Friday, 21 September 2012

The spectre of a Spanish Yugoslavia?

Back in June I blogged on the danger to Spanish unity of Berlaymont's moves to restrict the powers of the Autonomous Communities. The Spanish regions see themselves as states making up a Federation, and most actually maintain separate 'embassies' in Brussels. They control 38% of Spain's public expenditure compared with 18% controlled by the central government. In many ways they are the model of the sort of European Federation that Barroso expounded last week.

As the war of words between Catalunya and Madrid begins to heat to an alarming temperature, the Spanish military is exhibiting the sort of sabre-rattling one may expect from the central State. In response to threats of full Catalun independence
A serving army officer, Colonel Francisco Alaman, has fuelled the flames by comparing the crisis with 1936 – when Gen Francisco Franco seized power – and by vowing to crush Catalan nationalists, described as “vultures”. “Independence for Catalunya? Over my dead body. Spain is not Yugoslavia or Belgium. Even if the lion is sleeping, don’t provoke the lion, because he will show the ferocity proven over centuries,” he said.
Strangely, this crisis in Spain has been provoked by Brussels - see my June blog. It may be that this is deliberate; there is, after all, nothing so effective as the prospect of a Spanish Yugoslavia to get Germany to empty her handbag. But if so they are playing with fire.

Dying Parties' last gamble

Fraser Nelson's piece in the Telegraph this morning repeats what this blog has been stating to the point of tedium; that the old parties are dying. It's the first time I've seen it said in the mainstream media, and as Richard North comments, what's taken them so long? 

Well, the answer is the article itself. The political press are as much a part of Oborne's Political Class as the politicians, lobbyists, party managers and all the various dags that hang from the arse of our failing democracy.  As Nelson points out, already they outnumber party members at the conferences. All are dependent on maintaining the illusion  that the parties are still great democratic institutions, champions of the people, against the reality of their being small, exclusive metropolitan clubs that have actively excluded their own grass roots from full participation. 

The final gamble for these dying clubs, supported by those of the nomenklatura such as Hayden Phillips and Christopher Kelly who would rather see a dead, stuffed, Mao continue in power than face the alternative, is to steal even more of our taxes to cram their mouths with gold. And at a time when your local yacht club has more members than your local Conservative Association, they must face the consequences; a 'No Votes for the Tax Thieves' campaign from all independent quarters. 

As Nelson says, our politics is bursting with a life quite apart from the parties. It will overcome the necrotic stench from the LibLabCon corpse. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Wealth transfer and market distortion

The call by a group of economists for an end to national pay rates for the public sector is entirely understandable. A young GP on £100k hanging his shingle in a market town in the gorgeous north-east countryside has the prospect of cheap houses, a lower cost of living, decent schools and a far better life quality than if he practised in Haringay, even with a couple of grand London weighting. An acquaintance who formed part of the move of the NHS HQ from London to Leeds swapped an 'artisans cottage' (a two up two down to the rest of you) in Muswell Hill for an elegant five bed Edwardian villa. When other costs and prices vary considerably across the country, there is little reason for public sector wages not to do so.

But if you apply the argument to the public sector, it must also apply to the minimum wage. Why should a struggling pub in Middlesbrough have to pay the same hourly rate as one in Sevenoaks? And once you've removed these market distortions from the labour market, what about specific duty rates? (ad valorem taxes already reflecting price variability). 

The suggestion has not been made by Cameron's government, you will note. In fact they will be opposed to any such move - to anything that removes powers from the metropolitan centre and devolves it - but since Labour and the LibDems have already signalled their opposition, all Cameron has to do is mutter anodyne and neutral platitudes and ignore the recommendation. Once the genie of tax-and-spend decisions is let loose from its Whitehall bottle, there's no telling what other functions may follow. 

There is a cogent argument for some form of wealth transfer from the wealthiest regions of the realm to the poorest; its morally proper, it strengthens the Union and it prevents large movements of people. But distorting factor markets isn't the way to do it. Bradford's new city centre streetscape, paid for by the City of London, is the sort of thing that's needed; it increases local business confidence and investment decisions, increases local GDP as people find the area more pleasant to be in and fosters proper civic pride. And if the lucky locals can enjoy a pint for half the price of one in Covent Garden as they enjoy the autumn sun, all the better.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Farewell, Mr Byrite!

I hear that Nigel Farage has finally agreed to modify the dreadful UKIP logo before the next election; the Mr Byrite £ sign is to go, apparently, and not a minute too soon. There's no telling what those professional graphics lads and lasses will come up with, but here's my suggestion;

Britannia's trident reminds us both of our own currency and doubles as a symbolic crown, for sovereignty. The U and K are 'united' into a single glyph. The colour is a rich imperial purple. OK, I won't give up the day job ...

Beyond Welfarism, toward Dignity

An excellent piece in the Telegraph this morning from Philip Johnston on ways in which a post-Welfare society could work, based on Friendly Societies and Mutuals. At a time when IDS' State behemoth is collapsing in on itself before it's got one foot off the ground, and more particularly the most recent Social Attitudes survey has shown the lowest support for Welfare since the surveys began. The survey also revealed that some 22% of the employed workforce have taken a pay cut, and 45% are 'struggling'. Well, I haven't given Ralph Harris an outing for a while and this is a good opportunity.

Arthur Seldon, who founded the IEA with Ralph Harris, was born Abraham Margolis in the East End of London to Russian-Jewish refugee parents. They both died in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. He was adopted by a cobbler, Pinchas Slaberdain, and his wife Eva. He grew up with the great depression in the East End, and knew the harsh reality of poverty at first hand. He recalls when he was nine or ten his foster father died to leave him and his foster mother provided for by an insurance policy. He says he learned that even the poor, if left alone, were doing things for themselves. He said:

I was appalled by the insensitivity of governments to the efforts of the working classes to help themselves - the belief that they could not do all the necessary things. They were most anxious to ensure that they used all the opportunities of insurance to safeguard their families in times of sickness and loss of work. I began to sense a sort of anti-working class sentiment in all political parties. They wanted the State to do these things. They didn't like people to do things for themselves. They thought that ordinary people weren't capable. They forgot all the history of the working classes.
Ralph Harris, too, came from a working class background. He recalled when his mother died finding four policies in a shoebox - a funeral benefit policy for each of her children. "The working class feared they wouldn't have the money to bury their dead, so you could take out for a penny halfpenny a week an insurance policy to pay five pounds; four children, four policies, sixpence a week altogether and five pounds on it." Harris believed in something that was about human dignity;
Liberty carries with it individual responsibilities. Responsibility for yourself, and hopefully your family and as far as possible your neighbours. But it does throw responsibility onto our own shoulders. Well, that's what living means; it doesn't mean shrugging off responsibility and taking soft options.
In the years before the 1911 National Insurance Act, the working classes were served by a network of friendly societies, savings and loans clubs, mutuals and insurers that provided an alternative to the old Poor Law provision; their growth and popularity reflected a striving for that human dignity that is at the heart of a congruent society and nation.

By reserving to itself the duty of care of our less fortunate fellows, the State also creates a barrier to the fulfilment of our own obligations to our neighbour and community; Welfare measures intended with best intention to end the human indignity of the Poor Law and the stigma of poverty have themselves at the start of the 21st century created a Welfare slavery that condemns entire generations of families to a culture of idleness and ill health, deprived of the dignity of work and belonging, alienated from the mutual rewards of citizenship, barred from fulfilment and deprived of that human solidarity "of the poor among themselves, between rich and poor, of workers among themselves, between employers and employees in a business, solidarity among nations and peoples ". Surely to God it's time to end their captivity.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Localism corrupted (2) - policing

In the wake of the Hillsborough report came calls from all quarters for the radical reform of the 'last great unreformed public service' - policing. The culture that allowed the cover-up, the distortion and misrepresentation of evidence, the outright and blatant lies, and at all levels including the most senior officers, the argument goes, must be ended. It's not the first time. Commentators reel out the list of police corruption from the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson, Blair Peach and many more. 

But then read further and the calls for radical reform have less to do with a corrupt 'canteen culture' than employment costs; the police is the only 'job for life' left in the public sector, the pension is too generous, they're allowed to retire too early, and the biggest scandal is the way they're allowed to retire 'sick' as soon as any disciplinary action comes over the horizon. 

Both arguments come down to the same thing. The police have become an organisation that serves itself, that puts itself before the public it is paid to serve. Whether closing ranks to cover-up the beating to death of a suspect, or protecting gold plated employment conditions, it's about the police no longer serving the public. To that extent commentators from the left and right are united, and the need for police reform is common ground. But from here on there is another agenda at play.

When they talk of reform, what they mean is greater homogeneity and more central command and control. A national police force under the command of a Justice Minister and integrated with the State Prosecutor, on the European model, with Justice Ministry civil servants sharing operational control and ensuring the police follow political objectives. This has been the long-term game plan of every Home secretary from David Blunkett to Theresa May, and the Hillsborough report is just grist to their mill.

Not one of the commentators I have read in the last week have looked back to the effects of the 1964 Police Act in creating this state of affairs. Following a Royal Commission, the Act reduced the number of police forces in England and Wales from 117 to 49, transferred the powers of the local police and watch committees to the Home Secretary, and restricted the appointment of Chief Constables, and Deputy and Assistant Chief Constables, to those from a shortlist provided by the Home Office. The divorce of the police from the public they serve is not something that has happened organically; it has been engineered by a State determined to establish central control of the police. 

And they're ready to convince us that more of the same is the cure for the ills they've caused. 

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Localism corrupted (1) - Democracy

If we have seen a common retreat by the Big Three central parties from a Big State Britain - that all recognise is unaffordable - there has been no such retreat from Central State Britain. The circle that Cameron's shambolic government is now trying to square is how to maintain central State command and control with a budget of not more than 40% of GDP. The half-baked solution they've come up with is to shift the cost to charities and volunteers, who will continue to take their orders from Whitehall, but will do the job off the P&L account. IDS, a sincere and well-meaning man but by no means a genius, is replacing one failed central State welfare system with another that is on the verge of failure before it starts. 

You see, although they know that all public services should be devolved down to the lowest level at which they can be economically provided, they just can't bear to let go. And that's because when you devolve these services you need also to devolve the decision-making process, and that's what Whitehall and Westminster are gripping onto will all their collective might. It's anathema that a local neighbourhood council may make its own decision about the acceptable levels of litter on its streets, and how much they will pay to maintain their chosen standard. Instead, DEFRA issue a highly detailed guide to determine whether the National State Litter Standard is being maintained, and by definition dictates a level of expenditure to be applied everywhere from Truro to Longtown. Local councils are no more than Whitehall's branch offices, their supposed democratic status a sham, a reality known by the hundreds of thousands of local councillors who have walked away in disgust and despair since 1979. 

And so when Oliver Letwin, a minister with half a brain, is charged with finding the spending cuts from Whitehall's branch office network rather than from Whitehall's corridors of power he has little to fall back on but a new spin on a Thatcherite idea; privatisation. And of course he is ably assisted by the Central State's great allies and partners the Big Five; this time it's Crapita's turn to pocket the wedge.

Localis ('Localism Lite - keeps all of the powers with none of the costs') and Crapita Symonds have just authored a report that was launched last week by Letwin. 'Catalyst Councils' advises Whitehall's branch network how to outsource service provision without giving away the reins of power at the same time. Basically, as it comes down to giving the contracts to Whitehall's Services and FM favourites such as Serco and G4S. There's no great difference between this and Compulsory Competitive Tendering, which failed so abysmally in the 80s/90s (except for the firms who racked up the profits, of course).

The notion that a small neighbourhood council might directly employ a street-sweeper without asking him to provide a completed 600 page contract document, Equalities Policy, H&S Policy, RA&MS, Performance Bonds, OJEU notice, Management Structure, HR Policy and Fleet Management System just simply doesn't occur to them. As ever, it's just institutionalised corruption, jobs for the boys, barriers to entry and political graft and back scratching.