Monday, August 20, 2007

True Colours

Having returned to the UK, I take up my reading on the newspapers, with rather limited enthusiasm- I find less and less of interest, and am tempted to limit my dead tree exposure to the Economist weekly round up.

However, in my absence, I notice the Conservatives finally seemed to be launching some policies. Well, I actually thought they were and then realised that these were just the usual flyers. So still no actual agreed manifesto is in sight. Nevertheless, it was interesting to take look at what straws are in the wind.

The usual bromides about government waste are always valid, but as usual with too many politicians, they identify the problem and decree that it will be solved, without actually telling anyone how- a classic result of a lack of management education, sadly. So while it is clear that government is still incredibly wasteful, and I have very little doubt that savings ought to be made, the unerring accuracy of Parkinson's law seems to apply with extra virulence as far as the British state - and especially British Quangos- are concerned.

All politicians seem to promise savings and cut backs on Quangos, so far no one has actually delivered. The reason why is that the structure of decision making in the public sector removes accountability and incentives- without creating new culture of openness, the savings that the Tories suggest are in fact highly unlikely to be achieved: there are too many sectional interests ht will need to be addressed- not least amongst the politicians themselves, for whom the power of patronage vis-a-vis quangos, is an important political tool. So pardon my cynicism with regard to the proposed savings- but unless you change the whole culture of the public sector, the savings are likely to be fractional.

Moving on to the other proposals, I must confess to being little bit shocked. Surely, I think, even they must have some shame? Surely even the Tories could not be so blatantly self interested?

But no they have no shame, and yes they are that blatant.

I do not have too much of problem with the idea of an inheritance tax, so in that sense I have already put myself in opposition to the Daily Mail reading classes. Frankly I do not see why the undeserving rich should not be taxed- sure, one can argue about the threshold, and perhaps it is a bit low, but quite frankly since only 6% actually pay any inheritance tax anyway that is just a matter of tinkering. But the Tories are not talking about raising the threshold- they are talking about abolishing the entire tax.

Er... Come again?

While it is being sold as a tax to benefit families, I can not help thinking that the people it most benefits are the extremely rich, not the middle classes, in particular people like, for example David Cameron and George Osbourne would be the major beneficiaries. This is a tax that fulfils all the criteria for a good tax- cheap to collect, difficult to avoid, generates significant revenue, but for the most blatantly self serving of reasons the Tories think it should be abolished.

Of course the Tories do not think that all taxes should be abolished: the proposals are supposed to be revenue neutral- but by abolishing inheritance tax, which significantly benefits the rich, they are failing to lift the tax burden on the poor. One of the most significant problems with the UK tax system is that it is significantly regressive- that is that it falls disproportionately heavily on the poor, and one reason, incidentally why I am on record as saying that we should examine the options as far as a flat tax regime is concerned. The Tories apparently do not even see the regressive taxation system as a problem- the bulk of their proposals will make that position worse.

The rest of the programme- failing to replace civil servants who retire, replacing "fact finding tours" with video conferencing is meaningless gimmickry. Even making the the Tories into the political wing of Jeremy Clarkson with such new rules as allowing traffic to turn left on red, building massive new highways, expanding Heathrow to the limit simply creates huge new unfunded expenditure. The contrast with the detailed costings and the social and environmental responsibility of the Liberal Democrat programme is dramatic.

The Tories have laid out a C- programme of inanity and banality from a D- opposition.

Must try harder!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Significant revenue? £4 billion. Sounds a lot doesn't it. You know well in the vast ocean of Govt expenditure it is no more than a drop. You also ignore that other measures are there to claw back revenue in less arbitrary ways. Two other points you might like to consider for class. One very few of your bogey men super rich ever suffer this tax, an army of lawyers and tax accountants see to that. Those who did get hit are the likes of the elderly who say thirty years ago settled in a quiet corner of London/South East and have seen the housing market explode. Or in an even bigger travesty as we've seen farmers whose income maybe small, but are forced out of their chosen way of life instead of inheriting the farm because of the value of the land as a building area for houses instead of a working farm. Perhaps you are advocating the elimination of such Kulaks I don't know.

Secondly Cicero the Tories are not a think tank there to produce policies for the Govt to cherry pick years in advance like the Lib Dems. They are the opposition outside of GE campaigns their primary brief is to hold the Govt to account for their policies. When GE campaign starts they assume a new mantle prospective Govt. Only then are the public expecting a manifesto. Until then if they are testing policy by cold measured debate to get it absolutely right, instead as so often happens with Govt using trial and error I see no need for apologies.