Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Social care: the dementia tax


The conclusion of my previous post, written a  week ago, that


. . . . Mrs May, far from being strong, consistent and a safe pair of hands,  is  a vacillating opportunist, quick to change her statements  to the advantage of her  party and herself. . . ., and skilful in the "dissembling and cloaking" against which she was warned in her Prayer Book upbringing


is amply borne out by her volte- face  on payment for social care.  

 (For those unaware of the details,  the Conservative Manifesto  promised that people would have to pay in full, without limit, for any necessary social care, mainly in old age, until their assets were reduced to £100 000.  This meant that property owners would, if necessary, have to to sell their houses, thus preventing their children or legatees inheriting what could be considerable sums.  This produced outrage, mainly from the wealthy, and Mrs May decided that there would after all be a cap on the total to be paid for social care - and blustered  this was not a change in policy,  just a detail.  A master-class in dissembling and cloaking.)

When the policy was published it was quickly dubbed the "Dementia Tax."  Serve the Tories jolly-well right - when Labour introduced a similar (but better - more on that later) proposal just before the 2010 election,, the Tories were quick to label it the "Death Tax." Just another example of how childish our politics have become.

Happy this U-turn  has  put paid to the concept of Mrs May as a "strong and stable" pair of hand. "Weak and wobbly" has taken over and bears constant repetition.

Actually "Dementia Tax" is not a particularly accurate description  as there are many reasons other than dementia for needing care in old age.  For the moment my own potential problems appear to  relate more to the bladder than the brain. And it's not just old age.   As this article  in today's Guardian points out, almost half of council's social care spending goes on  adults below the age of 65.

I can't say that I'm particularly comfortable with the idea of the state shelling out squillions so that the already privileged offspring  of owners of mini-mansions can inherit yet further advantages. It seems to me that there are two problems to be solved.  

The first is paying for the care.  If it is to be "free at the point of use"  from the beginning  or after a limited contribution from those able to pay, then this will require an increase in National Insurance Contributions  (NICs) or general taxation.  If health and social care services are to be merged, which seems a popular and sensible proposal, then increased NICs seem the logical choice.  If the politicians are too frightened to attempt this, then Andy Burnham's proposal  (the above-mentioned "Death Tax") of a levy on of some 15% on all estates, first put forward in a White Paper of 2010 seems to me to be perfectly acceptable.  The important thing is to fund the service properly and ensure decent wages and conditions for those providing it. If the service were returned to public or "not for profit" hands then priority could  be given to the quality of care rather than than profit-maximisation

The second problem is that of inheritance. The present threshold for liability to inheritance tax (formerly Death Duties) is £325 000, but rich people with assets well above this can afford clever accountants to find ways of avoiding paying. Given that inherited wealth is a major source of inequality I should like to see a revival of the good old Liberal proposal that the  tax should not be on the estate but the recipients, and should be tax free provided the estate is bequeathed to different people in  small dollops - say of £50 000 at today's values.

Just to show how even handed this blog is, I'll but on record that I welcome the Tory proposal to discontinue the Winter Fuel Allowance for comfortably-off pensioners (which I'd define as anyone still paying income tax, which incudes me) and would take much the same view of the free TV licence for the over75s (which also incudes me)



Thursday, 18 May 2017

Theresa the Misleader


I have received a large four-sided leaflet through the post.  It says   "THERESA MAY FOR BRITAIN" on the front page in very big letters, and devotes a second page to what purports to be a personal massage which concludes by urging me to "get things right by backing me, and voting conservative for my  candidate in your local area" (my emphasis.). A third page highlights  six debatable pieces of "progress" since 2010 (one is "WELFARE CAPPED to reward work") with the exhortation to "VOTE THERESA MAY ON 8TH JUNE."  The final page warns that the election may not be a shoe-in for the Tories (on that I hope she's right) so I should make sure I vote Tory to avoid having Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.

The word conservative is mentioned only twice: once in modest print with a union flag at the side of it, and once in the very tiniest of print in the legally obligatory  "printed and published by " declaration.

This is by far the most blatant attempt in my lifetime  to turn our British parliamentary election into a presidential system: May v Corbyn.

Mrs May is not the Conservative Candidate in my constituency, but presumably by not mentioning the actual Tory candidate's name  the party can charge the leaflet up to national expenses, a trick  they used even more blatantly in the last election and sadly got away with.

The character of Jeremy Corbyn has been tested to destruction by the media, but Mrs May is routinely presented by the sycophantic press as some modern-day Boudicca well equipped to stand up for Britain against the wicked continentals.  This caricature does not bear scrutiny.

  • Not once, but repeatedly, after her ascension to the premiership, she assured us, openly, unequivocally, without prevarication or qualification, that there would be no snap election:  the parliament would run its course.  It would perhaps be pushing beyond the boundaries of politeness to call this well brought up middle-aged lady a liar, but this was beyond doubt misleading.  Why should we ever again believe a word she says?
  • There are increasing signs that coming to the decision after  clearing of her mind whilst walking in Snowdonia is a load of hooey, and that Conservative Central Office has been preparing for a snap election for some time.  All their plans seem to have fallen neatly into place whilst the Labour Party has been caught on the hop.  If this is the case Mrs May has been not just misleading but deliberately misleading.
  • Before the EU Referendum Mrs May was an avowed Remainer.  Here's just one snippet from one of her major speeches: "Remaining inside the European Union does make us more secure, it does make us more prosperous and it does make us more influential beyond our shores." You can read the entire speech here.  So why is she now burbling the fantasies of her arch Brexiteers and insisting on leading us  to the harshest of Brexits?  Does she actually believe anything she says? 
This twisting and turning is not confined to the EU debate.  Whilst Home Secretary she gave the strong impression that she was sympathetic to an inquiry about alleged police malpractice  in the Orgreave confrontation with the striking  miners.  After similar malpractices were confirmed in the Hillsborough inquest she told the Police Federation that they must understand: "the need to face up to the past , and right the wrongs that continue to jeopardise the work of police officers today.. . . We must never  underestimate how the poison  of decades-old misdeeds seeps down through the years and is just as toxic today  as it was then.   That's why difficult truths, however unpalatable they may be , must be confronted head on." 

Now that she is Prime Minister the Home Secretary has been permitted to decide that that there shall be no enquiry into Orgreave becasue:"Ultimately, there were no deaths."

The evidence shows that Mrs May, far from being strong, consistent and a safe pair of hands,  is  a vacillating opportunist, quick to change her statements  to the advantage of her  party and herself, weakly submissive to the Brexit bullies in her party, and skilful in the "dissembling and cloaking" against which she was warned in her Prayer Book upbringing.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Hurrah for the Labour Manifesto


The Labour Party manifesto for the election has not actually been published but, but predictable scorn has already been poured on the leaked versions by predictable sections of the media (ie most of it).  But to the less partial eye there's a lot to like.  If the leaks are correct a Labour government will:
  1. Resume council-house building and make private sector house building an infrastructure priority
  2. Take the railway companies back into public ownership as their franchises expire;
  3. Ensure there is at least one publicly owned energy provider in each region;
  4. Guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK;
  5. Make no false promises about immigration;
  6. Establish a national and regional investment banks;
  7. Scrap the bedroom tax and punitive sanctions regime;
  8. Discourage short-termism and rocketing executive pay;
  9. Scrap university tuition fees;
  10. Adequately fund eduction, health and social care services.
This list is a breath of fresh air, and highly relevant to a country which has suffered too long from mistaken policies.  It is a list Liberals Democrats can work with.

Of course, we should like to see a less supine acceptance of Brexit, and in particular take with a pinch of salt the promise to "make retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union negotiating priorities." If that's the case why did they whip their peers to vote against such a proposal in the House of Lords on 28th February?

Personally I'd like to see a full throated promise to halt Brexit altogether, and to ditch Trident rather than retain it but be equivocal about using it.  However I doubt if even the Liberal Democrat manifesto will have the guts to propose either of these.

But what we have to be clear about is that this is a perfectly sensible list of aims.   It is a far cry from the much quoted "longest suicide note in history" of the 1983 manifesto.  That one promised to take us out of the EU (oops, the Tories are now doing that anyway), nationalise the banks (oops 2, the Tories have done that as well with two of them), cancel the Trident programme (see above) and abolish the House of Lords (ah well, that's been tried and must go on the back burner for a while)

If the present manifesto is to be criticised I regret that it gives the impression that everything on the list will be done at once.  True that the Attlee  governments of 1945-51 took and largely achieved such an approach, but times, though economically much more strained, were different then.  People were less cynical and much more confident of what the state can achieve.  I'd prefer to see a much more " softly softly " approach and more use of "we shall try to" rather than " we will."  That last point is even more relevant for the Liberal Democrat manifesto.

The alternative from the Conservatives of:

  1. Hard Brexit;
  2. Continued austerity ;
  3. Increasing inequality;
  4. Further privatisations;
  5. Bullying of the poor and disadvantaged;
  6. Reductions in the size of the state;
  7. Grammar schools;
  8. Toadying to the US;
  9. Endangered human,civil and employment rights;
  10. Unachievable immigration targets, along with an inhuman and  even illegal attitude to migrants and asylum seekers;
just doesn't bear thinking about.

And if the issue is competence, remember that it's the Tory policy  of deregulation which brought about the financial crisis, their  policy of "right to buy" which is  is at the heart of the housing crisis,  their  policy of austerity which has delayed the recovery and starved and continues to starve the health, education and social services.

Only skilful PR and a sycophantic press keep them in the frame at all.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Competition taken too far



Yesterday I went to the audiology department of our local NHS hospital for a minor adjustment to one of my hearing aids.  After she had dealt with it  the technician told me  I was due for another hearing test in July, but would not be sent for.  It was up to me to "initiate the procedure" and "request a new pathway."  (Who on earth dreams up this management speak?")

I would then be advised  that I could go to the private sector for this.  It is apparently mandatory that his option be pointed out to me.

Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green  initiatives are often subject to routine ridicule, but we are expected to take this  nonsense in our stride

Clearly this requirement has been imposed on the NHS by some fanatical neoliberal obsessed with the virtues of market choice.

But it is ridiculous.  Like demanding that, before  selling you a book, Foyles must tell you that you could buy the same volume at Waterstones.  Or that before pulling you a pint of Tetley's the barman should remind you that you could get a pint of Sam Smith's at the pub up the road.

And I wonder if the playing field is levelled by requiring the private sector hearing aid specialists  to tell their customers that equivalent support is available from the NHS free at the point of use?

Those why deny that further aspects of the NHS are up for privatisation if the Tories remain in government should take note of this straw in the wind.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The myth of Tory economic competence.



I don’t watch Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning politics programme because I’m at church at the time it is broadcast and never seem to be able to find “catch-up” time. However I understand that  two weeks ago  (30th April) Theresa May persistently evaded Marr’s questions about nurses having to go to food banks because they couldn’t afford to buy food, but three times referred to the need for a “strong economy” and a government which “understands the importance of the strength of the economy.”

Well, who would argue against the desirability of a flourishing economy?  But the impression Mrs May gives, and clearly intends to give, is that Conservative governments provide this strength and Labour governments don’t and won’t.

Sadly I suspect that most of the electorate accept this, but it is the triumph of slick PR and a lick-spittle press rather than an objective appraisal of the truth.

Simon Wren-Lewis, a professor of Economics at Oxford University, has attempted to provide such an appraisal   on his blog Mainly Macro.  I strongly recommend  reading the entire article at

But in case you haven’t time here is an honest summary.  (My own additional comments in Italics in brackets). The survey looks at the major economic decisions by British governments over the past forty years or so:  1979 - 1997 (Conservative Chancellors of the Exchequer), 1997 - 2010 (Labour), post 2010 (Conservative)

1.       Geoffrey Howe’s (Conservative) 1981 budget.  Imposed tax rises in the middle of a recession.  Was famously opposed by 364 economists in a letter to The Times. Generally accepted to have delayed recovery by some 18 months.  (This was the period in which Britain’s manufacturing  capacity was reduced by a fifth, and unemployment rose to over 3 million, with the consequent  loss of skills and export potential – not to mention devastated communities and much human misery)

2.       The Lawson (Conservative) Boom in the late 80’s: a dash for growth (that produced little growth but lots of inflation).


3.       Joining the  Exchange Rate Mechanism of the EU (The ERM) in  1990 (John Major, Conservative chancellor).  (Most of us welcomed this as a good move. The problem was that we joined at too high a rate – almost 3DM to the £.  John Major was not necessarily to blame: Mrs Thatcher is said to have decided on the figure unilaterally, and imposed it on her cabinet.


4.       Ejection from the ERM. Black Wednesday,16 September 1992,   Norman Lamont Conservative chancellor. ( The above rate proved unsustainable  Britain was ignominiously  forced to leave the ERM)
5.       The failure throughout  this period to use the revenues from North Sea Oil to set up a Sovereign Wealth Fund (as did, for example, Norway)  (Instead the bonus was squandered on tax cuts and the funding of the high level of unemployment)

The ERM debacle led to the loss of the Conservative's credibility on economic matters and,  eventually, to Tony Blair’s Labour landslide in 1997.  

 Wren - Lewis highlights three major decisions made during the period of the Blair Brown governments and  argues that all three were correct.  They are:


1.       The independence of the Bank of England (from 2nd May 1997).


2.       The decision, engineered by Gordon Brown, not to join the Euro in 2003. 

3.       The fiscal stimulus (Alistair Darling Chancellor of the Exchequer) after the crash of 2007 which stabilised the economy and restored some growth.

Wren-Lewis excuses the Labour government’s failure to regulate the banks and financial sector more tightly, and thus perhaps avoid the crash of 2007, on the grounds that they were following the consensus view at the time. The Conservatives were arguing for even lighter regulation.

(Wren-Lewis does not mention  the financing of public sector infrastructure projects, especially hospitals and schools, by Private Financial Initiatives, PFIs, which I believe is a major mistake for which we shall be paying over the odds for years if not generations)

On George Osborne’s tenure as Chancellor, Wren-Lewis praises the decision to set up the Office of Budget Responsibility, OBR, but condemns the decision to embark on austerity from 2010 as a “huge mistake.”  He also points out that the decisions to leave the Single Market and Customs Union are not mandated by the Referendum but are “down to the Conservative government alone.”.

All in all, it is hard to argue with Wren-Lewis's  conclusion that "[The track records ] show clearly that Labour tend to get things right  while the Conservatives  have created a number of major policy induced  disasters."

Monday, 8 May 2017

Liberal Democrats back in the frame.


Like most Liberal Democrats I was hoping our we would make significant gains in last week's local elections. After all the augurs were good. We'd polled above 30% and come second in the Witney by-election caused by David Cameron's breaking his promise to stay on and sort out the mess he'd made, and won the Richmond Park by-election caused by Zak Goldsmith's keeping his promise to resign and re-fight the seat if the Tories approved the third runway at Heathrow. These were on top of frequent gains in numerous local government by-election, all dutifully reported on Liberal Democrat Voice.

The only way was up, or so it seemed, and the loss of 42 seats, rather than net gains was a bit of a blow.  However, we've been on the fringe of politics for most of the past half-century so have become quite good at seeking consolation which belies surface  appearances.

And in this case the consolation is, it seems to me, quite credible.  In these elections our over-all share of the vote was 18%.  This is a substantial  increase on the 11% we achieved  when these seats were last contested four years ago.  An increase of a seven  percentage points form 11 ist an increased share of 64%.  Wow!

Another consoling factor is that these elections were essentially for county councils and we have never done very well in those.  In fact in the '60s and '70s we often left them uncontested.  Our activist were often more motivated by more local issues, derided by some as "pavement politics," and this indifference towards county council matters was shared by much of the electorate. 

In fact the only time the Liberals fielded a full slate of candidates  for the West Yorkshire County Council was in 1981.   This also turned out to be the last time as the Conservative government abolished  our  county council, along with all the other Metropolitan Councils and the Greater London Council, becasue Mrs Thatcher was needled by London's Ken Livingstone didn't like the fact that most others also had substantial Labour majorities.  So much for the Tory dedication to democracy.

Hence there was no election last week in the old West Yorkshire area, where we have so far successfully avoided being bullied into having a directly elected mayor. (For some reason the election of London's mayor is out of sinc with the rest and Labour's Sadiq Khan won that last year)

It is therefore not unrealistic to expect an even greater improvement in our fortunes in the coming general election.  This optimism is enhanced by the fact that both Labour and the Conservatives are so far fighting poor campaigns. Both are issuing promises about this that and the other what they will do when returned to government, and routinely rubbishing the promises of the other. 

I'm pretty certain few people believe any of the promises anyway and will be fed up to the back teeth of the whole patronising pantomime after anther five weeks.  A turnout as low as 60% is already predicted.

So far the Liberal Democrats have fought a god campaign.

On Europe we have made it quite clear that we are totally opposed to a hard Brexit, want to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union, and want another referendum on whatever terms are achieved.

On taxation we advocate an extra 1p on all rates of income tax, ring fenced for the NHS.

Our European stance  should appeal to the 48% of Remain voters,and not a few of the 52% who recognise how the promises of the leavers are unravelling.  And the penny for the NHS  should appeal to everybody.

Inevitably during the campaign we shall have to take positions on other issues, but if we avoid being distracted and hammer away at our two USPs we should do well.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

We should "Go for it."



On Tuesday of this week our former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said on Radio 4's Today programme words to the effect that Mrs May and the Tories are more or less bound to win the election.  Then on the same slot on Wednesday our present leader Tim Farron said she was "Slam dunk" (whatever hat means) for victory.

I find this astonishing  in any circumstances.  Whoever went into a competition saying they were bound to lose? In the present circumstances it is outrageously timid.  Throughout the "Western" world politics have never been so uncertain.

In France not one but both major parties, the Socialist Party of the incumbent president and the standard alternative right wing party, the Republicans, have been eliminated from the presidential election, and the final contest is to be between the Far Right and a man representing no party at all.  And although M Macron appears to have a 60/40 lead there are still fears that sufficient socialists and other on the left may abstain rather than put clothes pegs on their noses and vote to stop the Front National, who consequently believe there is still "all to play for."

And only last year world opinion had it that Mrs Clinton was a "shoe in" for the US Presidency, and that Donald Trump was an outrageous and unbalanced maverick whom everyone could see was totally unfit for any sort of public office.  And now he holds the most powerful position in the world.

In 2011 the Liberals, Canada's "natural party of government" were not just beaten but reduced to third place, but returned to majority and government in 2015

And in this country in 2011, at the start of the  referendum on electoral reform those in favour had a two to one majority.  But we lost. And last year a victory for leaving the EU seemed so improbable that no one bothered to  put in a requirement for the usual  super-majority which is standard when even such as golf clubs and music societies want to change their constitutions.  So now we're lumbered with Brexit.

With politics so volatile, why don't we "progressives" go all out for rejecting what must surely be the mast damaging and destructive, government n our post-war history?  ( Yes, probably even more so than Mrs Thatcher's, though she started the rot).

The conditions for this to happen include:

  1. Labour party stalwarts stop sniping  at Jeremy Corbyn, let him be himself* and get behind him;
  2. Liberal Democrats, Greens, nationalists and others also stop sniping and attacking each other and agree that they are prepared to work together with Labour and each other  to recreate our tolerant, generous and open liberal democracy;
  3. Stop the Brexit nonsense altogether;
  4. If the party leaderships won't make electoral pacts, use co-ordinated tactical voting to return progressive pro-EU members to the new parliament.
There isn't much time, but this will  replace a reluctant rearguard action with an exciting vision worth fighting for.

*  Here's an upbeat extract from Simon Jenkins's article in today's Guardian:

Corbyn should  . . .[go] for broke.  Invite a vote for moral outrage,  nuclear disarmament  and an end to neo-imperial wars.  Attack  chief executive salaries , crazy energy subsidies and vanity infrastructure projects.  Promote universal incomes, prison reform and drug legislation.

Well, not all Liberal Democrats, Greens, nationalists et al would agree with all of that (though I do) but surely it's something we can work with, and better than the destructive paths on which Mrs May seems hell-bent.