Monday, 3 August 2015

Five years in prison....

Actions that carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison:

Trading in firearms without being registered as firearms dealer
Selling firearm to person without a certificate
Repairing, testing etc. firearm without a certificate
Falsifying certificate etc. with view to acquisition of firearm
Violent disorder
Female circumcision
Unlawful wounding
Assault occasioning actual bodily harm
Abandonment of children under two
Acquisition by or supply of firearms to person denied them
Dealing in firearms
Setting spring guns with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm
Failure to disclose information about terrorism
Child sex offence committed by person under 18
Abuse of trust: sexual activity with a child
Abuse of position of trust: causing a child to engage in sexual activity
Abuse of trust: sexual activity in the presence of a child
Abuse of position of trust: causing a child to watch sexual activity
Possession etc of articles for use in frauds
Putting people in fear of violence
Offences in relation to certain dangerous articles
Possession of indecent photograph of a child
Sexual activity with a child family member, with penetration (Offender under 18)
Inciting a child family member to engage in sexual activity (Offender under 18)

Or,if the government get their way, I might be a landlord who happens to be renting a flat or a room to an asylum seeker. And I might decide, when I hear that their request for asylum has been refused, that I cannot be so callous as to evict them just after they have been told they cannot stay in the country. For that as well, they want to give me five years in prison.

We were right to talk about adding a heart to the Conservative party. They don't appear to have one.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The Budget: in which the Chancellor says many fine words but still screws the poor

It was a very successful budget. It did what it set out to do. It was a very political budget from a political master. George Osborne doing what he does best - wrong footing the opposition by fixing the narrative in his terms and burying inconvenient facts.

The tax threshold rise is good but not as progressive as a rise in the NI threshold would have been. The National Living Wage is also a good thing, but I have not yet seen an analysis of who will gain what after reductions in tax credits and housing benefit are factored in. I suspect Osborne has some stats tucked away which tell him that the NLW will be more than offset by those other changes. It is still ultimately a redistribution of relatively little amounts of money among the less and the least well off. And the pain will be widespread: the IFS estimates 13 million families will lose money as a result of the benefits freeze. And as far as corporations are concerned, the biggest will by more than happy about reductions in corporation tax that will sweeten the burden for them. And the NLW is a masterly piece of Osbornism, nicking the term for something that is only a slightly expanded Minimum Wage, well below what a living wage actually is.

I do not think that Osborne has any intention of being nice to people. The neoliberal project is about keeping the bulk of the population just precarious enough - insecure enough not to complain, but not so insecure that they have nothing left to lose. I suspect Osborne realised that previously mooted plans went too far and has pulled them back into viable territory. When the NLW rises to £9 in three years time, he will get a double benefit. He gets the benefit now from announcing it; then he will be able to get the benefit again, and twice over “This year we are raising the NLW to £9 an hour (pause for cheers and waving of order papers from the Tory benches, and maybe a modest fistpump from Iain Duncan Sixpack). But is it only fair that if people are earning more....” - followed by announcement of a further squeeze on tax credits or housing benefit or some such.

Housing, and the wealth tied up in it, remains the unspeakable conundrum. The rise in inheritance tax allowance will benefit only a tiny minority (some reports suggest 8%) but will be loved by many who still think they will be among the few who will make it to the top, while the cuts in housing benefit and rise in rents for social housing tenants will make a lot of renters much worse off. (An example given on Ekklesia today: “A lone parent working 16 hours per week with two children will gain just over £400 from Chancellor Osborne’s ‘living wage’, but will correspondingly lose £860 via tax credit changes in 2016/17”.) While taking a little heat out of the pension market, the Chancellor remains intent on pumping up the housing bubble, perhaps in the belief that it will never explode. Or perhaps he will stop when the housing market has been entirely privatised.

Probably the most significant incident during the speech was Iain Duncan Smith's repulsively pugnacious fistpump when the National Living Wage was introduced. It has been variously reported as delight at the introduction. But it is not. That expression is the face of the bully, not the patron. He was overjoyed indeed, but not about workers getting a slightly more fair deal on pay. He was delighted at Osborne having shafted Labour (and the LibDems, it must be said).

It's not a great budget actually, not the game changer it has been said in some places to be. Rather, it is consistent with everything else the Tories do, a significant step but only one in a journey on which the Tories and their neoliberal chums are taking us and the rest of the world. It shifts us even further from the idea that welfare is affordable and in fact necessary in an economy where most people's jobs are precarious. Benefit claimants are people, and respectable people at that. All but a tiny minority are not in work because they cannot work or because there is no work to do. The benefits they receive are expensive but eminently affordable given the wealth that Britain possesses and creates, even in times of recession and recovery. But that wealth still goes to the top, and the top is still unreformed. It is significant that on the day of the budget Barclays Bank got rid of its reform minded CEO, in a move brilliantly analysed by David Boyle. Reform of the banks is completely off the agenda, given no mention in the budget but a cosmetic change that may well (Boyle again) make things worse for ordinary customers rather than better. And it's a lot more than the banks - corporate welfare remains untouched, and indeed unspoken about. (The Guardian discusses it, but Labour does not say a word.)

And nor do we speak of the miserable bedroom tax, the painful and horribly ineffective Work Capability Assessment, the vindictive sanctions regime or the awfulness that sees hundreds of thousands of children, women and men reliant on food banks in one of the world's richest countries. While the LibDems were in coalition, we helped Osborne and Duncan Smith move us along this road. Now, for the sake of the precarious half of the country, we must find alternative directions.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Libdemmery reading list

This is today's snapshot of an evolving repository. A reading list almost randomly thrown together of articles, books and statements which will help to understand what Libdemmery is all about. If you join Diigo and log in (it's worth it) you can annotate these items in a Diigo outliner, and join in discussions about them. If not, just read them; your time will be amply repaid.

Additions are always welcome. It's a living list.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

I am a cockroach

Tim Farron famously said a little while ago something along the lines of after the apocalpyse has happened, there will still be cockroaches and Liberal Democrats delivering leaflets. Well, the apocalypse happened on Thursday. A grim night. Lewes lost, in Norman Baker, the best MP it has ever had, or likely ever will. I doubt that his successor, for all her fine words, will measure up. (Irony: some circles in Lewes have just noticed that she is pro fracking: a bit late.)

We have been well and truly punished in the only poll that counts. We can now look back on some fine achievements, and some apologies that need to be made, and we can look forward to more pain for the many, and comfort for the few.

It looks to me as if the electorate has said, well, if we have to have Tory policies, we may as well have proper Tories making them. I know it's more complicated than that. But there are things which we have participated in, and enabled, and we no longer have to support - the ideological insistence on privatisation of everything possible, Iain Duncan Smith's heartless war on unemployed, sick and disabled people. Of course, now we're out of power, we have lost any ability we had to mitigate those efforts.

In my view, as many have already said, we became too economically liberal and were not socially liberal enough in government. Our achievements were mainly on the socially liberal side of the agenda - equal marriage, pupil premium, raising tax allowance for *everyone*, resistance to the snoopers' charter. But the main thrust of being in government was economic liberalism. I was struck by a piece from Mark Littlewood quoted in Liberal Vision. He says we may have the opportunity to redefine ourselves “as a genuinely classical liberal party, seeking to shift power in every area of life away from the state and towards individual men and women.”  The trouble is that nowadays that doesn't work. Globalisation and post industrial capitalism have taken us to the point where removing power from the state means that it accrues not to ordinary people but to corporations, and what we need is a form of liberalism that finds tools to empower citizens in the face of both the state and corporations. That tends away from the classical tools of economic liberalism, such as simple versions of free trade, which work to accumulate more power in the hands of unaccountable corporations. (Hence my opposition to TTIP; its headline is free trade, its effect is corporate dominance.)

I wrote my wishlist before the election. It still stands:
- a welfare policy that affords a decent minimum without harrassment to everybody who is not working because they cannot or because there is no work
- major increase in the capacity of the civil service to frame and monitor contracts given to the private sector (where increasing the power of the state works to the benefit of the individual citizen)
- FOI for all contracts issued by government. Corporate confidentiality should not be a figleaf. Transparency is all - when we can see what private companies are doing with our money, it is so much less easy for them to get away with it.
- properly funded units to chase tax avoiders
- MPs can have as many jobs as they want, but they cannot speak or vote on anything in which they have a financial interest. (It works for councillors, it can work for MPs.)

It is an incomplete list, but it's a start. It is by and large a socially liberal list. We still need to be economically liberal, but we need to get that right, so that it actually works on behalf of the citizens, not on behalf of the powers that be. I am no longer “for” minimal government. I am “for” the level of government that works for everybody, not just the few, that enables all of us to stand up best to the power of corporations, as well as the power of the state. I am "for" Conrad Russell's definition of liberalism: we stand up to bullies - everywhere.

That is my “air war”. As for the "ground war", I will be delivering leaflets, and preparing the ground for a battle about fracking. It will be a big one.

I am a cockroach.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

How to live and die with dignity

Sir Terry Pratchett's death was announced, as Buzzfeed says, in a beautiful and perfect way.

Transworld Publishers got it right too. “The world has lost one of its brightest, sharpest minds.”

We mourn him not just because of the conduct of his passing but because of the conduct of his life, a life which enriched, enlivened and, in his own way, ennobled the world.

To dwell on the things of this world may seem to sully the remembrance of the pure joy Sir Terry brought, but it is important to remember that his way of life was an act of will, and that the opposite way of life is also an act of will.

We live in a world of sharp contrasts, and one where, far too often, people are concerned to bolster their egos at the expense of others. That half of the world is typified by Jeremy Clarkson, who could learn a great deal from Sir Terry, if he were able to tear himself away, for a moment, from the pursuit of obnoxious celebrity.

Sir Terry was, and will remain, a shaft of light in an otherwise all too often murky world.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

About. Bloody. Time. (But not far enough.)

Clampdown on cold call companies unveiled by government. Not before time. Cold calls are a menace, and even more so this week: I've been on holiday. I'm trying to relax, but the phone at my holiday place rings every day with cold calls. In the end I set the ringer to zero volume, so if somebody called it who actually wanted me, they wouldn't get me.

Even within current legislation, the ICO's reponse has been pusillanimous. So, when it gets these new powers, it needs to start using them. Also, these powers only deal with cold calls within the UK. The faux Microsoft calls from India need to be dealt with too. At the moment phone companies have no way of filtering out withheld numbers from foreign places, because BT Openreach does not provide one. You can buy one to fit on your own phone, but why should we have to? It is a quick technical fix to provide a call blocking mechanism for withheld numbers but Openreach apparently have no interest in providing one. Ofcom should give Openreach a very hard kick up the backside on this one, and keep kicking till they provide it.

An addition to my election wishlist: MPs' jobs on the side.

An addition to my election wishlist. This has been in my mind for some time, well before the Straw / Rifkind hands in the honeypot debacle; I didn't remember it when I wrote my original election wishlist.

MPs can have any second job they want. Or third. Or fourth. But they cannot vote on anything in which they have an interest. (If the rule is good enough for councillors, it's good enough for MPs.) The Speaker's Office should have an arm devoted to determining who can vote on what, with stringent rules. Any bill brought before Parliament would have a list attached to it of MPs who cannot vote on it, with the reasons why. An advisor to a large multinational company might find themselves excluded from all the important votes.....

An objection will immediately be raised. What about people like doctors who need to do a certain amount of practice in order to maintain their credentials? As experts, they have specific contributions to make to debates in their specialisms. I don't think that is insuperable. Even doctors can't have everything. They have to make a choice; do they want to be a doctor or an MP? If they want to be an MP, they put their doctoring on hold. If they lose their credentials and have to get them back after they have ceased to be MPs, provision for retiring MPs is very, I mean VERY, generous - they have plenty of both time and money to re-credential themselves.

Also, I think the argument about having expertise in the house is overblown. 650 largely white, largely middle class, largely middle aged men will not have expertise on everything. They rely on outsiders for expertise, and perhaps should rely more. The medical profession, like any other profession, is an interest group. I would hate doctors to have some sort of claim to being listened to more than all the rest of us when it comes to legislation on medical matters.