Author Archives: Joe Bourke

Opinion: The Generation Gap

Day 46: Generation GapThe generation gap used to refer to the differing attitudes of young people and their elders to sex, drugs and rock and roll. For young people today, it has come to mean what the American author of the article linked below describes as “the economic hellhole our parents have handed us.”

Earlier this year, Rolling Stone magazine published an article under the title Five economic reforms millennials should be fighting for.

photo by: quinn.anya
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Opinion: We can conquer unemployment

unemploymentIn 1929, Lloyd George launched We Can Conquer Unemployment, the policy document that was to form the basis of the Liberals’ election campaign.

This week, George Osborne said “I am committed to securing the “fullest” possible level of employment by helping business to create new jobs and cutting taxes.”

Nick Clegg has said “… many people had accepted real terms pay cuts in recent years to safeguard their jobs and the government must continue to support them as well as creating the climate for new jobs. All I want is the maximum number of people to be employed in the economy and the minimum number to be jobless.”

Just as the productivity gains of the decades prior to the financial crash, were largely captured by the wealthiest in society, so too has the benefit of the asset price inflation generated by monetary policy accrued to the holders of capital at the expense of wage earners and savers.

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Opinion: Mind the gap

EconomyWith the economy showing strong signs of a recovery and budget projections forecasting a period of healthy growth seven years on from the start of the financial crisis – have we now reached the ‘escape velocity’ required to run clear of this long slump?

The answer to this questions relies on judgements of an indicator that has proved almost impossible to gauge i.e. the output gap or measures of spare capacity in the economy. Most economists believe that the UK economy still boasts plenty of spare capacity, by which they mean that …

photo by: LendingMemo
Posted in Op-eds | 23 Comments

Opinion: A Peace Plan for Syria

Nick Clegg has said about Syria “I am very proud that, as a country, our reaction isn’t just: ‘Oh this is happening, it’s got nothing to do with us. We want to wash our hands of it.’ We struggle with what can we do. It is the wonderful thing about Britain. We don’t stand by. We don’t walk the other side of the street. We want to get stuck in and sort stuff out.”

I think there may be a way to bring about a ceasefire and political negotiations that avoids the obvious dangers of arming rebel groups.

Turkey has called for …

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Opinion: Decriminalising drugs

drugsThe 2011 Liberal Democrat conference passed a motion calling for all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs to be scrapped, the introduction of a regulated market in cannabis, and the expansion of heroin maintenance clinics for the most fervent users.

The UK Drugs Policy Commission (UKDPC), published its final report in 2012. According to UKDPC, the cost of implementing current policy on illicit drugs is at least £3bn a year, but a lack of evidence for what works and provides value for money, and politicians’ unwillingness to act on available …

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Opinion: Arming the Syrian Rebels

The Independent reported this week that Cameron faces serious Cabinet split over arming Syrian rebels.

Nick Clegg is said to have warned at a recent meeting of the National Security Council that supplying weapons to the Free Syrian Army might only escalate the conflict, killing many more people without any realistic prospect of decisive victory and that it could be “next to impossible” to ensure that British arms do not fall into the hands of Islamist militants.

A Whitehall source said Mr Clegg did not believe “there was a military-only solution to Syria” and would not back any attempt to arm …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged and | 34 Comments

Opinion: Saving what’s left of Syria

President Obama and the European Union continue to agonise over whether to lift the arms embargo on Syrian rebels.

The al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra control several areas and bring Sunni Islamic law, religious persecution and ethnic cleansing under their slogan of “The Alawites to the grave and the Christians to Beirut.”

Israel strikes the Assad regime even as Iran and Hezbollah equip and train a rump Alawite militia in preparation for the fall of the regime.

The western democracies mull over no-fly zones and safe havens while Russia continues to transport weapons to Assad’s forces.

The lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan loom large …

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Opinion: Putting the political back in economy

“The Liberal Democrats are working for a stronger economy in a fairer society enabling every person to get on in life.” What key policies will reinforce this simple message? How do we ensure that economic liberalism supports and advances social democracy?

My answer to these questions lies with the words of J K Galbraith – “economics does not usefully exist apart from politics. The separation of economics from politics and political motivation is a sterile thing. It is also a cover for the reality of economic power and motivation. And it is a prime source of misjudgement and error in economic …

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Opinion: A Comprehensive Middle East Peace Settlement

Simon Hughes said this year,  “We are near to the end of the opportunity of being able to get a peaceful two-state solution because of the extent of the settlements. The separation of Gaza from the West Bank and the increasing encroachment of the settlements mean that an alternative to the two-state model must be explored. We need to be honest and realistic about having a Plan B and a Plan C as well as a Plan A, as an international community.”

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Opinion: Amnesty for 120,000 illegal migrants

During the 2010 general elections, I campaigned in Barking and Dagenham, where the BNP concentrated much of their electoral effort on the back of council seats they held there.

Our policy of offering families, who have been here for years and want to pay taxes a route to citizenship (provided they want to work, speak English and want to commit to the UK in the long term) came under attack not just from the BNP, but Labour and Tories as well.

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Opinion: We need all parties to work together to solve London’s housing crisis

Sarah Teather’s recent interview in the Observer graphically reminded us of the social impact of the housing crisis on large numbers low and moderate earners in London.

Vince Cable, on the Andrew Marr show, emphasised both the need to counter the tabloid rhetoric of benefit scroungers and restrain the growth in the welfare budget. Vince pointed to the urgent need to expand the provision of affordable housing in the …

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Opinion: Rock Salmon and Chips anyone?

Fish and Chips

Before the rise in popularity of Indian curries, kebabs and Chinese take aways, battered fish and chips were considered the British national dish. Rock salmon was a staple – among the cheapest offerings in fish and chip shops around the country. However, demand for “rock salmon” devastated the shark’s population off the coasts of Britain and France, where the spiny dogfish is widely considered to be critically endangered.

The Common Fisheries Policy was introduced by the European Union in the 1970s to ensure a profitable and sustainable fishing industry – an objective in which it has completely failed.

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Opinion: Land Value Tax – an old idea with lots of modern supporters

Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations (1776) was an early proponent of land taxes as was that great radical Tom Paine.

John Stuart Mill was an advocate and Henry George put the case in ‘Progress and Poverty’ (1879).

The economist David Ricardo gave us the concept of economic “rent” – that land or property derives its value from scarcity rather than investment.

In the debates before and after the peoples budget of 1909 both Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George argued strongly for the introduction of a land tax.

The economists John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman recommended Land Value Tax (LVT) for …

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Opinion: The pensions crisis

The Department for Work and Pensions warns that many final salary schemes have already closed down and those that survive will be closed to new entrants within six years.

The average defined contribution pot – the pension now replacing the more generous final salary scheme – is £26,000. At current rates, this fund would buy a Joint life 50%, 3% escalation annuity of less than £1000 per year.

One in six people retiring this year have not saved into a private pension or accumulated other assets, so will see their salaries replaced with the state pension only.

To provide for a pension in …

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Opinion: A Mansion Tax to replace higher rate tax?

Mansion tax is not Land Value Tax, but it is a place to start down the road to shifting a significant part of the tax base from income to wealth.

There seems little argument that mansion tax would be a more effective method of taxing non-resident Non-Doms who acquired over 60% of the properties valued at over £2m in recent times.

The inequalities in wealth in the UK far outstrip inequalities in income. The top 10% of households own more wealth than the rest put together: 0.3 per cent of Britain’s population owns 69 per cent of its land.

The HMRC report …

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Opinion: What do Charity tax and higher rate pension relief have in common?

We have seen much furore over the effects that a restriction on the level of higher rate tax relief for charitable deductions may have on philanthropy. Nine out of ten charities are opposed to such a move and warn that large donations could reduce by as much as 20%. In the Lib Dem 2010 manifesto, we proposed reforming gift aid to operate at a single rate of 23%, giving more money to charity while closing down a loophole for higher rate taxpayers.

The 2010 manifesto also proposed giving tax …

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Opinion: Time for the Party to propose the Citizen’s Income

The Centre Forum paper Taxing Decisions discusses the pros and cons of tax credits and tax allowances. The report reviews tax options for tackling the income and wealth disparities which have become a feature of British society in recent decades.

Reducing the level of inequality benefits everyone in society, rich and poor alike. I would argue that in an inclusive and more equal society, all citizens should pay tax on their income. Means tested benefits have not delivered for us. Child poverty, and unemployment are entrenched with the resulting societal breakdown. The way out of poverty is work. The best …

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Opinion: Good borrowing and bad borrowing

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” So says Lord Polonius to his son Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Good advice for young people starting out in life, but the modern economy of the 21st century depends on the constant circulation of money and credit. We all need to borrow to buy a house, for University etc. Firms need to borrow for investment in equipment and working capital. Government needs to borrow to finance infrastructure. That’s good borrowing.

If, however, debt is being racked up to buy imported tack or fund boozy nights out, we would think of that as bad borrowing.

There …

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Opinion: Getting radical with the money supply

Last week the OECD forecast that Britain was about to experience a double-dip recession, for the first time since 1975. Vince Cable in his Centreforum paper Moving from the financial crisis to sustainable growth asks “How far should monetary policy now be expanded further in the UK to boost demand and head off a period of poor growth?

He goes on to say “There is no possibility for further meaningful interest rate cuts – real short term rates are now minus 4 percent. That means further recourse to quantitative easing.

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Opinion: Building an economic recovery

Two issues on which there appears to be virtual universal consensus across the political spectrum are  the pressing need to address the UK‘s housing problems and the economic benefits of a rejuvenated construction sector. The lack of adequate affordable and social housing has been a major weakness of the UK economy and social fabric for many years.

This problem has manifested itself in seriously overpriced housing costs relative to incomes, soaring housing benefit expenditures, uncompetitive labour costs and inter-generational inequity.

The Centreforum report Delivering growth while reducing deficits – lessons from the 1930s  highlights the major part that house building played …

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Opinion: Jobs and the economy must feature in Brian Paddick’s mayoral campaign

Last weekend, in common with many Team London activists, I was out delivering literature for the upcoming mayoral election.

In a recent Ipsos MORI poll, commissioned by BBC London, some 59% of respondents cited jobs; growth and the economy as the most important issues that Londoners say will help them decide who to vote for in the upcoming mayoral election. This chimes with my own experience of feedback on the doorstep.

Tackling crime (49%), improving public transport (38%) and building cheap homes (37%) were the other top issues.

During the 2008 election, our candidate Brian Paddick, polled a little less than 10% of …

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Opinion: Let’s raise tax threshold to £10,000 for all taxpayers

To keep the cost down, the increase of £1,000 in the personal allowance this year excluded higher rate taxpayers and over 65’s. Also, the higher rate threshold was reduced to bring more people and income into the 40% tax band.

The 2011 budget announced an increase in the personal allowance for under 65’s by £630 in April 2012, with the higher rate threshold unchanged. The freezing of the higher rate threshold brings more people and a greater proportion of existing earnings into the higher rate band – so-called fiscal drag.

This process seems consistent with the aim of increasing the personal allowance …

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Extending the LibDem youth contract to self-employment

Small and medium sized businesses account for 51% of turnover and 55% of employment (DTI figures). They primarily employ UK based staff and pay full UK tax on the value generated here.

Equipping young people with the training and skills for self-employment has the advantage of developing a more flexible and resilient workforce, better able to adjust to a fast changing economy, as well as enlarging the pool of entrepreneurs capable of starting and growing small business concerns.

An enhanced Liberal Democrat youth contract aimed at developing a base of budding entrepreneurs, would establish a core of upwardly mobile, aspirational self-starters, a …

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Opinion: Job Guarantees – an economic stimulus worth considering?

India introduced a job guarantee programme, for the rural poor in 2005. It was dismissed by many as fiscal folly. Yet this developing country has weathered the financial storms of the economic downturn far better than most European countries. Argentina ran a successful programme in the wake of their debt default and Canada has had a good experience with such programmes.

Job guarantee as an economic policy builds on the concept of employer of last resort. The policy requires that the public sector offers a fixed wage job to anyone willing and able to work. The job pool expands when private …

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Opinion: guaranteed employment for young people

This is part two of a two-part post regarding policies to tackle youth unemployment – part one is here.

Welcome as the youth contract initiatives have been, I do not believe that they are yet comprehensive enough to adequately address what has been and remains a long-term endemic problem with youth employment in the UK.

For 16-24 year olds not in education, training or employment, we ultimately need to be able to offer a guarantee of paid work within a structured training program, albeit at minimum wage, even if this is in the public sector. The jobs and training would …

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Opinion: tax and benefit reform to help tackle youth unemployment

In a two-part investigation, Joe Bourke looks at youth unemployment. Sunday’s part two will have details of policies designed to provide guaranteed employment for 16-24 year-olds. In part one, we discuss changes to the tax system that would make such policies affordable.

If the 2012 budget sees the personal allowance increased to £10,000 we will have achieved a key plank of the 2010 manifesto and provided some welcome relief to the squeeze on incomes that has come not least from the increase in VAT to 20%.

Whether the increase in the personal allowance is achieved in this budget or subsequently, we will soon need to …

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Opinion: Foreign policy lessons for the Lib Dem approach to Iran

The Green movement in Iran after the presidential elections in 2009 was the first of the recent popular backlashes against entrenched corruption in authoritarian regimes. That was followed by the Arab spring, continuing upheaval in Egypt and now a similar movement in Russia and elsewhere.

At the time of the electoral protests in Tehran, Iranian staff at the British embassy were being accused by the Iranian authorities of treason and fomenting unrest. There was only muted support for the reform movement in Iran from the international community.

Last month we saw the British Embassy in Tehran ransacked and vandalised

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 20 Comments

Opinion: Why we should all be 40% taxpayers!

With the Liberal Democrats now committed to raising the annual tax personal allowance to £10,000, thoughts must turn to ways and means of following through on this pledge.

As I see it, there are three principal areas to be fleshed out.

1. Should the benefit of this proposed £700 per person tax reduction be extended across the board or restricted to the approximately 4 million taxpayers earning below the level of the minimum wage?
2. Should we seek to eliminate both tax and national insurance payments for the taxpayers earning below the level of the minimum wage?
3. In light of a continuing projected structural budget deficit of circa 80 to 90 billion per year, how is the cost of this tax measure best absorbed while simultaneously seeking both tax increases and spending cuts?

National insurance is now purely an additional tax. There is no insurance scheme in the accepted sense. Only around one-half of social security and health service costs are financed by national insurance contributions.

Posted in Op-eds | 8 Comments

Opinion: Why the Liberal Democrats should propose a Flat Tax

The pre-budget announcement that the party will pledge to raise the income tax personal allowance to £10,000 by closing tax loopholes exploited by big businesses and the wealthy has been well received by members and by the mainstream press.

The headline cut in income tax of £700 is based on the increase in the personal allowance from the current level of £6,435 to £10,000 at the basic rate of 20%. No mention however, has been made of increasing the national insurance threshold by a similar amount, to effectively take out minimum wage earners from the tax net altogether.

A single combined …

Posted in Op-eds | 38 Comments



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  • User AvatarSimon Banks 18th Apr - 8:51am
    Stephen: I agree with your premise about the nature of Liberalism. I disagree with how you apply it to the debate over Jeremy Browne's book....
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    paul barker 15th Apr '14 - 7:35pm "..The 1st rule of Polling is not to to take much notice of individual Polls, " And The...
  • User AvatarJohn Innes 18th Apr - 8:40am
    @Malc. Totally agree with you - great poster and get Charles Kennedy and Alistair Darling out there more. I really hope that Scotland votes to...
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    Michael Moore says - "--Currently, our British forces are strategically structured and positioned, not on an arbitrary national level, but on military logic........" Ah yes,...
  • User AvatarJohnTilley 18th Apr - 8:09am
    Thanks for these. Interesting stuff I note that the quality of the 1931 film of Archibald Simon is much better than the 1967 film of...
  • User AvatarRC 18th Apr - 7:51am
    I would echo what George Crozier says. From the door knocking I have done, when you get to speak to them, people I have met...