Saturday, 17 September 2011

Four Thousand Words (Reprise)

So how many of you enjoy Four Thousand Words? I get a massive kick from writing regardless of whether the things I write ever get read, but it's best of all when someone I don't know emails me or comes up to me at work to say, 'Hey, I read your blog about the EU (or Amy Winehouse, or cheese, or whatever) and found it really interesting.' I'm all set for my best ever month of blog ownership (500+ hits) and I've decided to have a little look back at things I've talked about previously and see how they have progressed.

I Hate Tony Blair: Tony Blair, to the regret of all concerned, still feels that he is a key figure in British politics. His decision to tie Britain to the US following the attack on the USA on 9/11 was a noble one and much appreciated by American citizens, but for him to try and claim that his subsequent actions made the world a safer place is simply ridiculous. Leaked documents have shown that the illegal war in Iraq was fought under false pretences and was against the wishes of the international community. Blair recently described the subsequent and irrelevant death of Osama Bin Laden as "important", suggesting to this day that he is still playing war games in his head, fighting dark forces that his foreign policy helped to create, while citizens from his own nation have tried to arrest him for war crimes.

Each To Their Own: The Arab Spring democratic movement has stalled somewhat, thanks in no small part to the UK, who were selling weapons in the region even as revolution ensued. There have of course been some high profile regime changes, with Hosni Mubarak having been replaced by a military government in Egypt and Muammar Gadaffi having purportedly fled from Libya as his last strongholds begin to fall. It remains to be seen what the future will hold in the area, as Amnesty International have called upon Egyptian authorities to amend legislation to better protect women in Egypt, and ensure that both genders play an active role in the reforms that will follow.

March for the Alternative, 26th March 2011: The coalition government may be rolling with the punches somewhat, but the Liberal Democrats' concerted refusal to stand up for their own principles coupled with the general apathy of the British people towards politics means that Conservative policy is still tending to rule the day. A number of the UK's major unions are calling for a day of action on 30 November 2011, and a high participation rate is expected from members. Meanwhile, with conference season in the air, Clegg and Cable have attempted to rally the troops by warning that they dispute the Conservative position on the 50p tax rate and that urgent economic stimulus is required to kick-start the economy. I wish I didn't feel that this was too little, too late.

Justice for Ian Tomlinson!: In April this year I called for Simon Harwood, policeman and vicious attacker of newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson, to be charged with actual bodily harm for his actions in the events leading up to Tomlinson's subsequent death. The Crown Prosecution Service acted decisively, and decided instead that there was enough evidence to charge Harwood with manslaughter. His trial has been subsequently delayed until October 2011, but it is to be hoped that Tomlinson's family will finally see the justice that they deserve.

It's Not the End of the World: Of course, the news that the Rapture didn't come as predicted did not stop evangelical preacher Harold Campling from immediately naming a new date. Campling identified the supposed mathematical error in his predictions and definitely didn't put a wet finger into the air when predicting that the Rapture should actually have been on 21 October 2011. Honestly, I feel that numerologists are starting to give genuine accountants a bad name - especially as any accountant can tell you that it's Microsoft Excel, rather than cleanliness, which is actually next to godliness.

Keep Britain Rolling!: In July, UNISON steward Karen Michael was kind enough to allow me to reproduce the excellent article that she penned for the Norfolk Country Branch about the possible closure of Bombardier, the only UK-based manufacturer of rolling stock. The UK Government, having seen the wisdom in Karen's words a little bit after the event, invited Bombardier to bid for a government contract to construct steel carriages for Crosslink trains. It has subsequently transpired that the Derby plant is not suitably fitted for steelwork, and now the debate centres on how much of a proposed contract could be fulfilled in the UK, while conveniently ignoring the fact that under EU procurement rules, the government cannot award a contract on the basis that work would be guaranteed to be carried out in the UK. (This did make me think briefly that it was worth reconsidering my largely pro-European stance.) Regardless of the sense in that position, 3000 workers in the Derby area are still waiting for decisions to be made as to what will happen next.

The Cheese of the Day is... Red Leicester. If the Labour Party were cheese...

So it's been a busy few months at Four Thousand Words! I've read about, written about and learned about a whole host of major events in the world around us, and I look forward to many more in future.

Thanks to all of my readers that have read my blog, commented on it, criticised it furiously and on occasion, sent me amusingly rude emails. You really do make the process of committing my thoughts and insanities onto the internet into an enjoyable process. Feel free to comment here or to follow me and chat to me on Twitter, I would really love to know where you'd like Four Thousand Words to go in future.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Why 50% isn't half the story

There was some predictable left-wing anger this week about the hints by Chancellor George Osborne that he plans to abolish the 50% top rate tax band for high earners. Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, described the plans as "monstrously unfair" and Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has come out firmly against the idea.

In addition to those notable figures, senior Liberal Democrat figures including Danny Alexander and Vince Cable have received the idea with a certain degree of sulky reluctance, though prominent LibDem bloggers are firmly behind the idea and see it as an opportunity to exhibit the party's pro-entrepreneurial stance.

This may surprise a few people, but I'm not against the idea on principle. The top-band tax rate only ever brought in amounts in the region of £2bn a year - not the kind of money to be sneezed at in a crisis, admittedly, but still a drop in the ocean in the context of total tax revenues annually of £550bn in the UK.

However, there is still a reason why the planned change is a bad one - and it is not an ideological reason.

Critics of the 50% tax rate say that it quashes self-advancement and makes the UK uncompetitive internationally. There are figures that suggest that the UK is certainly becoming less attractive for international investors, though there could be a host of reasons why this is the case, such as skills shortages or an overpriced currency. The argument in favour of cancelling the 50% rate is that the extra money earned by the richest will be spent, reinvigorating the economy and promoting growth.

The flaw in this particular theory is that poor people have a greater propensity to spend their disposable income than rich ones. The old adage is that rich people plan for three generations, where poor ones plan for Saturday night - and even in these times of ridiculously low interest rates, it still holds true. Figures bear out that low-earners are less likely to save or invest in pension plans.

In short, this suggests that if you really wanted to stimulate the economy by cutting taxes, you would get more bang for your buck by doing so at the low-income end of the equation. Also, tax cuts for low earners could be particularly good news for local traders in key geographical areas. In the short-term, the UK has to do something to stimulate domestic demand, or soon there will be no high streets left to shop on.

Every economic action comes with an attached opportunity cost - that is, the cost of not doing something else. You might be making a healthy 3% return on your savings, but you incur an opportunity cost by not taking advantage of a 4% offer elsewhere. Government continually incurs those opportunity costs on our behalf, in this instance doing so by cutting jobs at the low end and reducing taxes at the high end when there is evidence to suggest that spending on subsidies and infrastructure would do more to boost growth in the long run.

Ultimately, it is UK citizens that stand to suffer economic hardship and more pertinently, the poorest that experience the worst affects of social breakdown. Unemployment is at its highest level for three years and continuing to climb as the private sector fails to fill the gap left by grossly unnecessary public sector cuts that threaten to destabilise the economy further and wreak havoc on the health and social fabric of our nation.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Can the Lords save the Health Service?

Lansley, greedy Andrew Lansley, tosser...sorry, where was I? Ah, after several weeks of novel writing and irreverence, I find myself back in my bread-and-butter world of political outrage. Like many unionistas, my current cause for concern is the NHS. Sure, the economy is still in freefall, but it's been like that for years now and it's only the poor and the vulnerable that are suffering. Meanwhile, our Health Minister dons the oven gloves of political shame and juggles his hot potato without even pausing to think about how his reforms will affect those that need the service the most. He may seem to have no grace, but then how many Conservative ministers have ever had a rap written about them? That's street, dog!

I's shoutin' out for ma possee in da Bullingdon, innit!

Once again while their paymasters discuss their plans in secret, the Lapdog Democrats shamelessly fawn for attention and fall on any scraps thrown to them by government. Norfolk's own Norman Lamb had threatened to quit his post as Nick Clegg's chief adviser in April over the NHS restructuring in England but is now backtracking furiously and advising others that the reforms will give the NHS 'certainty'. What would appear to be certain is that privatisation is top of the agenda, despite Nick Clegg having told the country that this would not happen under any circumstances. But then, these days Liberal Democrat U-turns happen about as often as cold days in Britain in June.

Public sector workers showed yesterday in Kings Lynn that Norman Lamb's sentiments are not shared by all of those that work in the service.

While the party members bristle uncomfortably and the MPs about-face every time they breathe, it falls to the Liberal Democrat peers to set up an effective opposition to Tory privatisation plans. Baroness Shirley Williams is a peer with a number of concerns about the revised reforms and chief among them is a legal doubt as to whether the secretary of state will any longer be bound to deliver a comprehensive health service for the people of the UK, free at the point of need. Removing this clause would effectively torpedo the central tenet at the heart of the NHS.

Williams makes the very good point that she is not against the notion that private elements in the NHS could improve core standards and bring new ideas. And of course, there is a temptation to simply provide a direct foil to the government's 'private good, public bad' mantra. Trade unionists are not against positive change, but we know full well that squeezing a profit margin into a financial transaction immediately introduces pressures elsewhere. Standards of care cannot and should not be made to suffer so that rich people grow richer.

Williams writes in the Observer, "Why have they tried to get away from the NHS as a public service, among the most efficient, least expensive and fairest anywhere in the world? Why have they been bewitched by a flawed US system that is unable to provide a universal service and is very expensive indeed?" The international companies that are being mooted as potential recipients for health service contracts by consultancy firm McKinsey have no interest in the well-being of UK residents, just of seeing a return on their investments.

It is to be hoped that the NHS, a cultural icon in the UK as significant as the Royal Family and more important than any other, a service set-up to provide free health care at the point of need to rich and poor alike, will be preserved by the close attention of dissenters in the House of Lords.