John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Friday, February 11, 2005
  Election Campaign Misses Point
As usual the Election Campaing looks as if it will miss the point. The real challenges are to identify the problems and then look at how to resolve them. Much of this relates to the mechanisms by which government operates.

For example we are heading for bed number cuts in Birmingham (yes about 100 more beds to be cut on the current info I have). This is driven by the incompetence of the governmental structures rather than any shortage of finance.

Similarly the Criminal Justice system is in a bureaucratic muddle - although some aspects of this are getting sorted.

One of the debates that misses the point by the furthest is that on migration. Most of the problems that arise from immigration result from people who are illegal immigrants abusing the processes. For example there were the Chinese Cockle Pickers.

It is not that we need lots more laws. What we need are laws that work.

These are Labour's pledges:

"Your family better off"
The problem with this one is Labour know they are in a financial mess. This has not yet impacted people generally, but will. The inefficiency and corruption in Labour's mechanisms of governance are undermining prosperity. Labour have created a situation in which a company can be sued if it gives an employee unpaid leave for any reason.

"Your family treated better and faster"
Er ... MRSA, fewer beds etc.

"Your child achieving more"
This year 9% of schools have discipline problems. Last year it was 5%. Even taking into account some statistical error that is a deteriorating situation.

"Your country's borders protected"
This is their campaign on "ID Cards" which will not apply to people until they have been in the UK for at least 3 months. What they are not doing is dealing with the real issues. Instead they are raising Chimarae. Whether people will see through this or not is not clear.

"Your community safer"
Pull the other one - look at their record - particularly in terms of violent crime which is what worries people most.

"Your children with the best start"
With the discipline problems that exist in 9% of schools I think not.

It is interesting that two of these "pledges" relate to school education.
"Your family better off." That is undeniably true for the one-and-a-half million people who have been taken off the unemployment register, or the hundreds of thousands benefitting from the national minimum wage... or in fact the vast majority of the population who are better off than they were in 1997. All you can advance is some mysterious gobbledygook that Labour is in a mess that you know about but the population do not. These 'doom & gloom' predictions have been put forward by the chattering classes (and the Lib dems) after every Gordon Brown budget since 1999. As for discipline in schools, anti-social behaviour and giving children a better start, what are you offering: booze at 16. Terrific!
I did support the Minimum Wage.

There will not be a proposal to reduce the limit at which people can go into pubs on their own and buy alcohol. At the moment it is lawful for a 16 / 17 year old to drink alcohol purchased by an adult with a dinner in any event.
I would not support reducing the going to pub age as you would get 12 year olds in pubs. The current limit means that it is unusual to get people below 16 buying beer in pubs.

The "pledges" are supposed to relate to the future not the past. The past record of the Government is a useful guide as to what they may manage in the future, however. Still we did have the highest ever monthly governmental deficit recently.

Labour - "living on borrowed time"
What? Never had a mortgage John? By the way... where will these lib dem kids be drinking then? behind the bikesheds?
I accept that when Labour adopted the Lib Dem policy we fought during the 1997 election on of giving the Bank of England independence to set interest rates that this was a good move and was part of the reason why interest rates have been low.

However, Labour are claiming that in the future "your family [will be] better off"

Where are the tax pledges this time. We are calling for a higher rate on earnings over 100K.
bob, you forget over a million pensioners who have been rescued from poverty as a direct result of Labour's work. It isn't perfect by any means, but if we are to undo the work of the previous 20-30 years, it takes time and grass roots investment.

Let's not argue about tax - let's discuss services. The Tories repeat their mantra about '66 tax rises since 1997' because they want people to forget that taxes are used to provide services. Labour - and the LibDems - need to keep reminding the public that tax cuts will mean cuts in services.

And as for 'your family better off,' the recent YouGov survey (which coincidentally gave Labour the narrowest lead in a long time) shows that people are gradually increasing their approval ratings for the government's performance and they are also trending upwards in their view of their family's immediate economic future.
It is in fact in the delivery of services that Labour have failed.

We now face bed number cuts in Birmingham over the next two years through Labour's incompetence at controlling the civil service.
Just think how incompetent the Government would have been if they had stuck to the Lib Dem "1p on the rate of income tax" promise, when Brown has exceeded that without tax rises. As the Lib Dems want even more privatisation (depending on who you talk to... or who they're talking to) than the Blairites I'm sure no-one will feel that will make public services more efficient than the civil service. Still... at least the kids will be able to get pissed.
I personally find it very frustrating how all sides seem to sink into negative campaigning from step one in any election campaign. Would it kill them to spend their time and effort telling the voters what they'd do right rather than their claims as to what the other side(s) has done/will do wrong?

Just a thought.

On the subject of misbehaving school pupils, I can only refer back to my own school days in the dim and distant 1980s. If you misbehaved you were punished, the punishment proportional to the crime and frequently appropriate to it (e.g. dropping litter was punished with a few hours litter picking). Mind you, that was back in the days when if you were punished in school your parents were told and they punished you themselves, rather than finding the teacher who had set the punishment and beating seven bells out of them.

On the subject of making families better off, a friend made me aware to day that 6 billion pounds a year of means tested benefit goes unclaimed. Perhaps that could be addressed at some point?
Bob: 1p on Income Tax is quite similar to 1p on National Insurance which is where that issue went.

Stephen: Each party has its set of proposals. Labour have a right to criticise the feasibility of our proposals. Similarly there will be debates as to the coherence of Labour's position.

The Lib Dem 10 point plan is here
Your big bonus is that, as everyone knows, you can promise the earth... but you will never have the chance to find out if it works.
looked at the 10 point plan John. Pretty vacuous and not much different to Blair's pledges. Strange... no mention of the increased private sector involvement in Health... did no-ne consult the rest of Charlie's team!
On the one hand, they promise to remove the heavy hand of Whitehall from the NHS, yet the Local Income Tax (apart from costing many middle-income families more) would also give central government total control over local government funding. The council tax may only form a small part of local authority spending, but it is locally raised and locally decided. You can't have it both ways.

A number of spending commitments there as well - six out of the ten expressly mention new programs which will cost money. I fear that the penny in the pound on the rich won't be enough, nor will scrapping the DTI and privatising the Post Office.

Realistically (and not wearing my usual red rosette), the LDs can't hope for power in their own right. If they are VERY lucky, they might unseat enough Labour MPs to hold the balance in a hung parliament. If unlucky, they could unseat enough to let Howard sneak into Number 10.

And Stephen - Labour kicked off the campaigning with a number of high-profile posters trumpeting the successes of the government - low interest rates, low unemployment, low inflation. I'd like to see more policy analysis, but the media doesn't go for it in prime time any more, serious politics is pushed into late-night or Sunday lunchtime slots.
Please, please, please if Labour activists are going to comment could they please get their line clear:

Bob says our pledges are vacuous

Mr Anonymous Labour Hack says that they are very expensive.

Incidentally the rate of a Local Income Tax would be decided locally, buy it would be collected by the Inland Revenue. The important thing is the decision as to the rate.

I think what I will do is to put in a post to debate the Lib Dem proposals.

The 10p (not 1p) on incomes over 100K is part of the funding package. I have seen the reconciled figures.

Of course pledges can be vacuous and expensive. A pledge to "take the environment seriously" means absolutely zilch to the electorate. what do Lib dems think other people are doing... joking about it...but equally, a pledge to put 10,000 more police on the streets is expensive... and in any event Labour have already created record numbers of police. Still no mention of the private sector and public services though, are you running away John, or haven't you read your Orange Book?
Despite the popular view that we all have direct lines supplied on a daily basis from No 10, it is possible for different people within the party to have differing views. John should know this himself - there are LibDem campaigners who oppose road charging locally despite it being a national policy.

Despite that, Bob is right to point out that his and my views are not mutually exclusive.

I don't support everything that the government does and I occasionally try and look at things with a more objective eye. More importantly, I look at the whole package offered by the party and I still believe that Labour offers the best option for this country.
What I would merely suggest is that rather than just saying "all pledges are vacuous" you identify a proper criticism of a pledge.

The advantage the net has as a medium of debate is that it is possible to reach a conclusion and identify where people differ either in their analysis of a situation or in their priorities.

Most TV debates never get past the first run around the block.

There are, in fact, substantial cost implications to some of the pledges. However, that has been costed out.
Nice of you to quote me on "all pledges are vacuous"... particularly as it is a quote you have invented. Are you seriously suggesting we debate a pledge such as "put patients first"... that isn't a pledge it is a slogan and about as useful as an SWP placard. You are doing it again... what do you think even the Tories are saying, "put the patients behind whitehall bureaucrats"? It is typical political sloganising... and offers no more content than "your family will be better off" At least Brown has a track record we can judge him on. Again, answer the question, what are the Lib Dem proposals for involving the private sector in the public sector?
What you said was "looked at the 10 point plan John. Pretty vacuous and not much different to Blair's pledges."

OK, what you are now saying is most of it is not vacuous, but you are arguing that one of the pledges is vacuous. NOt that I accept this, but that is what you seem to be saying.

In the mean time I am not aware of any proposals for further involvement of the private sector in public services.
Ah... so you have not read your orange book. Unfortunately for you, your party leaders have. Not that we need worry about them ever having an opportunity to implement any of it. Also, try reading what people write, it will make your argument much more coherent if you do. I never mentioned 'one pledge', you Lib Dems do like making things up don't you? I had already pointed out the rhetoric of 'taking the environment seriously' and was simply pointing out that using cliches such as putting patients first will never wash with the electorate.
I have not read the orange book. It does not sound like the sort of thing I would support. It is not in our manifesto.

I will accept then that you are criticising 2 of 10 the points as being vacuous. Not that I accept that they are, although they are comparatively non-specific.

Still not a majority.
You really should read The Orange Book, John. It's even got a Forward by Charie K. and it contains all the best right-wing free market liberalism by such luminaries as Vince Cable, Lib Dem economic spokesperson, Mark Oaten, Lib Dem Home Office spokesperson and others on the neocon wing of the Lib Dems. Less time looking at carpet bills and more time needed on political science, methinks.
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