Another Reason To Dislike Gordon Brown

I am only allowed by my wife to rant about Gordon Brown and his toxic impact on British life and politics a maximum of three times per week. Yes, she keeps track, and yes, even I will acknowledge that this has sometimes been necessary. No such restriction applies to this blog, however, which is just as well given recent revelations made by former Labour spin-doctor Damian McBride.

Apparently, Brown’s first instinct upon realising the gravity of the situation brought about by the global economic crisis and Britain’s unique unpreparedness to deal with it (thanks to eleven years of big spending Labour government) was not to issue a heartfelt mea culpa and apology to the British people for the upcoming lost decade that he was unleashing, but instead to start plotting the implementation of martial law on the streets of Britain.

Help to engineer a global financial calamity and then propose banning people from protesting about it - that's the Gordon Brown way.
Help to engineer a global financial calamity and then propose banning people from protesting about it – that’s the Gordon Brown way.

The BBC reports:

Gordon Brown discussed deploying troops on Britain’s streets as news of the 2008 financial crisis became clear, an ex-Labour spin doctor has claimed. In extracts of a book published in the Daily Mail, Damian McBride said the former prime minister feared “anarchy” once the scale of the crisis was known. According to the book, Mr Brown said: “We’d have to think: do we have curfews, do we put the Army on the streets, how do we get order back?”

I am continually accused of being too hard on Gordon Brown. He was a good person, interlocutors on his behalf insist. His heart was in the right place, they plead. He was a simple humble methodist man who just wanted to do good for his country, they tell me. Blah, blah, blah.

This man, uniquely responsible for ensuring that Britain entered the great recession as the least well prepared of all of the major world economies, thought that the best way to deal with the potential fallout would be to deploy troops on the streets to stop us from looting and pillaging our country back to the stone age.

The article continues:

Mr Brown is quoted as saying: “If the banks are shutting their doors, and the cash points aren’t working, and people go to Tesco and their cards aren’t being accepted, the whole thing will just explode.

“If you can’t buy food or petrol or medicine for your kids, people will just start breaking the windows and helping themselves.

“And as soon as people see that on TV, that’s the end, because everyone will think that’s OK now, that’s just what we all have to do. It’ll be anarchy. That’s what could happen tomorrow.”

According to Mr McBride’s book, Power Trip, Mr Brown feared panic from other countries could spread to the UK.

I am genuinely unsure which is worse – the fact that the man brought our nation to a place where such draconian, apocalyptic scenarios even had to be considered, the fact that he thought they might be the best way of tackling the problem, or the fact that his current proteges are this very day standing giving speeches at the Labour party conference in Brighton where they are denying any responsibility for or complicity in Britain’s continuing economic malaise. There are no words or phrases critical enough of the premiership of Gordon Brown.

The book’s author, Damian McBride, does not do himself any great favours as he relates the tale. Grateful as we must be to him for shedding this additional light on the Brown terror, of course McBride was personally supportive of everything that Brown did:

“It was extraordinary to see Gordon so totally gripped by the danger of what he was about to do, but equally convinced that decisive action had to be taken immediately,” Mr McBride wrote.

He claimed the then prime minister understood the situation better than other world leaders, his UK opponents and senior bankers.

And the former spin doctor rated Mr Brown’s actions as “up with those of President Kennedy and his advisers during the Cuban Missile Crisis”.

John F. Kennedy and Gordon Brown – historical equals and political peers. Aside from the fact that they both ghost-wrote books about the meaning of courage, I’m not really feeling the similarity right now.

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Brazil Explodes

Another day passes, and is followed by another night of rioting in cities across Brazil, in scenes that are becoming increasingly familiar.

Protesters in Sao Paolo - Credit: AP
Protesters in Sao Paolo – Credit: AP

The Guardian reports on the latest night of unrest and police heavy-handedness:

A vast crowd – estimated by the authorities at 300,000 and more than a million by participants – filled Rio’s streets, one of a wave of huge nationwide marches against corruption, police brutality, poor public services and excessive spending on the World Cup.

A minority of protesters threw stones, torched cars and pulled down lamp-posts. Police responded by firing volleys of pepper spray and rubber bullets into the crowd and up onto overpasses where car drivers and bus passengers were stuck in traffic jams. At least 40 people were injured in the city and many more elsewhere.

Simultaneous demonstrations were reported in at least 80 cities, with a total turnout that may have been close to 2 million. An estimated 110,000 marched in São Paulo, 80,000 in Manaus, 50,000 in Recife and 20,000 in Belo Horizonte and Salvador.

This isn’t going away any time soon – as President Dilma Rousseff seems finally to realise, as she has now cancelled her upcoming overseas visit to Japan. But what is becoming increasingly clear is the fact that the protests – ostensibly about nominal increases in public transport fares – have now taken on a life of their own, tapping into a lingering and deep-seated resentment of the Brazilian political and business establishment, and that the relatively minor affront of an increase in travel fares was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Indeed, the article continues:

Matheus Bizarria, who works for the NGO Action Aid, said people had reached the limit of their tolerance about longstanding problems that the Confederations Cup and World Cup have brought into focus because of the billions of reals spent on new stadiums rather than public services. Rio is also due to host a papal visit to World Youth Day next month, and the Olympics in 2016.

“It’s totally connected to the mega-events,” Bizarria said. “People have had enough, but last year only 100 people marched against a bus price rise. There were 1,000 last week and 100,000 on Monday. Now we hope for a million.”

I must admit that I am only now starting to familiarise myself with the political situation in Brazil and the huge, until-recently untapped reserves of anger and contempt that the population has for the incompetence of their political leaders – as manifested by a creaking infrastructure, inadequate education and healthcare outcomes, and the mismanagement of large projects such as the preparations for the 2014 World Cup.

Andrew Sullivan (and his knowledgeable readers) has a couple of excellent primers on the situation over on his blog at The Dish.

Certainly there are some very acute problems specific to Brazil which are providing much of the fuel to this particular fire. But step back and look at the causes rather than the symptoms and we realise that they are exactly the same motives that drove people onto the streets and to protest in many other countries (most notably Turkey in recent days) – an arrogant, disengaged government that wears its contempt for the people on its sleeve.

Watch Brazil closely – when public anger can explode like this in the sixth largest economy in the world, all those other countries in the top ten should be getting nervous.

Taxes, The Answer To Everything

HMRC taxes

 

When your default position holds that Government should always be bigger and seek to do more, and play an ever larger role in the life of the citizenry, it generally follows that you will also be obsessed with tax policy, and ingenious ways to come up with new revenues. After all, the all-seeing, all-knowing behemoth has to be funded somehow.

Polly Toynbee, in her latest Guardian column, lambasts the Conservative-led government for “giving up” on trying to find new revenues, and imagines a world where tax avoidance (perfectly legal) and tax evasion (not so much) can be eliminated at the click of her fingers. She writes:

Cutting the 50% top rate suggests no great enthusiasm for rigorous taxing. Last week’s ONS figures revealed gigantic avoidance of the 50% top rate. It could have been collected but George Osborne needed to prove it didn’t work. The Treasury estimated raising the rate to 50% should bring in £6.2bn, but the actual return was a puny £100m.

In year one, before its official start date, high earners gamed the tax by rushing to take dividends and bonuses early. They paid more into pensions, gaining undeserved higher tax relief. Or they used trusts, or took income as capital gains. (That can be stopped, by fixing capital gains, as Nigel Lawson did, at the same rate as income tax, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies advocates.) Once Osborne announced the top rate would fall to 45%, high earners gamed it again. Incomes Data Services reports a massive delay in bonuses until after 6 April, when they leapt up by 107% in the finance sector to catch the new 45% rate. That could have been forestalled.

In Polly Toynbee world, a 50% top rate of tax is absolutely worthy and to be encouraged, and she sees nothing wrong with this, but we already know that. What is more striking, however, is the glib way in which she assumes that the population, outraged by such high taxes, can simply be stopped from taking perfectly legal measures to limit their tax bill. Phrases such as “that can be stopped” or “that could have been forestalled” are boldly laid down, but are not followed up with the how to do it when it comes to implementation.

When she does offer specific prescriptions for raising more tax revenues, she picks and chooses from the worst and most counter-productive tax policies from around the world, including this gem:

Britain can do plenty alone: we could adopt US tax laws that make every UK passport holder, wherever they are in the world, pay UK tax.

Ah yes, double taxation. The United States is the only major western country to enforce this policy of taxing their citizens on money earned overseas, and the policy is universally despised and acts as a significant disincentive for many Americans to work abroad for any length of time. But by all means Polly, let’s adopt that hated policy.

This is not to say that there is not a very real problem of tax avoidance, but it is far more on the business side than the individual side. People are rightly outraged when companies such as Starbucks use crafty mechanisms (“oh, we have to pay all the money we make in our UK stores as a royalty to our European headquarters in Amsterdam, so we don’t have any UK profits to be taxed this year, sorry”) to avoid paying tax on profits earned in Britain. And somehow it seems even worse when those same corporations, under the harsh glare of the media spotlight, deign to cut the government a cheque, to throw the exchequer a small bone to help solve their PR crisis.

Of course, the whole quagmire could be cleaned up very easily if only there was a political party (hi, UKIP) willing to take a scythe to the existing British tax code and rebuild it from the ground up, based on the tenets of real fairness, which of course means a flat tax. A flat rate of tax on income, corporate profits, capital gains and (if we must keep it) on value added, i.e. sales. Wherever possible, double taxation should be avoided – if you have paid tax on income or a purchase already, HMRC should not be allowed to come back for a second bite of that asset later on. And if we have learned nothing else from our friends across the sea in the United States, deductions should be avoided at all costs, as should Gordon Brown’s labyrinthine system of tax credits that you can claim for everything under the sun. Eliminate deductions and tax credits so that you can lower rates for everyone.

Toynbee concludes:

Tax cheating should be Labour’s chance to tell honest political truths: you get what you pay for, you can’t have Swedish services on US tax ideology. Tax is the price we pay for civilisation. At elections, all parties promise the impossible, more with less and cuts in “bureaucracy” to pay for everything. Treating the public like children on tax does nothing for trust in politics. The door has opened for that conversation.

In her mind, big government is synonymous with “civilisation”. The more responsibilities that the government takes on, and the more that citizens are subservient to the government, the more “civilised” that society becomes. Polly Toynbee probably knows more history than me, but I can think of at least a couple of great civilisations from the past that survived and prospered just fine without 50% top rates of income tax, married couples allowances, earned income tax credits or personal allowances.

And if Polly Toynbee really thinks that the door has opened for a conversation about the government going back to talking half of every pound that you earn above a certain threshold, and preventing citizens from making private financial decisions and transactions at a time of their own choosing so as to limit their tax liability, I am reasonably confident that she will find that door slammed very hard in her face by the British people.

The Santorum Threat

Rick Santorum

You would be forgiven for thinking that Rick Santorum disappeared back into the political wilderness with the end of the 2012 presidential campaign, destined only to pop up occasionally on Fox News to wring his hands about the private sex lives of his neighbours, or to pen wacky columns for World Net Daily.

But you would be wrong.

The great and the good of the Republican Party (and Mark Sanford) have been showing up at the annual Faith & Freedom Coalition conference this past week, to stroke the egos of the evangelical “Christians” and “moral majority” Bible-thumpers therein assembled. Featured prominently among the speakers, none other than Rick Santorum.

Politico reports his speech in the context of Santorum’s implicit criticism of the Mitt Romney 2012 campaign, specifically the focus on the “You Didn’t Build That” theme:

The former Pennsylvania senator recalled all the business owners who spoke at the Republican National Convention.

“One after another, they talked about the business they had built. But not a single—not a single —factory worker went out there,” Santorum told a few hundred conservative activists at an “after-hours session” of the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in Washington. “Not a single janitor, waitress or person who worked in that company! We didn’t care about them. You know what? They built that company too! And we should have had them on that stage.

Rick Santorum is dangerous, because he alone (with the partial exception of Ron Paul’s principled candidacy) instinctively gets something about the American electorate that is all but completely lost on all of the other past and potential Republican presidential candidates over the past two election cycles.

He understands that – as we saw with the recent Bilderberg Meeting protests – an increasing number of people are becoming disenchanted with the status quo system of economic and financial governance, and are losing faith in the American dream and any hope of regaining the middle class lifestyles that they once took for granted. And he understands the undercurrent of resentment resulting from this realisation, and the corrosive effect on Mitt Romney’s base of support.

The article continues:

Santorum did not mention Romney, whom he challenged in the primaries, by name during a 21-minute speech in a dim ballroom at the Marriott (a company on whose board Romney sits). But there was no doubt who he was talking about.

“When all you do is talk to people who are owners, talk to folks who are Type A’s who want to succeed economically, we’re talking to a very small group of people,” he said. “No wonder they don’t think we care about them. No wonder they don’t think we understand them. Folks, if we’re going to win, you just need to think about who you talk to in your life.”

Trying to carve out a role as a leading populist in the 2016 field, Santorum insisted that Republicans must “talk to the folks who are worried about the next paycheck,” not the CEOs.

This really gets to the rub of the problem, and is an exact restatement of my recent arguments against the secretive Bilderberg group. The Bilderberg attendees meet in secret with other highly successful people just like themselves, and presume to prescribe policies and solutions for the entire world based on their extraordinarily narrow range of experience. Similarly, the majority of GOP presidential candidates wouldn’t spend a moment of their lives in the company of someone who couldn’t write them a fat campaign cheque at the end of the day, but instinctively understand the preoccupations and concerns of business owners and rich financiers. And based on this narrow set of acquaintances they presume to create solutions “for the good of the country”.

Rick Santorum stands out among a sorry crowd of potential Republican contenders as someone who can not only talk to the “47 percent”, but also speak up for them.

Never mind that the solutions that he proposes – more protectionism, propping up inefficient, declining American industries and preventing the inevitable and needed transition toward a more knowledge-based economy – would actually harm this constituency so dear to his heart, as I explained last year when I dubbed him the “Pied Piper of Pennsylvania”. By virtue of the fact that he actually takes the time to understand and advocate for this group of downtrodden Americans, he will inevitably pick up a lot of support should he choose to enter the 2016 Republican presidential primary race.

Unfortunately, by voting for Rick Santorum not only do you get his special nostalgic, doomed-to-failure (but very populist) economic policy, you also get the basket of socially regressive and (in some cases) out-and-out bigoted policies for which he proudly and unapologetically stands. Hence the danger.

Yes, it is slightly ridiculous to be thinking about 2016 already. But at the present time, there is only one Republican who really gets it when it comes to the economic frustrations of the American middle and working class. And the danger – the Santorum Threat – is that if the economic outlook has not significantly improved by the time of the next election, and if the rest of the Republican field remains incapable of sympathising with anyone other than hedge fund managers and “job creators”, the man who lost out to Mitt Romney in 2012 could steal the nomination in three years’ time.

Budget 2013 Drinking Game – The Results

Well, Budget 2013 is now behind us, though the frenzied analysis continues unabated.

We heard George Osborne’s more-of-the-same speech.

We heard Ed Miliband’s “I would do roughly the same, but make things slightly worse” rebuttal (despite the deputy speaker’s unfortunate rhetorical question asking Labour backbenchers why they didn’t want to hear their own leader).

It’s time to check our scorecards and see how we fared in the Semi-Partisan Budget 2013 Drinking Game!

Semi-Partisan Budget 2013 Drinking Game - The Results!
Semi-Partisan Budget 2013 Drinking Game – The Results!

 

Well, the results are in and it looks as though I have done rather well.

The most magnificent triumph, of course, was my correctly predicting that George Osborne would have a “Marco Rubio” moment mid-speech, and urgently grasp for a glass of water. I awarded myself extra points for that prognostication.

Some, of course, could not be proven one way or the other – the ridiculous rules which still govern the filming of Parliament mean that you rarely get to see a full shot, so I’m not sure who was throwing their order papers, or popcorn, or kicking the seat of the MP in front of them.

But I will take 18/25 as a good result any day. The middle square, of course – an actual sensible policy proposal – was always out of the bounds of possibility, and needless to say did not come to pass.

I hope that you had fun playing, and I would be very interested to hear of any other similar Budget (or other politically) related games that readers may know about. Please do share them in the Comments section underneath this post, or send them to me @SamHooper.

A “fiscally neutral” budget. Rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic (to use a very tortured metaphor).

Happy Budget Day, everyone!

 

Semi-Partisan Sam