(Part two of this post will appear later in a separate entry…)
The party political manoeuvering is complete and the Liberal Democrat bird is now nesting in the Conservative oak tree. ‘Operation Save Dave’ has been a heavily qualified success for the clique that surrounds David Cameron and we will learn today who will be the Ministers in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. Every government, however much one might despise it overall, delivers some things that are positive. Labour did achieve some positive things, and this coalition will be no exception. So it’s a good time to assess what we might expect from the Con-Lib coalition.
The media will inevitably focus on the personalities and start to dig out whatever comments they can find in their archive where members of the newly forged Cabinet railed against their new colleagues and against positions they have now signed up to. But what matters most is the shape and content of the agreement that has been cobbled together by the parties and what the government’s business will mean for ordinary voters. As the details emerge I plan to share, in no particular order, my personal centre-right take on the new government’s agenda. Hopefully you will share your thoughts in the comments.
Forget the Northern Ireland Chuckle Brothers that were, namely Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness. The UK now has its own special double act, the Terrible Twins, Dave and Nick, or Cameron and Clegg if you will. They have published their agreement so we now have a clearer idea of what they plan to do in the UK, well, in those areas where they think we are not controlled by the EU.
Deficit Reduction –
With Labour gone we are not going to have to wait another year or two before government acts to reduce the deficit. But we have to wait until July for the emergency budget for the details beneath the headlines. While the direction of travel seems sound, it’s disappointing that the Lib Dems have forced a less ambitious pace for cutting back unnecessary public spending. But what the Dave giveth, the Nick taketh away, because while the document talks of stopping ‘Labour’s proposed jobs tax’ the fact is we are going to pay a higher rate of National Insurance to fund the raising of the income tax personal allowance.
Spending Review –
This is urgently needed. But we will have to wait until the autumn to see the state of the books Labour has left behind. This is when the pain will be felt and Labour’s legacy exposed.
Tax Measures –
The income tax personal allowance will be raised in increments to £10,000. How this was not a Conservative policy still eludes me. Allowing people to keep more of what they earn is the right thing to do. But inheritance tax, which punishes people who are left assets and who, through no fault of their own have seen the value of their assets (such as houses in what have become expensive areas) rise, has been stuck on the back burner for the foreseeable future.
The airlines, under enough pressure already, will experience some more as air passenger duty is converted into per plane duty. Not all flights on scheduled routes will fly full, so the airlines will experience more of a burden, which will be passed on to passengers through increased air fares. Just one more example of how the greenwash of the UK will cost us ever more money.
The commitment to tackling tax avoidance could become an issue for wealth creators who will be needed to grow their businesses and create employment. Tax evasion is a crime, minimising tax liabilities through avoidance is legal. The language used is emotive and reminds us that the government covets what people have and believes it is entitled to the rewards for our endeavours.
Banking Reform –
Here we go. Someone has to be portrayed as the enemy, and it’s the banks again that are under attack. Applying the planned banking levy will reduce the amount of money banks have available to lend and available to invest to help boost our pensions and investments. It is shortsighted and panders to people who don’t realise what it will cost them in the long run. The only justification for a banking levy is to recoup money provided by the taxpayers to recapitalise the banks.
By going after bankers’ bonuses, the Dave and Nick show is increasing the prospect of our best and brightest bank executives and traders leaving for better terms in countries that we compete with. It defies belief that the method of increasing compeitiveness is to level the banks downwards and by pressing them to separate retail and commercial banking.
However there is some sensible thinking on display in respect of regulatory simplification and having a single body, in the shape of the Bank of England, to maintain oversight. Also the pledge not to join the Euro in the lifetime of the agreement is welcome, but in the circumstances a very obvious commitment.
The unworkable and completely unacceptable idea of an amnesty for illegal immigrants is off the table. Perhaps the Lib Dems realised just how nonsensical the idea was.
The Conservative pledge to cap migrant numbers from outside the EU is welcome. Clegg’s assertion that 80% of migrant workers come here from the EU was completely wrong. MigrationWatch UK demonstrated from official statistics that more workers come here from non-EU countries, so a cap makes sense.
However this completely fails to address the problem of a glut of unskilled labour from EU countries coming to this country without restriction, increasing pressure on infrastructure and public services such as education, healthcare and housing. The fact remains that all three main parties are commited to maintaining full membership of the EU regardless of the wishes of the public. Until the main parties listen and represent the wishes of the electorate, this country will not be able to control its own borders and prevent surplus work capacity alighting on these shores.
Political Reform –
It is excellent to see Fixed Term Parliaments being implemented. However both parties have decided not to take the opportunity to allow voters to choose their MPs every four years, which would have been more democratic. There is clearly a strong element of self interest on display from the coalition partners.
The Con-Lib coalition has also sought to protect its own position with an insipid little proposed Bill to dissolve Parliament if 55% or more of MPs vote to do so. This is another example of the all-spoils-to-the-victor Cameron and Clegg claimed to be getting away from. It should be a simple majority to bring about a dissolution of Parliament – 50% plus one vote. This move is fundamentally undemocratic and self serving. This takes the power of incumbency and meshes it with Tammany Hall politics to make it harder to dismiss a government that does not control the confidence of the House. Another example of the reality of the new politics!
Voting reform was always going to figure. Thankfully the nightmare scenario of proportional representation is not on the table, rather the Alternative Vote method. I don’t want it and I won’t vote for it if the planned referendum becomes reality. But it is absolutely the right thing that the electorate will decide in a referendum. Rather than just grant a referendum, the political class will demonstrate its grip on power by putting the idea to a vote in the Commons first. Still the people are not trusted to decide for themselves what they want. Where is the representative nature of our democracy evident in this process?
It goes without saying that there is no hint of a referendum concerning our relationship with the EU. This underlines the continuing hypocrisy of the political class… ‘look, we are graciously considering allowing you to choose the voting system, but we will not let you choose if you wish to remain governed by the EU’. This is one of the major failings of a system rigged to suit the interests of the politicians over those of the voters. For all the posturing and efforts to appear virtuous, the political class continues to bind the hands of the electorate when it suits it.
Prepare for trouble ahead as plans are developed to make the House of Lords an elected chamber. Which House will have more democratic legitimacy in the event of the two chambers adopting entrenched opposed positions on a matter? The Lords can only make a nuisance of itself for a period of time before the Commons can force legislation through. But when the upper House is mainly or fully elected, what right will the Commons have to continue that practice?
Good to see a power of recall for MPs. However, who will determine what constitutes ‘serious wrongdoing’? Again, it is those who would be subject to the rules who are making the rules. The electorate is not being asked to determine the threshhold that can trigger a constituency petition and recall of the sitting MP.
At last we look like having proper voter registration to tackle electoral fraud. But even that will not eradicate the possibility of electoral fraud by postal voting. There needs to be legislation to restrict postal voting to exceptional circumstances to significantly reduce the possibility of fraud. Postal votes should be reserved for those with limited mobility and those who will not be present on polling day. Using postal voting for mere convenience will always undermine the integrity of the ballot.
English Parliament –
… and breathe. Cowardice from both coalition partners. I know there is no section in the Con-Lib agreement devoted to devolution for England and the creation of an English Parliament, but the matter is of such democratic importance it deserved one. All we got was a single sentence:
‘We have agreed to establish a commission to consider the ‘West Lothian question’.
That’s it. In full. They couldn’t even bring themselves to use the words ‘English’ and ‘devolution’ in the same sentence. This is craven pandering to the devolved countries. In the very next sentence Dave and Nick promise a referendum to Wales on further Welsh devolution based on the proposals of the Calman Commission. The top priority should be addressing the disgraceful democratic deficit affecting one country in the Union, not giving another the chance to enhance their devolution of powers from Westminster.
What makes this all the more infuriating is that England has supported the Cameron Conservatives despite their leftward lurch, and in return England continues to be treated with contempt. Addressing the English democratic deficit should be one of the most pressing matters for the Con-Lib coalition given their self regarding comments about their belief in democracy. Their casual approach proves they lack the political will to afford England equality within the very Union it subsidises financially.
Still to come… Welfare; Edyookashun; Civil Liberties; Environment; the portfolio that dare not mention its name in the agreement despite Cameron putting Afghanistan as his priority one, Defence; and finally an old favourite – the EU.
Do please leave your comments.