September 19th, 2010

djm4: (Default)
Sunday, September 19th, 2010 12:40 am
(Fair warning; these aren't going to be in-depth. I write relatively slowly for a blogger, and I'm likely to only get an hour here and there to do them.)
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djm4: (Default)
Sunday, September 19th, 2010 08:12 am praising Nick Clegg's speech last night, I should point out that jokes about Eric Pickles being the only Cabinet Minister you can see from space are:

a) unpleasantly sizeist.
b) technologically illiterate. Google Earth easily has the resolution to spot someone Clegg's size.
djm4: (Default)
Sunday, September 19th, 2010 01:30 pm
A few days ago, Nick Clegg wrote an article for The Times (reproduced for free on his site here), in which he talked about the need for reform of the welfare system. In The Times, this attracted the headline "Poor must accept cuts in benefit, says Clegg", which itself attracted much understandable criticism.

Except, as you can see by reading the article, he didn't say that.

Except, as far as I can tell, he all-but did.

At least, he didn't give any other mechanism by which what he said made sense. The article says (a) that the welfare budget is too big and must be cut and (b) that we need to give people incentives to move off long-term benefit dependency. At first sight, those two objectives seem to line up, but at second sight there's something a little odd going on; if it were that easy to do get people off benefits, Labour would have done it. Nick Clegg himself acknowledges that this was a long-term objective of Labour's, and attacking supposed benefit scroungers was very much a feature of the last government. As Nick Clegg points out, this failed to achieve savings in the welfare budget.

So how is the coalition going to do it? I'm not denying that they might have a plan, but Nick's article is completely free of one. The vague rhetorical stuff at the end, about putting power in the hands of the welfare recipients and reshaping the State are all well and good, but contain no proposals that will clearly save money. Possibly it's just assumed they will. Call me a cynic, but if Labour's rhetoric didn't do it, I'm not at all convinced that ours will, either. Initiatives to get people back into work usually cost money. For that matter, greater scrutiny of benefit claimants to try to weed out those who are claiming falsely costs money. It's the flip-side of all that 'red tape' we're supposed to be saving money by eliminating; cut the red tape, and you'll catch fewer benefit cheats.

(Incidentally, I'm not at all convinced that there's much money to be saved by going after benefit cheats, or those who have supposedly opted for a 'lifestyle on benefits'. I take on trust that such people exist, because people tell me they know some, but I don't think there are that many of them. I don't think that vein can be mined for £4 billion, as George Osborne claims he can do, or more than a tiny fraction of that amount. What's more, I suspect that if you try to do it, the people you will actually hit are those who are bad at gaming the system, or who have trouble filling in forms - in other words, some of the most vulnerable even of those on welfare. But because of all this talk of the £4 billion coming from benefit cheats, the public at large will assume that anyone who gets their benefit cut must have somehow deserved it, and will think the cuts are fair.)

I don't see a cut in the number of people who need welfare happening, somehow. And if you cut the welfare budget without cutting the number of people on welfare, then you are, indeed, going to cut benefits to the poor.

I've just heard a speech by Danny Alexander in which he made much the same points as Nick Clegg but, again, without the linking jigsaw piece of how you get people off benefit while cutting the welfare budget. This is worrying. One game to play at Conference is to see which phrases and themes are repeated by all the on-message MPs, because those are the ones that the leadership wants conference to absorb, accept and repeat. This - 'we will cut the welfare bill and we will incentivise people to get back to work' is clearly one of them, which makes it worrying that, as stated, it has no mechanism to make it happen other than making the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society poorer and more vulnerable.

Danny Alexander also talked about going after taxpayers; both by closing loopholes that people currently exploit legally, and by going after tax evaders. This is welcome news, and appears to have been agreed with George Osborne. My worry, though, is that it will be hard to do; with taxpayers, the government is usually trying to claw back money from someone who already has it. With people on benefits, the government is trying to not pay someone who doesn't yet have the money. The latter is easier to do; what's more, if you do it unfairly, the taxpayer is in a much better position to mount a legal challenge than the person on benefits.

A repeated refrain in Danny Alexander's speech was that we were doing things 'not because they were easy, but because they were right'. My worry is that we (as Liberals in the coalition government) will cut benefits from the most vulnerable not because it is right, but because it is easy. I hope I'm wrong.
djm4: (Default)
Sunday, September 19th, 2010 07:23 pm
There was a consultative session this morning about 'Strategy' based on this document (clear print or plain text). Essentially, it was a discussion of how the party should proceed now that it's part of a coalition government; particularly how it should continue to make distinct policy, and how that policy should be presented. I managed to miss most of it, although I'm hoping to be able to iPlayer it at some point, because based on accounts from it, and from Ros Scott's summation which I did catch, it sounds very interesting. One point that did come up was that it would be great if we stopped seeing Liberal Democrats in the coalition defending policies the obviously disagreed with.

This point was put to Nick Clegg in the afternoon Q and A session, and he quite reasonably asked us to picture the scene at a press conference where he stood up and said 'here's a new policy, which I'm not particularly happy about'. He has a point. For the sake of good government, there comes a point when everyone needs to at least try to make the policies work, whether you agree with them or not (or break up the government, but I'll assume we're not at that point now). That goes double for economic policy, where part of the point is to convince the international financial community that we know what we're doing. Much as he might like to, I don't expect Danny Alexander to stand up and say: 'Vince and I think this policy's going to push us back in recession, but George Osborne assures us he thinks it'll work *snigger*', and I think it would be even worse for the economy if he did.

All this will come back to haunt us at the 2015 election, though. It's not just that at that point, both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives are going to claim credit for everything that went right, and blame the others for everything that didn't, but our 2015 election manifesto is likely to contain a lot of policies that work against much of what we did as part of the coalition. I see that as an inevitable part of governing as a coalition, but I'm not sure the bulk of the electorate will; there's already a perception of the Lib Dems as people who will flip-flop on policy at the drop of a hat, and I don't see that having gone away by 2015. Not that I think we can do anything about it - it's just another in a long list of 'sucks to be us' things about how things worked out after the last election.