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British Political Economy

Do you have faith in Tony Blair? Do you believe the Conservatives are capable of beating New Labour? What can the Liberal Democrats offer?

Note that various articles on the housing markets of the UK, USA and Australia are recorded at House Price Crash Discussion Forums
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little c
 20 Oct '17  06:46 : 0 recs

"Without a functioning Crown Prosecution Service, criminal justice is impossible. When a criminal investigation is conducted in England or Wales, it is the CPS, working with the police, that decides whether charges will be brought. This judgment is made on the basis of whether or not the CPS believes a prosecution, which its own lawyers will conduct, has a reasonable chance of success. The competence of those lawyers must be a key component of this calculation.

Today The Times reports on concerning examples of incompetence within the CPS. Worse, our report reveals instances of self-protection, raising the alarming prospect that the CPS, at high levels, is being run for the benefit of its own budgets and staff, rather than for the benefit of the victims… "

The Times - Chaotic Prosecution Service - The backbone of Britain’s criminal legal system cannot put its own interests first
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little c
 20 Oct '17  05:24 : 0 recs : edited 2 times : last edit 20 Oct '17  05:25

Good morning to you all! I trust that all is well with you this Friday morning here in a particularly wet London! I suppose that what Britain needs to do is to reinvent its government so that it can meet the great technological challenges of the twenty-first century.

Of course, we now live our short lives online, so technology makes it relatively easy to find out everything about us. So rather than a big, intrusive state, we need a smaller, smarter state, able to collect taxes and spend them on things people need, like education and healthcare! What we need, therefore, is smart technology, Lord Byron. Develop it!

This is a conservative vision of the role of a small state. Leave big government to bureaucrats! What we want is to take full advantage of the technological revolution, and advances in technology are therefore key! Let us not wait to make them!
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little c
 20 Oct '17  02:45 : 0 recs

Let’s take chances’: the Duchess of Abercorn on Brexit and the Irish border! The Duchess of Abercorn may be used to taking chances on the Irish border, but what about the rest of us?

Ireland could be united, and as for the rest of Britain, well, Scotland wants independence with the European Union (EU) anyway. It may not be much fun, however, as the EU has enough problems to sort out without Scotland.

England and Wales may thus be better off free from the shackles of an ever closer union of the peoples of Europe, so long as they are able to take economic opportunities elsewhere in the world!

My own sense is that China and India both offer more business opportunities than the European Union ever could, so we are better off dining at the Indian restaurant than at the French establishment, particularly if Jean-Claude Juncker is hosting dinner.

Of course, Angela Merkel would be a different matter entirely. She might prefer a ball, for example, or a more innovative approach to economic development. We are living through a technological revolution, after all, so any concession to new technologies should be considered carefully.

My own feeling would be that the European Union has failed to embrace developing technologies and is finding itself being left increasingly far behind the rest of the world. So unless it catches up, Europe may find itself unable to compete in our brave new world!
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little c
 19 Oct '17  18:12 : 0 recs : edited 2 times : last edit 19 Oct '17  18:13

The EU Withdrawal Bill is appropriately named; it has once again been withdrawn from Parliamentary scrutiny pending further discussions with Conservative critics. The Prime Minister’s failure to win a majority at the election in June has left all government legislation vulnerable to even the most small-scale rebellion on the Tory benches. But no measure is more important than this if the country’s laws are to be ready for the exit from the EU in March 2019.

The decision to delay the next stages of the Bill, which received a Second Reading more than a month ago, reinforces the growing impression that the Government is losing control of the Brexit process. Labour’s spokesman, Sir Keir Starmer, said the postponement was indicative of an administration “paralysed” by the greatest challenge to face the country since the Second World War.

Such hyperbole is to be expected from the Opposition ...
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little c
 19 Oct '17  18:10 : 0 recs : edited 1 time : last edit 19 Oct '17  18:11

"Something strange happened in Parliament on Wednesday evening. Labour tabled an Opposition Day motion calling for a pause in the roll-out of Universal Credit. The Tories chose not to vote against it; they whipped an abstention instead. The motion passed by 299 to 0 but, the Tories insist, will have no effect upon government policy – a policy that, by choosing to abstain, they didn’t even bother to support.

This is not a comment upon Universal Credit, a fine principle that has flaws in its operation, yes, but is worth persevering with. It is a question of how Parliament is supposed to operate in a period of coalition. The challenge faced by the Tories is significant, but is common on the continent and, historically, the British Commons has often operated as a series of shifting alliances between individual MPs representing very different interests. Legislatures are supposed to be as dynamic... "

The Daily Telegraph - The Tories should defend their policies in the Commons, not abstain
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little c
 19 Oct '17  18:04 : 0 recs : edited 2 times : last edit 19 Oct '17  18:06

Good evening to you all! The Independent, of all newspapers published in London, leads tomorrow with some editorial comment on crime and punishment! Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who once resided in the Haymarket, would turn in his grave!

The latest reported crime statistics are worrying. They show a 13 per cent rise in the year to June. This has given rise to alarmist headlines – not in The Independent, we hasten to add – particularly about a supposed 19 per cent rise in violent crimes. But the Office for National Statistics, which collates the figures, warns that the increases are partly an illusion caused by the better recording of crimes. 

The Crime Survey, a huge random-sample study of England and Wales, suggests that overall crime has in fact fallen by 9 per cent over the same period. This survey is more reliable because it is consistent from year to year and relies on 38,000 people reporting crime as it affects them. 

However, John Flatley, head of crime statistics at the ONS, says that, although some of the rise in reported crime was the artificial product of improved police procedures, “we judge that there have been genuine increases in crime – particularly in some of the low incidence but more harmful categories”. 
This is the part about which we ought to be concerned. If it is the case that the small number of serious violent offences is increasing, while petty offending continues to decline, then this requires a rethink about police budgets over the next few years. 

It is worth remembering the trouble Theresa May, the Home Secretary turned Prime Minister, got into during the election campaign over police numbers. While she could just about make the case, in the wake of the Manchester and London Bridge terrorist attacks, that anti-terrorist police numbers had not been cut, voters were rightly sceptical. 

With police budgets taking deep cuts – 18 per cent over the past five years – and overall police numbers falling, the idea that anti-terrorist forces could be ring-fenced from the police service as a whole is unconvincing. What applies to terrorism applies to serious crime more generally: if overall police numbers are cut, it would be harder for specialist police units dealing with terrorism and violent crime. Fighting serious crime requires the kind of low-level intelligence and deterrence effect provided by normal policing, the normal policing that has been cut back under the Conservatives. 

This is not to decry the achievement of police forces around the country in doing more with less. That the reporting of crimes has improved enough to boost today’s figures is testament to greater efficiency. 

However, now it must be time to pause and take stock. Cuts in police spending, like cuts in benefits and tax credits, and like the squeeze on NHS spending, have helped close the deficit to a manageable level over the past seven years. But this stringency is increasingly cutting into the social fabric of Britain. If violent crime is rising again – after decades in which it, and crime generally, has been declining – then it becomes irresponsible to go on cutting police budgets.

On every front, Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, faces hard decisions in his Budget on 22 November. But now is not the time to cut police funding further.

The Independent - Crime may be rising again, although we cannot be sure – what we do know is that now is no time to cut police funding - Theresa May, the Home Secretary turned Prime Minister, got into trouble during the election campaign over police numbers
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little c
 19 Oct '17  02:40 : 0 recs

In the month or so since the start of the academic year, a well-known feminist speaker has been disinvited by a Cambridge student society because of her views on transgender people. A Holocaust survivor has been made to tone down her language before speaking to students in Manchester and the Oxford University Christian Union has been barred from the freshers’ fair at Balliol College for fear of causing first-year students offence.

These cases of campus censorship happened to make headlines. Many more did not. Today the universities minister, Jo Johnson, seeks to halt the erosion of free speech in English universities by requiring them to uphold it as a condition of remaining officially registered as universities. When they fail, students will be able to sue their university …

The Times - Universities Challenged - Jo Johnson is right to draw a line in defence of free speech on campus
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little c
 18 Oct '17  18:28 : 0 recs

The Guardian view on the Brexit talks: it’s the economy, stupid!
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little c
 18 Oct '17  18:24 : 0 recs

Fee fall!
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little c
 17 Oct '17  16:56 : 0 recs : edited 1 time : last edit 17 Oct '17  16:56

The cost of social care is bankrupting local councils and threatening the NHS. The latest study points out that any reform based, like the so-called dementia tax, on property values must take account of how different they are in the south of England compared with the north or with Wales. Last week, the normally ultra-cool NHS boss Simon Stevens told MPs on the health committee that its budget was “extremely challenging” and unless it was increased, the NHS might not be able to meet patient demand. With both health and social care budgets under such extreme pressure, it is no surprise that the two arms of care, instead of being locked in a protective embrace of those who should be able to rely on them, are engaged in the most bad-tempered wrestling that informed observers can remember.

Surveying the wreckage of seven years of austerity, the chancellor, Philip Hammond, is under instructions to find a headline-grabbing initiative in next month’s budget to redress the generation gap. The dementia tax may have been flawed, but some kind of windfall tax on the huge increase in house values enjoyed by many older voters is one answer, and seems still to be in the mix. At the Tory party conference, it has now emerged that the social care minister, Jackie Doyle-Price, repeated the argument that it was unfair if old people who lived in valuable houses had social care bills paid by the state.

There is no question that social care desperately needs more cash. In its budget submission, councillors argued that by 2020 councils in England will have lost £16bn of core funding. There will be a shortfall of nearly £6bn by the end of the decade, and despite the extra cash for social care that was released earlier this year partly to meet the cost of paying the higher living wage and partly to keep residential care homes afloat, £1bn of that will be in social care. Councillors say there is not a penny of slack in care home budgets, where fees are so squeezed that without cross subsidy from private residents – sometimes of as much as 50% – some care homes would cease to be viable. Nor is there an argument about the role that councils have to play in making sure care packages are available so that people can be discharged from hospital. But, as winter approaches, the pressure that government is putting on both the NHS and councils to enable patients to be discharged is driving to breaking point the tense relationship between the two different providers. While healthcare is free and social care is means-tested, it won’t heal.

This is not an insoluble problem. It is not all about money, although money is needed right now to keep the service afloat. As the economist Kate Barker said when she published her report for the thinktank the King’s Fund three years ago, there is a sustainable and affordable answer. But it would mean some structural reform and the gradual extension of free care, starting with critical care and extending to those with substantial needs as money became available. It would mean a bigger bill for the taxpayer, but a much more coherent experience for patients and their carers. It would end the disputes between NHS and local government over who pays for what, and it would reward cooperation. In Manchester, where integrated health and social care is already being pioneered across the region, the mayor Andy Burnham – a former Labour health secretary – is already pressing Mr Hammond to allow him to raise a levy that would enable him to introduce free social care and joint budgets. Mr Hammond should listen.

The crisis in social care has been predictable, and predicted, for a generation. The failure of successive governments to think clearly and build consensus around a solution is a bleak indictment of short-termist democracy. Like a patient too scared to see the doctor, their cowardly approach has allowed a complex but soluble problem to snowball into a threat to the welfare of thousands of Britons – and even to the sustainability of the NHS.

The Guardian - Editorial - The Guardian view on social care: the cost of cowardice - For a generation, politicians have ducked the challenge of restructuring health and social care. But if they don’t act now it may be too late
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little c
 16 Oct '17  23:27 : 0 recs

Good morning to everyone reading 'Serious Topics', 'The Third' and all other social media websites online. I trust that all is well with all of you this Tuesday morning. 'The Times' leads today with some editorial comment on peer pressure.

"Reforming the arrangements for a bicameral legislature is not a subject that sets the pulse of public opinion racing. Yet in an era of the immense constitutional change implied by Brexit, the role of the House of Lords in scrutinising legislation is more essential than ever.

The Lord Speaker’s report on reducing the size of the House will be published this month. It offers an opportunity to streamline the workings of the Lords but unfortunately its admirable intent is in danger of being diverted. The report will propose a 15-year time limit on new peerages. This is the wrong remedy for a real problem. A sounder reform would be to impose age limits on all members rather than term limits on some of them… "

The London 'Times' thunders that the House of Lords exercises vital scrutiny of government in tumultuous times but is unwieldy and bloated. Age limits on peers should be adopted to reduce its size.
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little c
 16 Oct '17  00:24 : 0 recs : edited 2 times : last edit 16 Oct '17  00:50

Good morning to everyone reading 'Serious Topics', 'The Third' and all other social media websites online today. I trust that all is well with all of you this weekend. What are you all up to this new working week? 'The Times' leads today with some editorial comment that the chancellor is an essential voice of realism about the costs of Brexit but he is losing the argument on wider economic reforms

"Philip Hammond is an embattled man. It is likely that the Conservatives’ dismal general election cam- paign and unexpected rebuff at the polls secured his job as chancellor by leaving a weakened prime minister unable to sack him. Yet the state of the party and the mood of its MPs are so frenetic that Mr Hammond is once again in the firing line.

Mr Hammond provides an essential corrective to the bullish views of some of his colleagues about the ease with which Brexit can be accomplished and Britain’s economic prospects thereafter. Yet some of the dismay about the chancellor’s performance is earned. To justify his continued tenure, Mr Hammond needs to show more imagination in policy and more decisiveness in executing it ... "

Writing in 'The Times', Alan Mak and Klaus Schwab argue that it is time to lead a new industrial revolution.

"Robots may not be coming to take your job, but artificial intelligence is definitely going to change how you do it. Driverless cars will transform your experience of getting to work, and personalised medicines will keep you healthier while you do it. A new wave of technological change is transforming societies around the world. This is the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

Its impact will cause profound disruption to the global economy, becoming the defining issue of the next ten years, just as the financial crisis has shaped the past decade. These emerging technologies have huge potential for economic growth, with one recent study indicating that UK GDP could be about 10 per cent higher in 2030 as a result of artificial intelligence ... "

The new technological revolution will advance the use of robotics and artificial intelligence to enhance productivity and eliminate boring and repetitive jobs. People will inevitably have to learn more creative and innovative ways of working, which is of benefit to everyone in society.

It is now time to lead a new technological revolution across the world, bringing the advantages of scientific developments to everyone! In particular, we can use computers to organise our lives far better, allowing us to spend more time enjoying ourselves on holiday and elsewhere. New social media allow us to organise our lives far better, affording us the time to do what we want to do!

For example, rather than just go on holiday, we can research where to go on holiday, and more importantly, what we want to do once we get to our holiday destinations! You can book a cookery course in Valence, dancing lessons at the local social centre and join a book club at your local library! What do you think, Thoughtful? What about the legendary South American fox, zorro?
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little c
 15 Oct '17  17:58 : 0 recs : edited 1 time : last edit 15 Oct '17  17:59

Britain’s financial guard dog faces a hard choice as a watchdog warns City on using shell companies to access EU!
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little c
 15 Oct '17  02:43 : 0 recs : edited 2 times : last edit 15 Oct '17  02:45

Budget Day for the Chancellor just became a little more tricky. The announcement by the government's official economic watchdog that it expects to downgrade productivity growth over the next five years is likely to mean lower tax revenues for the government. And lower tax revenues mean that reducing the deficit becomes harder. Low levels of productivity are a demonstration of an economy that is not very good at creating wealth.

For seven of the last 10 years, people have suffered falling real incomes, where earnings growth lags behind price increases (inflation). This is not a comfortable position for any government to find itself and negatively affects consumer confidence and spending power - the key drivers of the UK economy. If house price growth also continues to soften, or even turn negative in some areas like London, then consumer confidence is likely to decline further.

The analysis by the Office for Budget Responsibility comes after some more positive news on increased tax revenues had given Philip Hammond about £26bn of headroom as he approached November 22, when he will lay out the government's financial plans.
But after today's announcement, the government's target to "balance the books" by the middle of the next decade looks increasingly difficult to hit. A growth downgrade could mean that the government will either have to raise taxes or find further cuts if it is to hit that fiscal target. Or Mr Hammond could simply extend the length of time the government gives itself to hit its own Holy Grail - eliminating the deficit. Which some might say - after repeated misses - is now looking like "sometime never". The difficulty for Mr Hammond is that an administration without a majority finds it harder to pass difficult legislation.

Remember the U-turn the Chancellor had to execute over plans to raise taxes for the self-employed he announced in March. That was when Theresa May had a working majority. Mr Hammond might want to change his fiscal approach but it only needs a rebellion of a handful of Conservative MPs to threaten derailment. What are the keys to increased productivity? They are numerous and complex - education, skills, infrastructure investment and businesses investment. Each has faced the headwinds of austerity (public service cuts), controversy (Heathrow's extra runway, the Hinkley Point nuclear plant) and uncertainty (the Brexit referendum).

Take one example, Matthew Taylor's report on how to improve the way we work. He has provided a detailed plan for Number 10 but what are the chances of any legislation being passed, for example, on reforming zero hours contracts? Many believe minimal as Theresa May grapples with the complexities of leaving the European Union and challenges to her authority. An economy that is poor at producing wealth is an economy that many will see as not working for them. The fact that employment levels are high is an important economic good. That people have jobs is the first stage of economic well-being. But Mr Hammond knows that moving on from "jobs" to "well paid, productive jobs" is the next, tough part, of the journey.

BBC News - Kamal Ahmed - Hammond’s new Budget headache
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little c
 15 Oct '17  01:38 : 0 recs

Good morning to everyone reading 'Serious Topics', 'The Third' and all other social media websites online today. I trust that all is well with all of you this weekend. What are you all up to today? 'Thel Sunday Times' leads today with some editorial comment that we should be busy doing nothing

"‘What is this life if, full of care / We have no time to stand and stare,” wrote the poet WH Davies, who knew a thing or two about doing nothing in particular because he spent much of his life as a tramp. Now his theme has been taken up by the children’s laureate, Lauren Child, who thinks modern children are under too much pressure and should be taught idleness in school for up to 30 minutes at a time.

But what form should this idleness take? Should it be taught in a traditional fashion, with a teacher idling about in the front of the class and the children learning by rote? Or should we take a more modern approach, perhaps with hammocks, so children … "
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little c
 15 Oct '17  01:35 : 0 recs

Good morning to everyone reading 'Serious Topics', 'The Third' and all other social media websites online today. I trust that all is well with all of you this weekend. What are you all up to today? 'Thel Sunday Times' leads today with some editorial comment that the state should not become a sex pest

"A visit to the doctor will never be routine again. As we report today, NHS doctors and nurses in England will be required at every face-to-face meeting to ask patients aged 16 and over about their sexual orientation. Younger patients may find this embarrassing and difficult. Older people, brought up in a different era, may find it bemusing. Many will see it as an invasion of their privacy, the state elbowing its way into the bedroom.

This is sensitive territory. Last week we reported that the Office for National Statistics was finding it difficult to come up with a question on gender for the next national census that did not result in discrimination protests from transgender and other non-binary groups. The gender question, vital for… "
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little c
 15 Oct '17  01:30 : 0 recs

Good morning to everyone reading 'Serious Topics', 'The Third' and all other social media websites online today. I trust that all is well with all of you this weekend. What are you all up to today? 'Thel Sunday Times' leads today with some editorial comment that we should not soak the rich or we will all catch a cold.

"Inequality is back as the name of the political game. As the agenda on the left in this country shifted to inequality, so Jeremy Corbyn’s star began to rise. The same popular discontent, perhaps perversely, helped to propel a property billionaire into the White House. Now the International Monetary Fund, bastion of economic orthodoxy, has used its annual meetings in Washington to push forward ideas about tackling inequality.

The IMF in its fiscal monitor notes big falls in top income tax rates in all the advanced economies, including Britain, since the early 1980s. The top 10% hold, on average, 50% of wealth. And, it claims, there is little evidence that raising taxes on higher earners reduces economic growth. Its arguments could be read either as… "
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little c
 14 Oct '17  02:34 : 0 recs : edited 1 time : last edit 14 Oct '17  02:35

On the face of it, Friday’s UK court of appeal ruling that segregation by sex in co-ed schools is a breach of the Equality Act is important for two reasons: it expands the understanding of discrimination and it strikes back against the creeping normalisation of segregation on faith grounds in non-religious circumstances. Those are big victories, and they are important. But on the biggest argument, that any such discrimination always hurts girls more than boys, the court ruled two-to-one against. The dissenting judgment of Lady Justice Gloster is both a powerful advertisement for the immense importance of diversity in the courts, and essential reading for anyone interested in the complex relationship between faith and state.

Al-Hijrah school is a voluntary aided co-educational Islamic faith school in Birmingham that teaches children aged four to 16. From the age of nine, boys and girls are separated on arrival and spend the whole day apart. Last year, Ofsted put the school in special measures because of concerns about school management, but it also found that the segregation was discriminatory even though both sexes had almost identical access to the full curriculum. The high court supported the school’s right to segregate its pupils. But on Friday the court of appeal overturned the high court and backed Ofsted’s argument that every boy and girl was discriminated against on the grounds that they did not have the chance to mix with the opposite sex. As a result, their social development and the extent to which they were prepared for interaction with the opposite sex when they left school was hampered. They were not properly educated. It was not a question of separate but equal treatment, but of discrimination against every individual. So far, so groundbreaking.

But this was a case that hinged on perception, and where the three-judge court disagreed – on the disproportionate discrimination suffered by the girls – it was as segregated as the playground at the al-Hijrah school. The two male judges accepted the school’s contention that since the girls had equal access to the curriculum, there could be no practical discrimination. While they acknowledged that out in the real world, women are generally less powerful than men, they rejected the argument that segregation at school served to build a sense of inferiority that was simply reinforced as soon as they went on to sixth-form college.

It was left to the single female judge, Lady Justice Gloster, to point out some of the indicators of their inferiority to which the girls were exposed every day at school. They had to wait, for example, until after the boys’ break before they were allowed to go out; Ofsted found on more than one inspection that the school library displayed books underlining in the most extreme language the inferior role of women in the home; and the inspectors also reported that there was a patent sense of stereotypical gendered roles and subordination present in the girls’ schoolwork. Segregation was not being turned to the girls’ advantage. It was not preparing them for an independent, empowered life.

In a week when each day revelations of film mogul Harvey Weinstein’s allegedly predatory private life emerged along with the clamour for fundamental change to stop it ever happening again, the appeal court majority ruling, written admittedly weeks ago, appears insensitive to the kind of conditioning that plays such a significant part in creating the circumstances in which a powerful man can operate with impunity. Progress towards gender equality proceeds at a crawl. Racial diversity advances even more slowly. Yet in those early years, any school ought to enable its female students to make free, informed choices about how to take part in British society. Such decisions may well be rooted in her cultural, religious or community experience – but they should not be determined by it. Segregating young pupils on the basis of their sex in a co-education school does just that.

The Guardian - The Guardian view on school segregation: the origins of inequality - As the Weinstein nightmare unfolds, UK judges were right to outlaw separating boys and girls at school but wrong to deny it hurts girls more
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little c
 14 Oct '17  01:08 : 0 recs

Good morning to you all! We trust that all is well with all of you this weekend! The apparently mysterious popularity of Jeremy Corbyn may have taken a step towards being solved. As an aficionado of the allotment, Mr Corbyn has for a long time been an apostle of the good life. The number of disciples seems to be growing.

Sales of chicken coops and beehives are taking off. Greenhouse purchases have risen eight-fold since the spring. Young people are flocking to buy jam, beer and wine-making kits. Sales of solar panels and wood burners are rising. Britain is turning back into an episode of The Good Life, like so many Tom and Barbaras with their chickens, goat and vegetable patch. There is a lot of evidence that this is the most reliable road to happiness.

The Times - The Good Life - The road to happiness may pass through self-sufficiency
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little c
 14 Oct '17  00:29 : 0 recs

Good morning to you all! The FT leads this weekend with some editorial comment that attacks on Hammond are to Britain’s detriment. The salmon pink newspaper takes the stance that it is important the prime minister stands up for her chancellor!
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