest when what we've always campaigned on is being different. 

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Sophie's legacy

In a perfect world we wouldn't need "hate crime" legislation, if a crime is committed then people should be punished for the crime almost irrespective of motive or who they victim is, otherwise wouldn't you be treating people differently under the law?  'Hate crimes' are usually of a violent nature, but surely most violent crimes derive from some form of hatred for the victim and some underlying prejudice against that person and hence be considered a hate crime?  This labelling could also be self fulfilling, when attributed too commonly it could lead to groups feeling persecuted even if there isn't an underlying bias against them.

However, we don't live in a perfect world.  The argument is that a 'hate crime' causes greater personal and social harm.  By attacking a person for who they are (rather than say using something that they've done as a motive) you are effectively attacking their identity and if such crimes become common place it can really lead to a feeling of disempowerment by that group.  Often, just the recognition that crimes towards a group are caused by underlying prejudices is the first step to showing that the group are being discriminated against.

If I were legislators I wouldn't be putting boundaries on what can or can't be described as a 'hate crime', as long as the motive was just some underlying prejudice there then the legislation should apply.  However boundaries have been put in place, in the UK these are membership (or assumed membership of):
  • A religious group,
  • A racial group, or:
  • Sexual orientation,
  • Disability.
Sophie (R.I.P)
There is a reason I am writing this blog now, Greater Manchester Police have started recording attacks on 'subcultures' as hate crimes.  I can't put into words how happy I am to see this.  I briefly alluded to this in my HMV post, this is the one area where I have been the victim of discrimination and in fact, one area where I have received abuse for nothing other than the way I look/dress etc.  

For those of you who are unaware this has probably stemmed as a result of campaigning by the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. This is a charity that was set up after Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend Robert Maltby were attacked whilst walking through a park in 2007 because they were wearing goth clothing.  Unfortunately Sophie ended up in a coma from which she never woke up, basically she was kicked to death because she looked different.

This issue isn't something that gets much attention at all, but it is very real, below are a few of the instances I've personally experienced:
  • When I was 16/17, walking home from college with a friend who had green hair (we were both probably dressed as moshers - baggy jeans and a band hoodie, that was our usual dress for college) a car slowed, wound down it's windows and threw an empty bottle in our direction whilst shouting abuse. 
  • When I was 17 I'd been on a night out with a few friends, 2 of us got the bus back together (same person as above actually) and as we got off the bus 2 other guys started following us and ended up chasing us, I seem to remember he took a punch before we got away (he was always the unlucky one).  I can't say that this was just due to how we looked but it felt that way.
  • When I was 18/19 and walking home from a night out (so the early hours of the morning) I was followed for about a mile by three guys about my own age (who stayed about 20 - 30 yards behind me) who kept shouting different derogatory comments about me being a goth.  (I was wearing a long leather coat and had long hair).  I assume they were trying to draw me into confrontation or just intimidate me.
  • When I was 19 I was sat on a bus with a friend who also had long hair and the 3 guys behind us kept pulling on his hair (I think they knew him), talking about how they were going to shave it off and were being generally intimidating, fortunately though they got off before us and not at the same time.
I know these aren't the worst examples of discrimination/intimidation in the world but they are the ones that spring to mind that I personally experienced.  In general in school and college, once I started dressing differently (wearing band hoodies etc) I lost count of the number of times people used to use it as a basis for derogatory terms.  (The style wasn't common amongst people in my area, there were very few of us). Some were much more vocal than others, and I did escape the worst of it but a few of my friends were quite badly bullied because of it.

Without a change in legislation all the force can do is record this as an element of the crime, but I think it is a huge starting point.  Hopefully this will help to illustrate that it is something that exists and by acknowledging it it will make a difference, make people feel safer and be the starting point into making it socially unacceptable.

One day maybe we will live in a world where people treat others with respect irrespective of how they look or what they believe in.  I can't see this ever happening but it doesn't mean we shouldn't try and shouldn't celebrate each improvement.  Hopefully Sophie's family's awesome work will have a lasting legacy.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Thoughts on 10p tax rate (I like) and mansion taxes (I don't)...

Okay, so Labour's announcement regarding some actual policies that I posted about earlier has made me want to analyse the actual policies, irrespective of party involvement (given half of the announcement was stealing a Lib Dem policy that I'm not overly sold on).  Anyway, here are my comments about each:

10p Tax Rate

The potential reintroduction of this depends on what your objectives are for a tax system.  If you are looking for a simple system that as many people as possible can understand then adding another band makes for added complications.  If you are looking to make it as progressive as possible then adding a lower band above the level of the personal allowance makes the system more progressive.

In a mutually exclusive case, increasing the personal allowance or introducing a new lower tax band, the former benefits lower earners more than the latter.  However, if you do both at the same time or if they are just being compared to sticking with the status quo then each change would be progressive.  This is one criticism that is being thrown at it, that it doesn't benefit people as much as a personal allowance increase would, however my personal opinion is that it doesn't go far enough.  My ideal tax system would have 10p, 20p, 30p, 40p and 50p rates.  

The thing with tax simplification is that tax bands don't really add too much additional complications, especially when most people are earning through the PAYE system.  The complications come in with all of the exemptions and special cases - it is there that governments should be looking to simplify the system, not with the rates.  In addition, they should scrap the other confusing complication - National Insurance contributions, rolling them into the income tax rates.  It is crazy that the basic rate "20%" tax payer effectively pays 32% tax whilst the higher rate "40%" tax payer effectively pays 42%, the money just goes into the same pot anyway.  I know not everyone or every transaction that is taxed includes NIC's, however this could be adjusted.  

The key of course is to make sure that nobody is paying more tax than they can afford to pay, whilst those who earn the most contribute the most.  

It was Gordon Brown who, in 2007, scrapped the 10p tax to help pay for the reduction in the basic rate from 22p to 20p per pound from April 2008.  This was regressive at the time and rightly he faced a backlash, however he corrected it in September 2008 for the 2008/09 tax year meaning that nobody actually lost out from this change.   This change did therefore simplify the system, but as discussed it probably wasn't the area that needed simplifying.  If this comes in, as long as it's not at the expense of increasing the personal allowance, then I'll be for it, if it doesn't correspond with a raise in the personal allowance as suggested by the Lib Dems, well it's a poorer alternative.

Mansion Tax

I've said a few times now that I'm yet to be convinced about a mansion tax.  I can see the potential desirability of a wealth tax, there is even worse equality with wealth than income in the country and it is desirable to strive for less inequality but I am not sure that this is a one size fits all, or even a good solution.  I have reasons...

Firstly, there is the practical aspect, how often will properties be reassessed?  The current Council Tax bandings are totally out of date where as this will be much more specific than that so much harder to keep up to date (Council Tax doesn't claim to be an exact science, this is an exact calculation).  Granted the complexity of implementation shouldn't be the major consideration but it should be taken into account.  Prices fluctuate, and you know any assessment will be open to debate and appeal - which will probably be lost.  Also, if a house is worth £2.1m without the tax, simply adding a tax to it will reduce it's value.  Also, every single house in the country will need to be revalued and this will have to happen regularly!

Secondly, and for me more importantly, houses are very illiquid assets.  There are many people who buy a house and expect to live it all of their lives.  Now I know we are talking about really high value houses so one assumes that the owners were well off enough to buy it, but that doesn't mean that they'll necessarily have the disposable cash/income to cover an increase in their annual tax bill just because their house's value has risen in such a way.  I've heard a lot of comments saying that if they don't have the cash then they could downsize, but how is that fair?  Forcing someone to leave the home that they purchased is hardly what I'd call a fairer tax.

I think the main reason I struggle with it is that it is effectively a double tax.  Basically any tax such as this is saying, we don't think we taxed you enough when you earned your money, so we are coming back for another crack at it.  I also don't like the way that the discussion is framed, it always seems to imply that those who live in expensive houses don't deserve to be there, they lucked into it and didn't work hard to get there. 

My final criticism is though that it only looks at one asset a person (or persons) owns.  If you want to target the wealthiest in society how does this help?  A rich person could own 10 houses all worth around £1.9million each and avoid the tax all together, where as if this was all tied up on one £19m property they'd be paying an annual tax of £170,000.  I feel that it penalises a person for a particular lifestyle choice/the way that they chose to use money that they had previously had left over from their income after already paying tax, for me the discussion in favour of this always seems to sound like it stems from jealousy.

I am fully aware that I am in the minority of my party (and probably now the Labour party) here when I say this, but the arguments for it just haven't sold me - after all, personally I'd replace council tax with a small local income tax and multiple property taxes, maybe in time though I'll come round to the idea.

So Labour finally have a policy...

I had a laugh to myself yesterday when on my Twitter feed someone had sent a tweet that mentioned that Ed Miliband has a "policy chief" - surely this must have been the easiest job in the world for the past 2 years?  (Incidentally, on further investigation the tweet was referring to Jon Cruddas, an MP, so one would assume he had other responsibilities). Yet amazingly today, Labour have announced a policy! Huzzah!  Now after all of this time to think I'm sure it's a very unique and revolutionary policy, so what is it?  Ah yes - fairer taxes... 

Well, I guess we should be happy that they too believe in Fair taxes, maybe they have a different definition of fair, or come up with a new system that they feel is fairer, lets analyse.  From the announcement this is in two parts:

1. A Mansion Tax

Now this sounds new, it's not like it's been in the news recently: here (August 2012)here (September 2012), here (November 2012), and here (February 2013).  It's not like this is a commonly acknowledge policy of another major party - that was even in a manifesto 3 years ago.
Page 14 Lib Dem Manifesto 2010.
Now personally, I'm not sold on 'Mansion taxes' (that's for another post some other time however), it would depend on how and when they are paid, but at least Labour are suggesting something unique [/sarcasm].

2. Introduction of 10p Tax Rate

Now I admit, it takes a big man to say he was wrong, at least Ed is just had to say the last guy was wrong, well, and himself as after Labour scrapped the 10p tax rate in 2008 to introduce a flat 20p tax he said:

This is a unique policy but is it necessarily the fairest option on the table?  Contrast this with the Liberal Democrats policy of increasing the Personal Allowance so that nobody on a standard set of hours on minimum wage would pay a penny in Income Tax you get two sets of results, both of which result in the lowest earners paying less tax.  

The comparison is hard to make as they haven't specified the end limit to the tax band (as it would depend on how much the mansion tax would raise) but what is clear is that those who earn between the current personal allowance threshold and the Liberal Democrat proposed threshold would be worse off as they would be paying an additional 10p per pound tax on their income earned in this band.

It's good to see Labour are finally getting some policies together, at least this way it can be pointed out that they offer no real new ideas of substance to contrast with their own politically motivated attacks on every single measure the coalition proposes.  As long as they can come up with a catchy label for it they will attack it (for instance "Bedroom Tax" sounds a lot worse than "Reduction in benefits that are deemed excessive to the persons needs").  

So yes, anyway, if you fancy supporting fairer taxes you can always sign up here, as you've been able to since the Liberal Democrats launched the site 3 months ago... a cynic would say that perhaps they only thought of the ideas after the Liberal Democrat's action day regarding this on Saturday.

-- Edit --

I've just seen the Lib Dem Voice article on the subject which has the nice graph to illustrate point 2:

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Brace yourself, I'm going to praise a Labour legacy...

I don't do this often, I'm going to praise a Labour legacy...

Today, there is going to be an historic vote in the House of Commons, which I'm certain will lead to an end to discrimination in marriage laws on the grounds of sexuality.  I am more than confident that this will pass and which will be a great achievement for equality campaigners everywhere. 

I've blogged previously about how ridiculous I think that there's even a debate about it.  It's worth remembering that same sex couples basically have the same legal rights under civil partnerships as they will under full marriage so why is there all the fuss about them being able to say that they are the same as everyone else?  For most of the opponents it's just one of those cases (which happens a lot more than you'd think, you do it, everyone does it), just because they don't see it as a problem, they don't realise how other people are negatively effected by it.  The best analogy I've read for this is the guy leaving the toilet seat up - he's perfectly happy with it like that so why isn't everyone else (thank you - who said comedy websites can't add to serious debate).  They don't realise that they were the ones with power and that they are suppressing the rights of other people.

Opponents often state that marriage is about raising a family, children, fostering the next generation etc, but then why have I never heard the word "children" mentioned in the vows I've heard in any of the ceremonies I've been to?  Also what if the hetro couple can't have/don't want children?  Tell you what I do remember hearing a lot about, love. I genuinely feel sorry for people who think that their own marriage will be less special because a gay couple have also been able to call their union a marriage, straight marriage will still be special as will same sex marriage - they will be equally special!  The continuing separation of different forms of union helps fuel discrimination, still indicating that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people are somehow still not the same.  Breaking down this separation will help reinforce the great progression that has been achieved.

Anyway, as I do so often I've digressed. I wanted to praise Labour.  They obviously could have introduced this in their 13 years in Government, which would have been nice, they didn't go this far but they did help frame the debate.  If it wasn't for the changes that they did make: 

  • Abolished Section 28, 
  • Made the age of consent 16 - equalising it with heterosexual sex,
  • Repealed the ban on homosexuals serving in the military, 
  • Outlawed discrimination in the workplace and in the provision of goods and services, 
  • Made it possible for people in same sex relationships to adopt,
  • The creation of civil partnerships,
then I don't think we'd be having this vote now, and so confident of it passing (if it doesn't I'll look foolish!) This is one area where they were liberal, and helped to stop discrimination which is allowing us to push for full equality - sometimes you need to take baby steps to reach your destination rather than risk a huge jump only to fall short of the ultimate aim.  I think Labour did a lot wrong in their 13 years, but in all of those aspects I think they can be proud.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

If you're good enough then that's all that should matter...

I was really pleased to read today that some women could appear in the Second XI of Sussex cricket club - particularly Sarah Taylor.  The article is under a title with a quote from Mark Lane, who coaches England's women's cricket team stating that they could one day play the county game.  My response is why not! I'm glad someone's finally saying this to start the discussion.  I've long thought that there should be no reason for team sports to force segregation, surely all teams want the best players - irrespective of age, race or gender, if you're good enough why should being born the wrong sex get in the way?

I guess the major objection would be that it would reduce the relevance of the female only game - at a time when it's improving massively (and in another team sport - football, England's women have secured a large - though in my opinion not sufficient, pay rise).  I don't think this should really be an issue, all that should matter is letting each person fulfil their potential and each team becoming the best they can be.  The only people who will lose out should Sarah, or another woman play in the county game would be the one man they replaced from the team - someone who presumably the selectors feel isn't as good as them so obviously needs to improve their own game.

I don't think it would be easy for a woman to make the step up.  You see the fastest female bowlers bowling in the high 70 miles per hour, where most male seam bowlers reach a minimum of 80, with the fastest getting into the 90s.  I know from personal experience that going from facing 70mph bowling to 80mph is almost a completely different game.  If she can do it though, there should be no problem, I for one am hoping that she does represent Sussex Second XI this year, then who knows.