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Archive for the ‘reform’ Category

Not a moment too soon it actually looks like the BBC’s cosy world of unaccountability, an appallingly cavalier attitude to income it does not earn but extorts from the general public for whom it has constantly shown nothing but contempt in recent years, and a severe political bias that has penetrated every level of the organisation over several decades, is about to come to an abrupt end. It certainly looks like Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative culture secretary, has actually been listening to people like me (and there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of people like me) and has bravely, recognising the urgent necessity, decided to be the one to stand up to and take on the monolithic social, economic and cultural parasite that our national broadcaster, in its current form, has become.

If we are to believe what Hunt has told the Daily Telegraph, then the skids really are finally under the BBC closed shop. Furthermore, if its managers refuse to budge on certain issues, including Hunt’s very reasonable proposal that there be a significant reduction in the ridiculous licence tax given the Labour-generated current economic climate, then it could, finally, finally, herald the moment when long-overdue and massive reform comes to the creaking, unfit-for-purpose, throwback-Soviet organisation.

The Telegraph reports Hunt as saying, among other things:

There are huge numbers of things that need to be changed at the BBC. They need to demonstrate the very constrained financial situation we are now in

All the concerns I had in opposition about executive salaries and use of licence fee funds for things many people thought were extraordinary or outrageous – that (next year) will be moment when I express them

Now, I know this won’t lead to the kind of breaking-up of the corporation I want to see, with the selling off of all but the core radio and TV channels (R4, R2, Five Live, BBC1 and 2), the abolition of the jurassic licence fee (to be replaced by a central grant, charitable status and fundraising powers), but I certainly recognise that this is far more than mere gesture politics at a ripe moment. Hunt means to force the BBC into putting its house in real order, or else.

Never thought I’d see the day. Well done Jeremy Hunt. Let battle commence!

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A new take on the expenses scandal by Andrew Alexander in the Daily Mail this morning certainly interested me. Briefly, from what he says, the majority of MPs are basically under-worked idlers leading cushy daily lives at the taxpayers’ expense – and that’s before their profiting from the long-abused old system of extra remuneration, particularly in the area of mortgage interest relief and house flipping, is taken into account. Even their passing, as, Alexander points out, various overpaid knights of the realm are hired ostensibly to get tough on abuses, will not impact on the soft furnishings and long holidays that is an MP’s current happy lot. The article itself has much more to say on these subjects than this, of course, and is rather more complex and nuanced than I’ve given it credit for in this little summary, so it is definitely worth reading it fairly closely.

The row over MPs’ expenses has gone from scandals to shambles in a few months.

Perhaps Gordon Brown and David Cameron really believed they could exorcise the abuses by calling in outside grandees.

But recruiting three knights from the ranks of the Great and the Good has led only to dispute and confusion.


Sir Thomas Legg’s examination of past expenses may have usefully highlighted some gross and even criminal irregularities.

But he has also formulated some odd, retrospective rules of his own, which almost make you feel sympathy for MPs.

We also have proposed new rules about expenses from Sir Christopher Kelly, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life – some ideas sensible and some naive.

Our next knight, lawyer Sir Ian Kennedy, heads the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, charged with implementing the Kelly plan.


But he says that he has ideas of his own and will consult widely, even using Facebook – which is like looking for advice in a saloon bar.

Could the confusion get worse? Yes, it could.

A fourth knight has charged into the melee. Sir John Baker, formerly head of the Senior Salaries Review Board, thinks that matters could be sorted by increasing MPs’ basic pay from £65,000 to £100,000.

Do not fall for this, the most dangerous idea of all based on the scarcely sane notion that full-time politicians would improve our lives. Sadly, this belief has considerable public appeal.

Having observed MPs closely for 40 years, let me underline the basic difficulty about salaries and expenses. It lies in backbenchers effectively having two part-time jobs.

The first is as local representatives, which requires them to live in their area or have a second home there.

The second part-time job is as a legislator at Westminster. This need not be onerous, but does require MPs making themselves available on a difficult timetable.

A second home is thus a reasonable expense in a job that in any case is always at the whim of voters. Unfortunately, the system has been discredited by abuses.

Properly policed and, above all, transparent this need not be so. We do not need Kelly’s complicated plan for hotel costs or variations thereof.


Transparency is the key to containing expenses, not complex new rules. MPs know that abuses will lose them votes if publicised – as they now can be.

But once one has conceded the two homes difficulty, we should appreciate that the minimum requirements of MPs’ two part-time jobs still do not add up to one full-time job.

Those who believe that Members are overworked as legislators need only tune in to the parliamentary TV channel to observe acres of unoccupied green leather.

Tackle MPs on this and they insist that they are busy at other things, not least dealing with their postbags.

But this can be conscientiously dispatched in two hours a day. Moreover, MPs these days have an office and personal staff that can deal routinely with many problems raised by constituents.

We might also remember when MPs plead overwork that Parliament sits for only two-thirds of the year and that the working week there can be brief.

They are obliged to turn up on Monday, though often not until late in the day. They may well be away before too late on Thursday.

Helpful whips and the use of pairing arrangements make the week anything but onerous.

Yet many MPs claim to lead exhaustingly busy lives.

Some zealots do. But Parkinson’s law, about work expanding to fill the time allotted, applies in Parliament as elsewhere.

Put any group of politicians together and they can always busy themselves arguing, chatting and scheming – nothing wrong with that, but not something for which the taxpayer should be generous.

The notion that an ordinary backbencher’s job is other than part-time is quite a recent invention.

Cynics will note that the rising call for full-time pay has precisely matched the devolution of legislation from Westminster to Brussels – less work, more pay!

Outside work is not just possible but also desirable if Members are not to get even further out of contact with the real world.

There are many activities in which MPs can earn extra income, for example, journalism, law, business, accountancy and authorship.

If an MP tells you he can’t find work in any outside capacity, you have to wonder why he is fitted to be a legislator.

Unfortunately, there is a growing hostility to such work from Brown and Cameron – from Brown because the Tories get more of it and from Cameron because he thinks the public dislikes it.

However, both of them also have easier party management in mind. MPs with no trade or employment to fall back on if they lose their seats are simpler to control.

This unhealthy dependence is backed by Kelly, who proposes that Members should do outside work only within ‘reasonable limits’ and tell their voters about it at election time.

A more woolly-minded formula is impossible to imagine. It makes you wonder if we are really making any progress at all.

Fascinating stuff, but I disagree with at least one point. While it is certainly plausible for Brown’s Labour shower, given, for instance, his political vulnerability to critics from within his own party, I’m not totally convinced that the ‘easier party management’ argument entirely explains David Cameron’s acquiescence to the ban on MPs’ contract work for a couple of reasons. First, most Tory MPs had already agreed to stop contract activities long before Legg published his extraordinary report and seem if not comfortable then certainly resigned to Cameron’s new order; indeed, many fully accepted it appreciating that given the public outcry it needed to be done. The smart ones needed little convincing so the ‘easier party management’ outcome was incidental, at least for the Tories (not so for Labour, of course).

Second, it is highly unlikely that Cameron had an ulterior motive for bringing forward new rules for his party to obey. He was genuinely eager to clean up his party’s act and so he took the lead early on in the scandal and did just that, unlike Brown who has characteristically dithered all the way through and now looks the feeble, rudderless, dishonest and discredited “leader” many of us have known him to be for some considerable time. However, it is certainly the case that, as Alexander intimates, thanks to that dithering and because he is just too damn tribal and arrogant to listen to the leader of the Opposition, the resulting reforms to the way MPs must conduct themselves in public life – and the amount of work they are burdened with (or not, as the case may be) – the subsequent parliamentary reforms have Brown and his useless ministerial clan’s mucky fingerprints all over them. They are already starting to look like a typical, awful Brown fudge. If past experience is anything to go by, pretty soon they certainly will be a shambles as Alexander says – and a total, disastrous, Labour shambles to boot.

But this will simply be one more mess for the Tories to clear up after Brown’s trainwreck government is finally booted out. When Cameron comes to tackling it, however, he needs to make absolutely sure that his reform package includes one, key sentence: “MPs must earn, and be seen to be earning, taxpayers’ money”. The impression that while the rest of us work as hard as we can in our struggle to make it through Brown’s bust, our elected representatives remain pampered and lazy will not be removed by abolishing second homes for London MPs and the tearing up the John Lewis list. I also believe they should do what they have been elected to do, namely, serve as a Member of Parliament representing the constituency that elected them and not ‘advising’ private companies under any circumstances. The fact that we actually need these new rules to force them to do their jobs strikes me as a very convincing reason for why we desperately need a large influx of new and willing blood in parliament, too!

The main point for me, however, is that I believe Cameron does understand these arguments and frustrations. It’s one of the reasons why intend to lend him my vote at the General Election – and you should too. If he gets it wrong, we can always send him the way of Brown, after all. That’s what’s so good about democracy.

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Just been listening to Radio 4’s news on the way back from a little trip and was surprised (or, perhaps, wasn’t surprised one little bit) to hear that Sir Ian Kennedy, friend of Alastair “David Kelly’s Death Made Me Depressed” Campbell, no less, and appointed head of the flash, new independent committee charged with monitoring MPs’ behaviour and finances in future (but is laughably answerable to – you guessed it – a committee of MPs) has begun to backtrack on the other Kelly’s reforms. That was a long sentence, I know, but I do tend not to brake for the corners when I’m miffed. And I am miffed. This is looking like an all-too familiar New Labour balls up, with the wrong man placed in charge of the wrong solution to a problem that has one cause: people with no integrity – who need to be replaced en masse with people that do.

Anyway, the Torygraph’s Benedict Brogan blogged something on the suspicious link between Kennedy and the still-lying, cretinous Campbell earlier on. It’s quite interesting if only for the fact that liar Campbell, reduced now, or so we are led to believe, to the role of pisspoor, poisonous Labourist blogger, has anything to do with this scandal in the first place.

Alastair Campbell has produced a typically robust response on his blog to the Telegraph’s coverage of his friendship with Sir Ian Kennedy, the new expenses supremo. That the big-brained head of IPSA, the body charged with sorting out the expenses mess, thought the French were capable of producing Skylab must remain one of the great bafflements of the age.

What is more worrying, and should be studied closely by anyone with an interest in the way Parliament is addressing the challenge of cleaning up the expenses system, is the overnight revelation that Sir Ian has decided to challenge the Kelly recommendations. Sir Christopher Kelly’s committee reported on Wednesday with a list of recommendations for making the system more transparent and credible. The party leaders endorsed the report and asked for it to be implemented in full. The public appeared to react positively to it, and even if some MPs griped anonymously about its reommendations, most wisely accepted that it was a good piece of work that would help draw a line under this sorry affair.

Except Sir Ian has other plans and I gather has briefed some of my colleagues on what he envisages. You can read carefully worded accounts of what he has to say in the Telegraph, Guardian and Mail. It’s supposed to be hush hush apparently, but unless I’ve missed something I can’t see we should revert to the lack of transparency that allowed this scandal to develop in the first place. Specifically, Sir Ian believes he has a statutory right to conduct his own review of MPs’ pay and allowances, and intends to do so. He will have his proposals in place for the next Parliament. Apparently he doubts whether MPs can be made to hand over any capital gains or dismiss family members from the payroll. IPSA needs to be rigorously independent, but I imagine the party leaderships will be disappointed to discover that what they thought had been settled by Kelly is being reopened again.

Old New Labour habits of corruption and cronyism apparently die very hard. Utterly pathetic.

Hat tip: Prodicus

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Cuts in government expenditure is one issue that has dogged the Tories for nigh on a decade of Brownian dictatorship. As long as Brown was able to fool people into thinking that there was endless money available for massive growth in government spending, then any Tory even suggesting that it was not only desirable but essential to peg back what they argued was an unsustainable expansion of the state was laughed off the stage. Not any more. The bust has come and Brown has not only been made to look a fool, his mismanagement of the economy has been revealed in all its stark reality, with the consequent pain being felt throughout the country. [Check out this devastating article in today’s DT, if you want to know how bad that pain is and how much worse it is going to get.]

The Tory predictions of the 2005 general election have come true in spectacular fashion. As Mervyn King said only yesterday, running a structural deficit during what turned out to be little more than a property bubble – ie, a period of unsustainable growth – has just about ruined the UK. The myth of Labour’s reputation for economic competence has been exploded once and for all. All we have had, in fact, is a near ten year explosion in state spending with little or no return in terms of improved productivity in virtually every targeted sector. In fact in some areas, such as the NHS and schools, standards have fallen, despite gargantuan chunks of money being thrown at them. One area where there have been improvements, if you can call it that, is in state wage levels. An NHS GP can now earn twice as much as an MP; a state school teacher in his first year, after gaining a fairly modest degree followed by a year of PGCE indoctrination, can expect to clear £30,000 plus, depending on the school. I simply do not believe these people are worth that kind of money. (I know from my own experience that many NQTs certainly aren’t!)

It’s difficult to cut state salaries, but they can and must be capped. That will help, but genuine, capital cuts are also required if the country is to avoid a return to the disease the last Labour government caused: stagflation. Brown has lost the argument on cuts – even his own party knows that now. He has been caught out lying about, among many other things, Labour cuts, something for which he will never be forgiven. Further, the mood of the public has altered and there are signs that Tory proposals will be taken seriously, as long as they are constructive. There is such a thing as constructive cuts, as long as the new spending levels are managed professionally, something which has been sadly lacking in the chaotic Brown years of profligate waste and corruption.

Fraser Nelson this a’rtnoon has written another decent piece on this subject. I like Nelson, by the way. If Guido caught Brown out on the smears thing, it’s Nelson who’s really got him on the economy – and deserves as much credit as the former got for his expose. In his piece today, though, he made some interesting observations about how the Tories might re-organise goverment spending in their first years in office, which are likely to be, thanks to Brown’s nation-braking levels of borrowing and debt, extremely difficult (no change there, then). According to Nelson, however, the first thing to reconstruct will be the mechanisms of cabinet government smashed to pieces by Brown as a consequence of his dictatorial style of what can be loosely described as leadership “where ministers are handed their budgets and told to eat it.”

Here’s how it would work. The spending envelope would be set, in the Budget – but it won’t just be the Chancellor demanding cuts. The Office for Budget Responsibility would be up and running too. Very little attention is being given to the OBR, perhaps because it sounds like some spivvy quango which will be an irrelevance. But Americans perhaps thought that about the Congressional Budget Office before Nixon set it up in 1973 – it now has huge authority, and is a powerful check on the administration. If Britain had a CBO then Brown would not be able to lie through statistics so much. The Tories genuinely regard the OBR as a shift in power, removing the ability of the government to vandalise the public finances (and conceal debt) to the extent that Brown has done.

Crucially, the OBR would be responsible for telling the government when it needs to start repaying the debt. Mervyn King yesterday argued for prompter repayment—in the Tory era, we will have an OBR saying “quite right, and here is what we demand of the government.” It would be apolitical, and would not specify if these cuts were to come from extra tax or lower spending. It may (I hope) produce a model for dynamic tax forecasting – thus giving a realistic assessment of the options available to the Treasury. At present, HMT does “ready reckoners” which don’t account for the fact that higher taxes lower the incentive to work. The Treasury is programmed with false, zero- sum, high-tax logic. The OBR has the potential to take a real-world view of taxes – and hopefully a Tory Treasury will too.

Who would do the talking? Sir Alan Budd has been advising the Tories on the OBR, and I suspect that he may well end up chairing it (although other candidates are in the frame). So when the OBR speaks, the Chancellor will respond – in the Budget. That will set out a general spending envelope. Then, the Tories will start to work out who will eat the cuts.

To me, this is very significant in that it implies that after nearly a decade and a half of one, unanswerable man spending the country into oblivion, ably assisted by a constant stream of over-promoted and under-qualified, low-grade ministers given entire departments to play with, that game is over. No longer will ministers beaten into submission by an all-powerful Chancellor/PM, it seems. And no longer will the Chancellor/PM be able to do such a thing even if he was corrupt enough to be so-inclined if this new quango really will have the kind of power the Tories claim.

However, surely there are constitutional issues involved, which Nelson does not discuss, preferring instead to continue revealing details of the Tory proposals, which, he says, are almost certainly going to be implemented. But the constitutionality of this OBR quango is an issue that must be explored. An elected Prime Minister is also First Lord of the Treasury and he appoints his Chancellor to run the country’s finances, who is also (but not necessarily) elected to the House of Commons. At least with this arrangement it can be argued that, however superficially, the will of the people in the area of state expenditure is represented. The same cannot be said were Prime Minister Cameron to go ahead and create this committee, appointing unelected, paid experts ostensibly to oversee the government’s performance in the area of budgetary management (presumably in a similar way to the Bank of England’s oversight of fiscal management).

In fact, this body, assuming is has powers of censure, will have more authority than, possibly, it is within the gift of the elected guardian of the nation’s treasure can cede. But without Cameron giving-up that authority, then the new organisation will be toothless rendering the proposal as little more than a political move to deflect some of the blame for budgetary errors away from the government (“Ah, but, the OBR said this. We did what they said so don’t blame us that it’s gone wrong.” And so on). Clever, but dishonest. Rest assured, it is something the Left will seize upon with typical, breathtaking hypocrisy.

For myself, I agree with the idea in principle. Anything that can take restore the reputation of government and parliament and offer genuine transparency and scrutiny after the utter disasters of the Brown years must be a good thing. But I do believe this new proposal for a new uber-quango must be examined from a constitutional standpoint before it is created, and it must be proved to me that it is not just a stunt.

Incidentally, there is one other ‘constitutional’ issue worth mentioning: how will this affect the ‘authority’ of the supra-national EU budgetary committees, one wonders? It seems to me there might well be a very wily ulterior motive for the creation of the OBR: to limit the influence and interference of EU policymakers in UK spending plans. In other words, this is Cameron and Osborne’s way of cocking a snook at the interventionist Eurosocialists.

If this is true, then for almost the first time with the New Tories, I’m genuinely impressed.

Read Full Post »

Cuts in government expenditure is one issue that has dogged the Tories for nigh on a decade of Brownian dictatorship. As long as Brown was able to fool people into thinking that there was endless money available for massive growth in government spending, then any Tory even suggesting that it was not only desirable but essential to peg back what they argued was an unsustainable expansion of the state was laughed off the stage. Not any more. The bust has come and Brown has not only been made to look a fool, his mismanagement of the economy has been revealed in all its stark reality, with the consequent pain being felt throughout the country. [Check out this devastating article in today’s DT, if you want to know how bad that pain is and how much worse it is going to get.]

The Tory predictions of the 2005 general election have come true in spectacular fashion. As Mervyn King said only yesterday, running a structural deficit during what turned out to be little more than a property bubble – ie, a period of unsustainable growth – has just about ruined the UK. The myth of Labour’s reputation for economic competence has been exploded once and for all. All we have had, in fact, is a near ten year explosion in state spending with little or no return in terms of improved productivity in virtually every targeted sector. In fact in some areas, such as the NHS and schools, standards have fallen, despite gargantuan chunks of money being thrown at them. One area where there have been improvements, if you can call it that, is in state wage levels. An NHS GP can now earn twice as much as an MP; a state school teacher in his first year, after gaining a fairly modest degree followed by a year of PGCE indoctrination, can expect to clear £30,000 plus, depending on the school. I simply do not believe these people are worth that kind of money. (I know from my own experience that many NQTs certainly aren’t!)

It’s difficult to cut state salaries, but they can and must be capped. That will help, but genuine, capital cuts are also required if the country is to avoid a return to the disease the last Labour government caused: stagflation. Brown has lost the argument on cuts – even his own party knows that now. He has been caught out lying about, among many other things, Labour cuts, something for which he will never be forgiven. Further, the mood of the public has altered and there are signs that Tory proposals will be taken seriously, as long as they are constructive. There is such a thing as constructive cuts, as long as the new spending levels are managed professionally, something which has been sadly lacking in the chaotic Brown years of profligate waste and corruption.

Fraser Nelson this a’rtnoon has written another decent piece on this subject. I like Nelson, by the way. If Guido caught Brown out on the smears thing, it’s Nelson who’s really got him on the economy – and deserves as much credit as the former got for his expose. In his piece today, though, he made some interesting observations about how the Tories might re-organise goverment spending in their first years in office, which are likely to be, thanks to Brown’s nation-breaking levels of borrowing and debt, extremely difficult (no change there, then). According to Nelson, however, the first thing to reconstruct will be the mechanisms of cabinet government smashed to pieces by Brown as a consequence of his dictatorial style of what can be loosely described as leadership “where ministers are handed their budgets and told to eat it.”

Here’s how it would work. The spending envelope would be set, in the Budget – but it won’t just be the Chancellor demanding cuts. The Office for Budget Responsibility would be up and running too. Very little attention is being given to the OBR, perhaps because it sounds like some spivvy quango which will be an irrelevance. But Americans perhaps thought that about the Congressional Budget Office before Nixon set it up in 1973 – it now has huge authority, and is a powerful check on the administration. If Britain had a CBO then Brown would not be able to lie through statistics so much. The Tories genuinely regard the OBR as a shift in power, removing the ability of the government to vandalise the public finances (and conceal debt) to the extent that Brown has done.

Crucially, the OBR would be responsible for telling the government when it needs to start repaying the debt. Mervyn King yesterday argued for prompter repayment—in the Tory era, we will have an OBR saying “quite right, and here is what we demand of the government.” It would be apolitical, and would not specify if these cuts were to come from extra tax or lower spending. It may (I hope) produce a model for dynamic tax forecasting – thus giving a realistic assessment of the options available to the Treasury. At present, HMT does “ready reckoners” which don’t account for the fact that higher taxes lower the incentive to work. The Treasury is programmed with false, zero- sum, high-tax logic. The OBR has the potential to take a real-world view of taxes – and hopefully a Tory Treasury will too.

Who would do the talking? Sir Alan Budd has been advising the Tories on the OBR, and I suspect that he may well end up chairing it (although other candidates are in the frame). So when the OBR speaks, the Chancellor will respond – in the Budget. That will set out a general spending envelope. Then, the Tories will start to work out who will eat the cuts.

To me, this is very significant in that it implies that after nearly a decade and a half of one, unanswerable man spending the country into oblivion, ably assisted by a constant stream of over-promoted and under-qualified, low-grade ministers given entire departments to play with, that game is over. No longer will ministers be beaten into submission by an all-powerful Chancellor/PM, it seems. And no longer will the Chancellor/PM be able to do such a thing even if he was corrupt enough to be so-inclined if this new quango really will have the kind of power the Tories claim.

However, surely there are constitutional issues involved, which Nelson does not discuss, preferring instead to continue revealing details of the Tory proposals, which, he says, are almost certainly going to be implemented. But the constitutionality of this OBR quango is an issue that must be explored. An elected Prime Minister is also First Lord of the Treasury and he appoints his Chancellor to run the country’s finances, who is also (but not necessarily) elected to the House of Commons. At least with this arrangement it can be argued that, however superficially, the will of the people in the area of state expenditure is represented. The same cannot be said were Prime Minister Cameron to go ahead and create this committee, appointing unelected, paid experts ostensibly to oversee the government’s performance in the area of budgetary management (presumably in a similar way to the Bank of England’s oversight of monetary policy).

In fact, this body, assuming it has powers of censure, will have more authority than, possibly, it is within the gift of the elected guardian of the nation’s treasure to cede. But without Cameron giving-up that authority, then the new organisation will be toothless rendering the proposal as little more than a political move to deflect some of the blame for budgetary errors away from the government (“Ah, but, the OBR said this. We did what they said so don’t blame us that it’s gone wrong.” And so on). Clever, but dishonest. Rest assured, it is something the Left will seize upon with typical, breathtaking hypocrisy.

For myself, I agree with the idea in principle. Anything that can restore the reputation of government and parliament and offer genuine transparency and scrutiny after the utter disasters of the Brown years must be a good thing. But I do believe this new proposal for a new uber-quango must be examined from a constitutional standpoint before it is created, and it must be proved to me that it is not just a stunt.

Incidentally, there is one other ‘constitutional’ issue worth mentioning: how will this affect the ‘authority’ of the supra-national EU budgetary committees, one wonders? It seems to me there might well be a very wily ulterior motive for the creation of the OBR: to limit the influence and interference of EU policymakers in UK spending plans. In other words, this is Cameron and Osborne’s way of cocking a snook at the interventionist Eurosocialists.

If this is true, then for almost the first time with the New Tories, I’m genuinely impressed.

Read Full Post »

Cuts in government expenditure is one issue that has dogged the Tories for nigh on a decade of Brownian dictatorship. As long as Brown was able to fool people into thinking that there was endless money available for massive growth in government spending, then any Tory even suggesting that it was not only desirable but essential to peg back what they argued was an unsustainable expansion of the state was laughed off the stage. Not any more. The bust has come and Brown has not only been made to look a fool, his mismanagement of the economy has been revealed in all its stark reality, with the consequent pain being felt throughout the country. [Check out this devastating article in today’s DT, if you want to know how bad that pain is and how much worse it is going to get.]

The Tory predictions of the 2005 general election have come true in spectacular fashion. As Mervyn King said only yesterday, running a structural deficit during what turned out to be little more than a property bubble – ie, a period of unsustainable growth – has just about ruined the UK. The myth of Labour’s reputation for economic competence has been exploded once and for all. All we have had, in fact, is a near ten year explosion in state spending with little or no return in terms of improved productivity in virtually every targeted sector. In fact in some areas, such as the NHS and schools, standards have fallen, despite gargantuan chunks of money being thrown at them. One area where there have been improvements, if you can call it that, is in state wage levels. An NHS GP can now earn twice as much as an MP; a state school teacher in his first year, after gaining a fairly modest degree followed by a year of PGCE indoctrination, can expect to clear £30,000 plus, depending on the school. I simply do not believe these people are worth that kind of money. (I know from my own experience that many NQTs certainly aren’t!)

It’s difficult to cut state salaries, but they can and must be capped. That will help, but genuine, capital cuts are also required if the country is to avoid a return to the disease the last Labour government caused: stagflation. Brown has lost the argument on cuts – even his own party knows that now. He has been caught out lying about, among many other things, Labour cuts, something for which he will never be forgiven. Further, the mood of the public has altered and there are signs that Tory proposals will be taken seriously, as long as they are constructive. There is such a thing as constructive cuts, as long as the new spending levels are managed professionally, something which has been sadly lacking in the chaotic Brown years of profligate waste and corruption.

Fraser Nelson this a’rtnoon has written another decent piece on this subject. I like Nelson, by the way. If Guido caught Brown out on the smears thing, it’s Nelson who’s really got him on the economy – and deserves as much credit as the former got for his expose. In his piece today, though, he made some interesting observations about how the Tories might re-organise goverment spending in their first years in office, which are likely to be, thanks to Brown’s nation-breaking levels of borrowing and debt, extremely difficult (no change there, then). According to Nelson, however, the first thing to reconstruct will be the mechanisms of cabinet government smashed to pieces by Brown as a consequence of his dictatorial style of what can be loosely described as leadership “where ministers are handed their budgets and told to eat it.”

Here’s how it would work. The spending envelope would be set, in the Budget – but it won’t just be the Chancellor demanding cuts. The Office for Budget Responsibility would be up and running too. Very little attention is being given to the OBR, perhaps because it sounds like some spivvy quango which will be an irrelevance. But Americans perhaps thought that about the Congressional Budget Office before Nixon set it up in 1973 – it now has huge authority, and is a powerful check on the administration. If Britain had a CBO then Brown would not be able to lie through statistics so much. The Tories genuinely regard the OBR as a shift in power, removing the ability of the government to vandalise the public finances (and conceal debt) to the extent that Brown has done.

Crucially, the OBR would be responsible for telling the government when it needs to start repaying the debt. Mervyn King yesterday argued for prompter repayment—in the Tory era, we will have an OBR saying “quite right, and here is what we demand of the government.” It would be apolitical, and would not specify if these cuts were to come from extra tax or lower spending. It may (I hope) produce a model for dynamic tax forecasting – thus giving a realistic assessment of the options available to the Treasury. At present, HMT does “ready reckoners” which don’t account for the fact that higher taxes lower the incentive to work. The Treasury is programmed with false, zero- sum, high-tax logic. The OBR has the potential to take a real-world view of taxes – and hopefully a Tory Treasury will too.

Who would do the talking? Sir Alan Budd has been advising the Tories on the OBR, and I suspect that he may well end up chairing it (although other candidates are in the frame). So when the OBR speaks, the Chancellor will respond – in the Budget. That will set out a general spending envelope. Then, the Tories will start to work out who will eat the cuts.

To me, this is very significant in that it implies that after nearly a decade and a half of one, unanswerable man spending the country into oblivion, ably assisted by a constant stream of over-promoted and under-qualified, low-grade ministers given entire departments to play with, that game is over. No longer will ministers be beaten into submission by an all-powerful Chancellor/PM, it seems. And no longer will the Chancellor/PM be able to do such a thing even if he was corrupt enough to be so-inclined if this new quango really will have the kind of power the Tories claim.

However, surely there are constitutional issues involved, which Nelson does not discuss, preferring instead to continue revealing details of the Tory proposals, which, he says, are almost certainly going to be implemented. But the constitutionality of this OBR quango is an issue that must be explored. An elected Prime Minister is also First Lord of the Treasury and he appoints his Chancellor to run the country’s finances, who is also (but not necessarily) elected to the House of Commons. At least with this arrangement it can be argued that, however superficially, the will of the people in the area of state expenditure is represented. The same cannot be said were Prime Minister Cameron to go ahead and create this committee, appointing unelected, paid experts ostensibly to oversee the government’s performance in the area of budgetary management (presumably in a similar way to the Bank of England’s oversight of monetary policy).

In fact, this body, assuming it has powers of censure, will have more authority than, possibly, it is within the gift of the elected guardian of the nation’s treasure to cede. But without Cameron giving-up that authority, then the new organisation will be toothless rendering the proposal as little more than a political move to deflect some of the blame for budgetary errors away from the government (“Ah, but, the OBR said this. We did what they said so don’t blame us that it’s gone wrong.” And so on). Clever, but dishonest. Rest assured, it is something the Left will seize upon with typical, breathtaking hypocrisy.

For myself, I agree with the idea in principle. Anything that can restore the reputation of government and parliament and offer genuine transparency and scrutiny after the utter disasters of the Brown years must be a good thing. But I do believe this new proposal for a new uber-quango must be examined from a constitutional standpoint before it is created, and it must be proved to me that it is not just a stunt.

Incidentally, there is one other ‘constitutional’ issue worth mentioning: how will this affect the ‘authority’ of the supra-national EU budgetary committees, one wonders? It seems to me there might well be a very wily ulterior motive for the creation of the OBR: to limit the influence and interference of EU policymakers in UK spending plans. In other words, this is Cameron and Osborne’s way of cocking a snook at the interventionist Eurosocialists.

If this is true, then for almost the first time with the New Tories, I’m genuinely impressed.

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Bercow seems to think that he is going to be the star of the All-New Reformed-Parliament Show. So far, though, he has not struck me as the sort of person who will do anything other than an absolutely terrible job. He’s full of what is clearly Labour reform spin and he sounds, frankly, dishonest. Why? Well, he can’t even take it on the chin that his own party didn’t vote for him. The Tories knew he was being forced on them out of Brownite spite – and the sums speaks for themselves. His vote count equates almost perfectly with the number of people on the Labour benches, combined with a few lefty Lib Dems. Young’s votes almost exactly correlate with the entire Tory body count, combined with a few dozen moderate Lib Dems, a very few decent Labourists and a smattering of Independents. (The rumour is that three (mad) Tories voted for him.)

Watch yesterday’s interview with Boulton (although the Bradby one was far better – but it’s a hassle to rip). This turncoat idiot thinks he’s some kind of minister. And a Labour one, to boot. Well, make your own mind up.

Then we have today’s Telegraph report that the ‘reform’ these MPs have opted for is nothing of the kind, (as I humbly predicted yesterday). The ‘transparency’ promised will not be forthcoming. They’ve covered all their bases and protected their piggy backsides once again. Are we surprised? I think not.

But one thing is clear to me, and should be clear to everyone else: this is all Brown’s work. Parliament is rotten, sure. But if you want to know what (or rather who) represents the diseased heart of that rot, then this Bill should provide final, incontravertible evidence: it is Brown. As the Heff says, Bercow is Labour’s last insult to voters. Sure, he’s Labour’s last insult, but this Bill is not Brown’s last lie. There will be many more of those to come in what will be the last months of his pitiful premiership. He lies. Through his teeth. All the time. That’s just “what he does” – ably aided and abetted by the likes of Balls, Harperson, Woodward, Mandelson – and now Bercow.

Guido Fawkes has examined the government’s new Bill in some detail and has written about it in what I think is one of his best pieces yet. These are his conclusions:

[It] is a stitch up, we don’t need more rules and self-selected regulators, we need reform of the expenses system, together with clarity, transparency and enforcement of the rules. The voters will kick out MPs if they can identify crooks, in this sense in a democracy voters are the ultimate regulator of politicians. This whole idea is ill-founded, we don’t need to intermediate democracy with another quango or committee, this approach has already failed.

We need only to empower voters with enough information so that they can determine the truth about those who seek to represent them. The truth is all we need, not redactions, not more quangocrats.

Amen to that. And it’s a message that needs to be shouted out loud every minute of every day from now until the dissolution. Someone in that disreputable House will eventually listen, surely.

One thing we do know for sure, though, is that that person won’t be John Bercow.

All he does is speaks.

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