Tax shot through the foot

It does not work, and they know it does not work. Raising tax does not raise money: at these levels at least, it reduces the Government’s income. Don’t take my word for it: listen to Rishi Sunak. He said repeatedly in the Commons that there is a limit beyond which no more comes in, and we have reached it.

No one was fooled by making it a rise in National Insurance: it is a tax, and we all know it.  The voters know it, which is why the Conservative poll ratings plunged at that moment. It will take a lot to win the trust back.

There is a window to rescue the position, on 27 October. The budget is being worked on, and it could (without going back on the National Insurance hike) reduce taxes that hit us all.

The temptation for any tax reduction is the old tick of raising allowances to take more people out of income tax entirely. This is a mistake. It has minimal effect on most, and those apparently benefited most will only have brief gratitude. We need people to feel personal engagement in the taxation process, and that means not taking them out of tax, but so they see a reduction. To be out of tax is to be told you are poor and failing. As soon as a working man is paying no tax, he loses interest: he might as well vote Labour for all it matters (and yes, he would be hurt mightily by the economy tanking if Labour get in, but if he feels no skin in the immediate game, then this future risk will not be a burden on the attention).

Voters in the North voted Conservative for the first time, as the low-tax, pro-enterprise party. Why did they bother? There is no sign of that party now, and no sign that the Conservatives have honoured the trust reposed in them, if the most cast-iron, attractive manifesto pledge has been dumped with barely a thought.

There is a need for a fight-back to win back the hope the voters once had. It will not come in the middle ground, for if Conservatives sit there, what makes them any different?  It can only work if there is a reason to vote Conservative.

The reasons to vote Conservative, bluntly, are:

  • Low tax
  • Patriotism
  • Reduced bureaucratic interference
  • Getting rid of the nonsense that has been filling the state
  • Being actively on the side of the ordinary man and woman.

There has been little sign of these. Tax has not sunk by a penny, and now has gone up. Maybe someone saw an extra Union Jack somewhere. Government bureaucrats still interfere where there are not wanted nor useful, just to keep their jobs, bullying health and safety directives are multiplying even outside the sphere of the COVID state, and there is no sign whatsoever of cutting the bloated mass of government down. It must have become addictive: even Dominic Cummings could not make his Hard Rain fall.

In the everyday, it has not escaped voters’ attention that Woke nonsense has increased inexorably over the last decade, in all of which Conservatives have been in power, or at least in office: they seem to have no power in the matter at all. A few speeches about protecting statues has not stopped voters losing their jobs to the social justice warriors embedded in the multitudinous layers of the state. The police (once a bastion of Conservative values) are even more ready to leap upon innocent men over ephemeral words in social media posts, apparently finding it easier than to do the dirty business of tackling actual criminals.

What is the point in voting Conservative?

Tax is the immediate battlefield, but the rest is tied in. Make actual, dramatic cuts in the bloated state, and in its largesse to parasites that feed on it, then cut income tax rates dramatically and loudly. That is the Conservative way, and the road to winning trust.

Books

Holes in the Blue Wall

You only understand an election if you talked to voters on their doorstep: distanced punditry is worthless. I was on the doorsteps in Edgbaston during the first Blair election, and was told there was no danger, surely, in true-blue Edgbaston? But it went red, and has stayed red. In Amersham, the party most in favour of HS2 has won on an anti-HS2 vote. Voices on the doorstep could have predicted this.

Voters do not like being taken for granted. They are not owned by any party – we have seen that in the North. Perhaps this time the local Conservative Association was too cocky? There was no frantic campaigning as has been seen elsewhere: the LibDems though were out campaigning months earlier, while the old MP was on her deathbed, which is obscene, but effective. You cannot expect votes just because you have had them before.

It was a by-election. Boris has a stonking majority, and the result was never going to change that, so a voter knew he or she could do anything and it was not going to overthrow the Conservatives in Westminster, so it is time to have a little fun, to shake things up.

There is reason enough and unavoidable wherever you go thereabout: just outside Amersham all along the roads the once-green fields and woods are now acre upon acre of industrial heaps of earth ringed with security fencing and ten-foot signs, filled with monstrous machines grinding the land away. This is the HS2 project. It not just a pair of steel threads across the hills, but needs the hills scraped away forever. In its wake too will come houses; thousands of indistinguishable box-houses and flats destroying what once made Amersham and its villages such a lovely place to live.

The Liberal Democrats support HS2 and support massive house-building, but they got in, convincingly, by claiming to oppose them. That is not so outrageous: it is a Conservative government which is leading the despoliation of the Chilterns.

Loss leads to loss. I knew Edgbaston only too painfully: once a solid Tory seat, now apparently permanently Labour: in the last two elections their candidate won more than 50% of the vote, when it used to be the Conservatives at that level there. Canterbury was a shock loss in 2017: as true a blue constituency as could be imagined; safe and with a big majority, but then Labour’s Rosie Duffield got in, by a tiny margin in 2017, and then two years later stayed there, with almost a 2,000 majority. Can Amersham and Chesham be won back? Once a constituency’s voters find they can vote another way, they think differently about their assumptions, and they can do it again.

This was an unusual one, with weird voting patterns skewed by the circumstances and a low turn-out, but nothing can be taken for granted. Look at Canterbury, and Edgbaston.

Do I want to write about this, and can I? I would rather be writing about the Sausage War. Still, it is the live topic of the day, so you must forgive my indulgence in my observations. Others who knocked on the endless doors of the villages may contradict me, and really I would prefer to hear from them.

See also

Sign the Australia deal

There is a free trade deal with Australia to be had: sign it. No text is available, but the Australian government has published its terms, and they are exactly what the British side would be looking for too. It’s a bonzer deal, mate.

One thing I was told repeatedly when canvassing for Leave in the referendum: when we are out of the EU, we must apologise deeply to the Australians. What was done in 1972 was unforgivable, freezing them out of their main export market as we turned to Europe. Now it is overdue the time to return to normality, which is free trade between Britain and the Old Commonwealth. Australia and New Zealand were settled, established and made equal, independent realms on the basis that we were all one and equal and trading between ourselves: betraying those basic understandings unilaterally, insulting the tie of kinship, for a flawed engagement with Europe, was a scandal that hurt badly in Australia and New Zealand and has never stopped hurting.

Cynical commentators (though we do need cynics), portray Australia as a minor player, an exporter of mutton, wool and beef, but that is a generation out of date. There are indeed more sheep in Australia than people in the British Isles, and it is important sector, but the main game in town these days is mining: Australia is the world’s largest producer of iron and bauxite, and around the top of copper, coal and much else besides.. Cheap iron, steel, copper and aluminium are vital for industry. that is only in one sector: Australia is a wonderland for industry and agriculture.

It is in agriculture that the objections have been raised. Farmers’ representatives are screaming about being unable to compete with the vast economies of scale that Australia has in sheep and cattle. One could combat the worry by pointing to the distances involved that even in our crowded islands we have more than half the number of sheep that whole continent has, and our flocks are closer. However mathematics aside, we must never forget Adam Smith. It is almost two and a half centuries since The Wealth of Nations, and it is still hard to convince people of the truth and logic of its observations. Customs duties are imposed at the demand of local producers who fear competition, and in Smith’s day too these were mainly farmers. However every example he analysed over centuries showed that customs duties do significant harm to those who demanded them. By Adam Smith’s principles, farmers should be welcoming free trade. Even apart from competition on wool, all the equipment around the farm, from heavy machinery down to stock fences, needs steel and aluminium: without free trade these are more expensive. All that ore and bauxite coming out of the ground will, if duties are lifted, reduce the cost of farming and boost profit.

We could look at it another, more philosophical way too:

Imagine Britain is running out of land (as we are) and there appears out of the sea a new, practically empty country ideal for flocks and herds. The land is annexed and farmers are encouraged to cross to this new part of Britain and establish vast farms which our islands’ limited bounds could not fit until the new land appeared. We cheer the pioneers and encourage others to join them, not just farming but providing all the support, infrastructure industry and exchange needed so that the pastoral enterprise can thrive to its best. Then we may find that our mines are exhausted, but his miraculous new land has untapped resources, so we send miners there too. Would farmers in the old islands complain? Well maybe, but only with as much conviction as a hill farmer in Cumberland might grumble that those on the Cotswolds have it too easy: the new land was established to thrive and it has done. Now do we disown it and impose high taxes on those we encouraged to move to the new land? That would be shocking. This really though is the story of the settlement and growth of Australia.

Tony Abbott has observed that while Britain and Australia are juridically separate, we are not foreign to each other. That is at the nub of it. We are one nation, juridically separated, but of the same essential understandings and aiming for the same things. Our twin government can do deals for mutual benefit without trying to put one over on the other – a very different dynamic indeed from the negotiations with the European Union last year.

There is a deal to be done, and both governments have the same aims and criteria. Sign it.

See also

Now for LGAxit

Local government will feature in the Queen’s Speech, but is there hope of actual change? The messages are contradictory: more powers for councils, as long as they all obey central directives; more protection for the environment, but new towns must built on it.

A more fundamental change is needed: repeal the Local Government Act 1972.

Like many bands from the 1970s, the Act is a creaking parody of itself. It had an ill-starred birth, it was passed just after the Act that sent us into the European Communities.  It was knocked together hurriedly when Ted Heath was facing an election: he had unexpectedly won the 1970 election on a promise not to abolish the counties but he went on effectively to do just that. The Act was both a reaction to the Redcliffe-Maud Report, and an implementation of it. The Report was itself a reaction to changes in the 1960s. What we have today as the governing structure of modern local government is a 1970s act that was old hat even then.

The scheme of the 1972 Act did not last; before it came into effect it had to be changed, then 10 years letter Margaret Thatcher threw out one of its key planks, and ten years after that, many of its assumptions were reversed. There have been amendments and corrections, exceptions and provisos every other year since it was passed, but the 1972 Act limped on as the foundation on which stands a structure bearing almost no relation to the assumptions built into that Act.

The scheme of the Local Government Act 1972 is based on a series of assumptions including: universal two-tier government (now rare); a committee system (again, a rarity); strictly defined competences (no longer applicable); discrete employed council staff; and all to be done with paper and face-to-face meetings. On top of this have been added changes which have to be looked up in a scattering of other Acts and Regulations, joint authorities, devolved powers, mayors (whose powers have to be conferred using legal fictions because the Act does not contemplate them) and other bits held together with chewing gum and string none of which did Ted Heath’s text anticipate. It simply does not fit any more.

Even though the Act’s assumptions are all abandoned, Parliament is still forced to follow the 1970s terminology in the Act, and treat every exception to its scheme as an exception, even though there are now more exceptions than conformity.

If there is to be a radical devolution agenda, it simply does not fit the rickety frame of the 1970s.

Maybe this leftover from the age of corduroy flairs and soft-rock has been kept just because it is too complicated to work out what goes where, afraid of ‘ch-ch-changes’, but if we cannot see where the rules are, they must go.

Ted Heath’s legacy must go: the European Communities Act 1972 has been repealed by Boris, and now the Local Government Act 1972 should follow it into the bin.

A new Local Government Structure Act is needed quickly, to reflect the actual structure of local administration and to provide a framework for building anew.

See also

Books

Up the Monkey Hangers!

Never mind if I have sneaked back in round here, up in County Durham, Hartlepool, Peter Mandelson’s old seat, has elected a Conservative MP, Jill Mortimer, from whom I hope we will be hearing a great deal over the next few years. She may be a Yorkshire lass, but they can be forgiving of such faults these days.

The big forgotten middle, the industrial and ex-industrial towns of Durham, Lancashire, Yorkshire and Derbyshire, now have a visible presence on the government benches of the Commons. I would like to think they were never forgotten places, never abandoned. They were never discarded for their political choices as that would be corrupt. However a psychological block can arise if the only voices heard from those towns is a whine of blame and condemnation and demands for more money, despite the open evidence that it just goes down the drain or makes things worse. It stops any practical engagement.

A string of ex-Red Wall towns with Conservative voices speaking for them can make a difference. MPs are the first to speak for their towns and deserve an open ear, whatever party they are from. What they say though makes a difference in whether they are heard. Socialism has been a disaster for the industrial towns and a voice begging for more socialism or for money to be paid to client groups with no positive outcome has to be dismissed, and then the town has no sensible voice, so it will miss out. When Labour are in power, a socialist MP is still whining for money and then may be heard with more sympathy, but he can still do no good. A town in trouble needs a constructive voice with ideas that work, and Hartlepool’s new voice it that.

The North has the key to the welfare of the whole land. If commercial investment is constrained in the crowded south, the north atrophies, and the whole country has lost half of its wealth-creating potential. More money in the north means more customers.

It could easily be messed up. The southern counties are not rich because the government has done something for them, but because it has left them alone and entrepreneurs have built their empires. Constructive ideas, based on the realities of the towns and their hinterlands, that would allow enterprise to thrive and the towns with them – that is what is expected of the new Blue Wall MPs . If they succeed, maybe their work will not be appreciated, but the big forgotten middle towns, not just those with newly blue MPs but all of them, will blossom.

See also

Books