Thursday, May 13, 2010

Words and Deeds

They seem to have cracked the words bit

Thank you to everyone who commented and emailed yesterday telling me not to be so depressed about the Condem Coalition. As you pointed out, instead of moaning about the destruction of the old Tory Party, we ought to be looking at what the coalition is promising to do.

Fair comment.

So let's pull ourselves together and take a look at the joint Con-LD manifesto. And guess what - a lot of it turns out to be stuff we support. Although a lot of BOM's priorities are still missing:

  1.  Deficit Reduction - they are promising to "significantly accelerate" Labour's deficit reduction plan "with the main burden of deficit reduction borne by reduced spending rather than increased taxes", to cut that contentious £6bn this year, to cut some middle class welfare, and to base their forthcoming budget on independent forecasts produced by the new Office for Budget Responsibility. All of which gets a great big tick, both from us, and by the sound of it, the Governor of the Bank of England. MISSING: although they promise "long term deliverability", there's no mention of quantified fiscal rules - including that all-important "third rule" to limit spending.
  2. Spending Review - there's now an even longer list of protected areas- the NHS, schools, overseas aid, Trident, and restoration of earnings-linked state pensions. MISSING: detail on what gets cut.
  3. Tax - partial rescinding of Labour's jobs tax (but not as much rescinding as the Tories promised), and a pledge for "a substantial increase in the personal allowance from April 2011". Both good. But against that, CGT is being whacked up, and the promised IHT cut is being ditched. MISSING: there is a worrying silence about VAT. Plus there is no acknowledgement of the vital need to reduce the overall tax burden built up under Labour.
  4. Banks - new bank levy (aka liability insurance premium), and restoration of the Bank of England's supervisory powers. Both good. Euro entry ruled out, although given the rioting PIGS and the squealing German taxpayers, anything else would have been preposterous. MISSING: nothing substantive on splitting our too-big-to-fail megabanks.
  5. Immigration - cap on non-EU economic migrants - good. MISSING: any limits on other non-EU migrants like those overstaying students (eg see this blog).
  6. Political Reform - widely discussed elsewhere - fixed term Parliaments (but sensibly subject to a Commons override), referendum on AV, MP recall. MISSING: English parliament, radical reform of the Barnett Formula, fiscal decentralisation (ie decentralisation of tax raising).
  7. Pensions and welfare - bring forward increase in state pension age to 66, simplify welfare to work programme, stronger incentives for private contractors to get claimants back working, and tougher line with dole scroungers - all good. MISSING: concerted attack on middle class welfare, abolition of welfare incentives to breed, increasing state pension age to 70 soonest.
  8. Education - full free-school Gove with brass LD knobs on (ie pupil premium for poor kids). Hurrah. MISSING: explanation of how we fund pupil premium.
There are also various other headings, but as we can see, most of what the document says, we can support.

The problems come with the missing bits, especially the lack of content on spending cuts and just how we're going to manage our future public finances to deliver the lower tax burden vital to our future prosperity. NHS reform - one of Labour's biggest failures - also remains a complete mystery.

All of which is concerning. Because when it comes to spending cuts, the devil is always in the detail.

The joint manifesto's words say the coalition is starting off pointing in the right general direction. But only by their deeds shall we really know them.

PS The word fairness got a lot of use yesterday. Cam included it in his strapline pledge - "freedom, fairness and responsibility". To Tyler, fairness is a motherhood word that totally fails the opposites test - ie you cannot imagine any politico of any persuasion ever arguing for the opposite, which makes it pure waffle. But yesterday evening when Tyler suggested this to a non-Tory friend, he was told that actually there is a politico who would be prepared to argue the opposite: to wit, Lady M Thatcher. Is that right? Did she argue for unfairness? Can't say I remember it, but this friend seemed pretty sure. Must look it up, but whether she did or not, it just goes to underline how tough spending cuts always are. Because there are always losers, and it's impossible to ensure everyone takes the same hit. We may all be in this together, but some are going to suffer more than others, and whatever words Cam may use, they most definitely will not consider it fair.

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