Wednesday, 26 November 2008

PBR - not enough about the community

The Government have taken the robust action which we all hope will be sufficient to limit the extent of the downturn and limit the pain caused to those who are least able to deal with financial hardship. They are to be congratulated on this. It is perhaps inevitable that Government's of any tinge become bold and dynamic in a crisis. It is however, a little sad that it has taken such a crisis to bring about this sea-change in the Government's attitude to the power and role of the state.

Listening to the Chancellor, it struck me that even now, the Government is not saying enough about communities - the communities we all live in. The Government is understandably trapped in the headlights of an impending recession, so I am not going to berate them for their actions. Far from it. I would just suggest that now might be the time for Labour to seize the political initiative in a space which the Tories have been cleverly occupying - communities, volunteering, the so-called Third Sector. Perhaps the Government could spend large sums of money in building community centres, youth centres, as part of scheme akin to Surestart. We have seen how well this has worked for babies and toddlers. Why not show the Government's commitment to giving youths something constructive to do, as well as providing communities with the resources necessary to achieve this - physical buildings in each community. Not only would this piece of Keynes-inspired public works put people to work, but it would be evidence that the Government is willing to spend large amounts of money on ordinary people, and on young people, not just on propping up banks (no matter how important such action are to avoid economic meltdown).

What we need are positive suggestions in these dark and uncertain times. Places where young people can come together to do constructive things like make music are far more important than policy-makers think. The Tories would never invest Government money in them, so now is a chance for us to place some clear red water between us and them. Such centres would be open to all parts of the community, but could perhaps operate on the proviso that ethnic groups are not allowed to run events or courses which cater only for their own ethnicity. I.e. this is publicly funded space in which all citizens should mix TOGETHER, rather than build walls around themselves.

These are just some early morning ramblings which need much more thought...

To all three readers - "over and out".

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Need for a "fairness stimulation package" in the PBR

We are led to believe that the Government is planning to announce tax cuts as a key component of the Pre Budget Report fiscal stimulus package on Monday. We are also reliably informed that the Government is to focus these tax cuts on the lower paid. So we are to see what most champions of redistribution could only dream of – tax cuts for the poorest in society. Notwithstanding that any tax cuts would be temporary and will almost certainly be reversed once the recession has eased, some interesting ironies spring to mind.

Here are a couple:

The Government is briefing that the justification for cutting the taxes of the less well off is that this sector is more likely to spend the extra cash, will spend it more rapidly and will spend it on goods and services which will provide a boost to the real economy. This is doubly ironic. Not only is it incredible that the solution to a recession itself caused in part by imbalances caused by excessive, debt-driven consumer spending, is to seek to stimulate even more spending.

But more noteworthy is the reasoning offered for this strategy by the Government. Their reasoning is not that cutting taxes for the lower-paid is morally the right thing to do (as they are less able to cope with a downturn caused in large part by the risk-taking of the excessively paid in the City), but that these lower-paid people will spend more. I would have thought that we in the Labour Party should be purposefully extolling the virtues of assisting the lowest-paid at a time of crisis, rather than basing our arguments on some Treasury computer model which has deduced that the measure will provide a shot in the arm to consumerism ahead of Christmas.

I’m not much of an economist, of course, but then economists haven’t had a great run recently. Perhaps now is time to inject a “fairness stimulus package” into the economy. One through which ordinary, hard-working people on modest incomes will receive more assistance from the Government and yes, receive more respect. I hope the days when the political class fawns at the feet of the highly paid are well and truly over.

This doesn’t mean that the Government is misguided in seeking to do what it inevitably will do next Monday. Far from it. I support them and I oppose the Tories, who are willing to allow the ravages of a recession to inflict pain on ordinary people rather than take the necessary remedial steps. I would just like to hear some more human voices rather than the voices of the economists, the bureaucrats and the technocrats, for whom tax-cutting for the poorest in society looks more like the mechanical flicking of a switch designed to resurrect the happy days of obese consumerism, rather than something which should happen because it is right and it is fair.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Ross and Brand

Many apologists of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, and commentators argue that "generational" differences about humour and morality make it impossible to define the Sachs phone messages as offensive. The argument goes something like this: my 14 year-old daughter thought it was funny, while I thought it was crass. Yet when I was 14, my parents thought That Was The Week That Was or Monty Python's Flying Circus was crude and vulgar. This is moral relativism at its worst, and it will (if it hasn't already) mean that literally any obscenity can be justified and no editorial or moral standards are worth enforcing.

If we allow rule by lowest common denominator to infect the attitudes of our national broadcasters we collectively lower ourselves into the gutter and will soon find that what for very good reasons was held to be reprehensible, is now the norm. It is much harder to raise standards once they've been allowed to fall, than it is to maintain a sense of decency, respect and fair play in public life.