Monday, February 23, 2009

A Tale of Two Sites

The government-financed news service, the British Broadcasting Corporation, has intimated to me that the Queen's ghillie has put up a display on the "Web" relating his efforts to combat the deteriorations of the political economy. Furthermore it indicates it has been done in imitation of the excellent President Obama.

There is a kind of competition that cheap magazines like to run, setting out two drawings with subtle differences. I have therefore perused the two web-sites in an endeavour to spot any differences.

Mr Brown states that the British government offers Real Help Now; President Obama talks of Recovery.

Alas, the difference is so transparent that a tiny child would suffer little hardship in placing a finger upon it. For President Obama appears to be aware that he has been trusted with large sums of public money; and he appears intent on explaining his expenditure, almost down to the last dollar. The website explains, as if to an audience of adults, that a sum amounting to some $787 billion dollars is to be disbursed in projects and pledges to account for every penny. It is a colossal sum.

Mr Brown, in contrast, lists no such expenditure. Indeed a cursory survey of his web-site suggests that his government continues to play with magic money. For instance the site refers to child benefit payments of £20 to families. A little research tells me that the total additional payment to each family is in fact £4.50. For what is the history of this payment? It is an increase for one child only announced in last year's budget by the chancellor Mr Darling, to take effect on April 1. It has now taken effect on January 1, an additional payment of £1.50 per month for three months. Even worse, the government has delayed announcing this year's budget by a full month until April so there will be no further possible increases for additional children.

Mr Brown states that pensioners have received a "£60 increase". He omits to mention that this is a £60 increase in an annual payment, that is to say an increase of some £5 per month.

Rather more disturbing is the Prime Minister's claim that some £10 billion has been committed to public investment on "schools, hospitals, roads and railways". There is no explanation, no accounting for this expenditure; indeed my own overhearing of conversations among public servants suggests to me that in some respects the reverse is taking place. Some of those responsible for government investment are being ordered to reduce it for fear of the future commitment against public revenues when existing borrowing has risen substantially. In addition spending on hospitals and school is at risk because many projects are to be financed by private companies who must raise their own capital.

I do not dispute the objective; I do question whether the Prime Minister and the Chancellor understand the difficulty in spending public money fast and effectively. Indeed it appears they have persistently underachieved their plans over the course of ten years and failed to deliver their announcements.

There is much that could be said about this but I must recall Her Majesty's frequent refrain: "Oh do not trouble me with such details, Mr Gladstone."

So most of all, this Tale of Two Sites exemplifies the difference between a liberal government and a socialist government. For a liberal government trusts the people to support good government - and is accountable to the people; whilst a socialist government demands that the people place unwitting trust in its every action.


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