Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A faltering government

A Chancellor fails to defend his budget;
A Prime Minister fails to defend his Chancellor;
A Prime Minister fails to defend a budget that he himself proposed while Chancellor;
A Prime Minister and a Chancellor succumb weakly to threats and alarums issued by their back-bench ranks.
What is the appropriate and honourable course following the unwonted, unnecessary creation of a what is a major constitutional crisis, a shameful undermining of the foundations of executive government?

A Chancellor and a Prime Minister working in consort seek to unravel the budgets they themselves proposed.
They do so without art, without guile, without policy, without principle.
They do not take advice; they appear to consult no one with experience.
A Prime Minister admits he proposes to take too much in tax from the poor and promises to return these sums later in the year; but not all will be compensated and it appears none will be compensated by the Inland Revenue.
This is a hotch-potch of a policy, a stew brewed in haste, concocted with ingredients plucked from a garden decaying and browning in the autumn of its life.

This has become a shambles of a government. I am amazed that HerMajesty should tolerate such weakness and lack of competence amongst her ministers. It should go.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A little advice for Mr Darling

What a pickle the Chancellor finds himself in when he has to promise his errant supporters unspecified fiscal changes. It seems that Mr Darling promises to put right the mistakes made by the Queen's ghillie in last year's budget; but this rectification will not take place yet.

It is an absurd promise for a Chancellor to make; even more absurd that any member of parliament with a jot or tittle of self-respect should give it credence. Yet these MPs are sheep; ewes that have broken through a hole in a hedge; animals that will gladly return to captivity with a little yelp from a dog.

How is the Chancellor to honour his promise? I have a little experience in these matters and for the sake of working people, rather than for the sake of a government without anchor, without rudder and with bearing, I will assist.

It is time he adhered to good principles of making a budget; that changes should be simple and easy to understand. It is to be feared that Mr Brown and Mr Darling will be loath to hold to these principles. For theirs is a history of meddling, of creating complexity and confusion. Mr Darling will believe he can identify those who have suffered and pass money to them; he will create new classes of recipients; he will recruit many thousands more clerks to process lengthy applications from those who would belong to these new classes.

His imperative, rather, should be to continue his declared mission to simplify the tax system whilst also adhering to a second major principle: that the poor should not be made poorer.

His choices are therefore straightforward: to reduce the 20p rate further; to reintroduce a tenpence rate or similar; to increase the personal allowances allowed to taxpayers.

Now these are hard times and the Chancellor may believe he cannot make such concessions, which would improve circumstances for all tax-payers. Yet in truth, in removing the tenpence rate, he has not delivered a single income tax; for there remains, I believe, a rate of 40p in the pound for those earning above a certain portion. Distant as I am now from Treasury affairs I do not have the figures but, it is my belief, that a progressive Chancellor could, if events warranted it, recover his shortfall by reducing the threshold at which 40p becomes payable. It may even be that within 12 months he could recover his position by simply failing to raise threshold.

Now that would indeed be a sleight of hand worthy of a Chancellor within a progressive government.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Mr Brown must defend his Budget

It is right that a Chancellor should defend his budget; and if he were to become Prime Minister, he should remain proud of his actions when he ruled the Treasury.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the Queen's ghillie should return from visiting our American cousins, having, regrettably, played second fiddle to the Pope, intent on mounting such a defence. Yet he returns to rumblings of discontent, fuelled by the poverty of his judgement. For a Chancellor's honourable defence of his budget will not detract from the shortcomings of his policies; and in this case there are many shortcomings indeed.

I remarked a little while ago how long it took the labouring MPs to ascertain the sleight of hand exercised by their leader. Had it passed them by in total, had it been left to Mr Clegg and Mr Cable to expose the fraud, it might in time have led to Mr Brown's last budget being hailed as great in its reforms, in its long-awaited simplification of the tax system.

Indeed there was a time when we held high hopes for the representatives of the labouring people, believing a good education would make them great legislators, courageous tribunes of the people. This may have happened at some time; but I would never have conceived that their party would levy taxes which would take hard-earned pounds from those working people who earn the least and distribute those self-same pounds to those who earn rather more comfortable sums. Nor would it have been conceivable that these tribunes of the people would flock around their leaders like sheep, their slow-working brains taking some 13 months to perceive the inequity that had been heaped upon those they represent.

The late Queen was somewhat opposed to labouring people choosing their own representatives. I sought in statesmanlike terms to persuade her that our nation must change and adopt democracy - with little success, I fear. She would take some satisfaction now in seeing how badly served the people are.

There is a solution for Mr Brown, an honourable course to take. For it is oft forgotten that in my time ministers of the Queen became directly accountable to their electors. When we took office, we had to seek a fresh endorsement from those who elected us.

That is not the custom now; but it is a cause of discontent with the public that the Queen's ghillie should have assumed the highest office without asking their opinion on the matter. Now the first Budget of Mr Brown's premiership - and also the last of his Chancellorship - is questioned by his party. It must be a matter of high principle; let him therefore seize the moment and present his policies to the public for their approval.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Clanging Bell

I have been perusing the words of the former Prime Minister, Mr Blair, as they were delivered in a recent address at the Roman Catholic cathedral in Westminster.

His words are hard to disagree with and, yet, I feel this is a person with whom I would not wish to be in agreement.

I find myself in whole-hearted concordance with a statement such as this: I then go further and argue that religious faith is a good thing in itself, that so far from being a reactionary force, it has a major part to play in shaping the values which guide the modern world, and can and should be a force for progress.

Mr Blair proceeds to a discussion of why he was coy about his "faith" when he held the highest office. He states:
In fact at no time since the Enlightenment has religion ever gone away. It has always been at the very core of life for millions of people, the foundation of their existence, the motive for their behaviour, the thing which gives sense to their lives and purpose to their journeys – which makes life more than just a sparrow’s flight through a lighted hall from one darkness to another, in that memorable image of the Venerable Bede.

He refers to "the rich tradition of religion as a force for good in history."

I cannot but agree, Mr Blair. He refers to the commitment of loving service of many believers and he mentions the perils of extremism. I cannot but agree...and yet I am ready to disagree.

Mr Blair proceeds to discuss what is now called "globalisation", which, I understand, is a reference to free trade. He makes a thesis that religions can help the word tolerate free trade and even adapt to it because they, too, are global movements.

He proceeds then to call for a "sensible long-term partnership" with the nations of China and India. The world has advanced since Palmerston and Disraeli sought to bully these nations with gun-boats and cannon and it is a matter to be welcomed and yet....China is as much a tyranny as it was in 1850 and it is now a nation without any official religion, where religions may be suppressed at whim. Indeed the world is aflame now over the travails of Tibet at the hands of its Chinese conquerors. Should we succumb again to the lure of the Chinese market when the price is our dignity and the freedom of millions, nay, billions?

Mr Blair, it seems, proposes to establish a foundation which will entice faiths of all kinds to pursue what are known as Millennium Development Goals. These sound worthy matters to me, matters that should be held to the heart of those concern about global justice and poverty. Indeed they encompass primary education and the health of mothers and children.

But is not the former Prime Minister, in prescribing that these goals are a worthy joint objective of faiths that may worship different gods, or different names of the same God, is he not seeking to set boundaries on the work of God himself?

Indeed it is noticeable that Mr Blair has not detected that democracy itself is missing from the Millennium Development Goals, the very same democracy and liberty for which Mr Blair assured his population he was fighting wars in foreign countries and, yet, which he is willing to trade with the Chinese.

It is also remarkable that when in his references to the proud traditions of "faith" - at no point does he use the word "Christianity" - he omits to mention the strand of this faith, excluding the wickedness of the Crusaders, that has deplored and resisted war and violence. Indeed he fails to mention St Augustine who formulated rules of Just War, rules which would have precluded many of Mr Blair's bloody adventures had he consented to consult any Bishop or Archbishop in his deliberations.

Our Lord stated there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous. And indeed St Paul turned from being a great persecutor of the church to being its greatest advocate. But there is no whisper, no hint of repentance in Mr Blair's words, however much he may choose to cast himself as a modern-day St Paul. There are many worthy and agreeable words here but they are as clanging bells without a broken heart, a broken and contrite spirit, as the Psalmist describes it.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Budget brouhaha

I am more than pleased to see I have not entirely lost my grip on budgetary matters and that the rather slow-witted members of the labouring party have at last awaken to the effect of the soporific Mr Darling's nullity of a budget on those poor working families who struggle to pay their taxes.

Some two weeks ago I condemned the removal of the 10p tax rate as
a partial reduction, a sleight of hand and a dishonest trick. I pointed out that increases in indirect taxes would further remove the bread from the mouths of the children of these families. I wrote: in studying his budget report I cannot find that large sums are to be disbursed to the poor.

Now it seems the Queen's ghillie has been forced to promise to look anew at this sham of a budget. This, I understand, is the self-same politician who claimed his mastery of the fiscal process entitled him to step into the first minister's shoes. The British Broadcasting Corporation reports that some 30 labouring party MPs appended their signatures to a motion condemning the Chancellor's deceit. It seems an organisation called the Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that some 5.3 million families would be disadvantaged by the budget. One of the restive MPs, Mr Greg Pope, states that those claiming pensions would lose some £200 from their limited incomes.

I can only repeat again, for the benefit of the Queen's ghillie and his Chancellor, those principles of setting a good budget: that it should be simple; it should not be deceitful; it should seek to reduce taxes, especially on the poor.