Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

This week was marked by George Osborne’s budget on Wednesday. Osborne announced a host of measures, which included enabling people to withdraw their pension pot more flexibly – rather than buying an annuity at retirement age. As well as this the chancellor announced the creation of a new ‘Pensioner Bond’ for over 65s, the abolition of the 10p tax rate for savers, and the halving to 10% of the tax on BINGO halls. “If you’re a maker, a doer or a saver: this Budget is for you,” Osborne announced.

The budget also included the announcement of a 1p cut on beer duty, the scrapping of a rise on fuel duty in September, reductions in long haul passenger duty, and the creation of a new, twelve-sided £1 coin – measures which were seen as populist gimmicks by many. Ed Miliband mocked the latter in his response to the chancellor, saying “It doesn’t matter if the pound is square, round or oval…You’re worse off under the Tories,” and even comedian Al Murray weighed in, pointing out that the cut on the price of beer would only have made a difference if we were living “in 1902”.

Embarrassingly for the Conservatives, they were forced to defend a mocked-up poster, tweeted by Tory Chairman Grant Shapps, which proclaimed that the government were “Cutting the BINGO tax and beer duty to help hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy.” The poster was widely ridiculed as an exemplar of Tory highhandedness, and was dismissed as “condescending” by Labour strategist Stewart Wood.

With the General Election now just over a year off most of the biggest components were aimed at the so-called ‘grey vote’, who are more likely to go to the ballot box. Sweeteners and short-term boons were offered in return for votes next May, speaking volumes of what Polly Toynbee calls a society – and, I would add, a government agenda – where “tomorrow is sacrificed for today.”

The implications of budgets are often hard to gauge, but so far 2014 is not being viewed by the media as an “omnishambles” on quite the scale of 2012. For me though, it’s a budget full of headline-friendly but terrifyingly short-term steps. Almost all of Osborne’s announcements smacked of political and economic manoeuvring. The result of the changes to pensions, for example, is likely to be a medium- to short-term spike in taxes collected for the government, as older people draw down their pensions early – something for which, as with 1980s privatisations and the selling off of council houses, the next generation is likely to find itself footing the bill. As the Telegraph economics commentator Jeremy Warner put it, Osborne is “stealing tax revenue from the future in order to pay for today’s pre-election giveaways.”

As if to underscore the point that it will be the next generation who have to cover the costs, the end of the week saw Universities Minister David Willetts refuse to rule out further increases in tuition fees. Following repeated questioning in a Channel 4 interview he would not be drawn on whether fees – which trebled to £9,000 in the early stages of this parliament – would be pushed up even further after 2015. Willetts finally admitted that they “could be,” prompting speculation that the Conservatives would push the financial burden of higher education ever-further onto the student if they stayed in office.

Young people have been very much between the crosshairs during this parliament. The Conservatives have cut EMA and plan to remove benefits for under-25s, indulging in rhetoric which scapegoats young people as “idle” at a time when, more than ever, they need the government’s support. It is vital that we re-engage the younger generation in the democratic process, so that short-term political electioneering by the Tories does not push them ever-closer to the margins.

Unite for a Labour Victory

Labour Party

So it’s Ed M by less than a whisker – 1.3% to be precise.

However, as Polly Toynbee has just said on the Andrew Marr show, this was no Denis Healey/Tony Benn election.  There quite simply was no big political difference between Miliband E and Miliband D.

Given this, I truly believe there will no difficulty in the Labour Party uniting behind the new Leader. While commiserating for David, I feel strongly we should, and will, now all get on with the business of opposition, pulling together and avoiding even the merest hint of factionalism.    

I arrived at Labour Party Conference on Friday evening and joined the queue to get into the Leadership announcement yesterday afternoon. Before the announcement of the ballot result we were treated to the inevitable speeches.

 Gordon Brown has undergone a transformation since stepping down.  Witty and relaxed, he returned to his old form.  Two video tributes showed just how much we owe Gordon, especially as the longest serving and most radical Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Harriet will, fortunately, still be with us as our elected Deputy Leader.

 What is so important now that we all pull together for a Labour victory.  Ed and the soon to be elected Shadow Cabinet, not to mention Labour MEPs, can now get on with the job of defeating the Coalition and returning Labour to government.

Unjust Rewards by Polly Toynbee and David Walker

Labour Party

As the Tories get into ever greater trouble over Lord Ashcroft and his Belize dollar, it seems timely to review Polly Toynbee and David Walker’s excellent book  Unjust Rewards.  This short, punchy polemic represents something of a rarity these days – an unashamedly progressive critique of poverty and wealth in present day Britain, and specifically the growing gap between the income of those at the top and those lower down.

Unjust Rewards is hard hitting, using real life case studies and well researched statistics.  Toynbee and Walker have no doubt where to place the blame for our greedy society, personified by out of touch bankers who let the recession happen because they have no contact whatsoever with people outside their narrow social circle.  It lies firmly with Margaret Thatcher.

The other eternally damaging Thatcher legacy is the idea that if you are rich enough and can therefore  get away with it you don’t have to pay tax.  Coupled with this is the equally, if not more damaging belief, that government is incompetent and our tax goes to waste.  We who can afford it do not pay tax and we will convince everyone we possibly can that we don’t need the tax as public provision is useless.  Neither a correct nor an endearing political philosophy.

By contrasting the bubbles in which both the rich and the poor live, Toynbee show just how divided Britain in the early 21st century.  And as ever it’s the poor who pay. 

Yet it doesn’t have to be like this.  Early years intervention in the lives of disadvantaged children can have truly amazing effects, as studies about the effect of Sure Start have shown.  By the time adults face difficulties such as unemployment, practical help can make an enormous difference in getting people back to work.  Government, by no means the inefficient big brother the right would have us believe, can and does have positive effects.

The point of all of this is that revenues go up when people work and medical costs go down as those in work are generally healthier.  Reducing the gap between rich and poor also reduces the corrosive bitterness between the haves and the have nots.

The book’s final chapter is a “manifesto” for action, including the end of “non dom” status so that everyone living in this country pays UK taxes.  If the Ashcroft affair has done anything, it’s surely put this on the map.  No representation without taxation perhaps.