Author Archives: David Thorpe

Labour’s Bank of England plan is based on ignorance

I am about 99 per cent less politically engaged now than was I was even three years ago, mostly because I think all parties lack true radicalism right now, so I find the endless rehashing of each party’s greatest hits albums tedious in the extreme.

But this week Labour did pop up with an idea that tempted my focus away from the books I’ve been meaning to read, and the friends I’ve been meaning to meet, when they proposed shifting the Bank of England to Birmingham and changing the central bank’s mandate to target productivity.

The first idea is based on the …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 13 Comments

The decline of the high street: a liberal solution

The death of the great British high street is an event rarely out of the popular press, and it has been so for a decade.

Mary Portas was appointed in a hail of publicity by David Cameron to find ways to save the high street as far back as 2011, nothing came of that and the problem has become much worse since the increase in business rates introduced last year, the creation of the national living wage and the dent to consumer sentiment caused by the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.

Now I quite like the national living wage announced …

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Devolution – what is it good for?

The idea of devolving power to the “lowest possible level” is about as unifying an idea as there is for Liberal Democrats. But, as often happens with the best ideas of politicians, the current system of devolution to the regions is failing spectacularly.

This is because politicians, across both old parties, who become mayors, when they fail to deliver an improvement, have the get out clause of claiming its all the fault of central government for not funding them properly.

The latest example of this trend is the recent declaration by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, that the blame for the current …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 39 Comments

What is the Liberal Democrat offer to working class voters?

A line I heard in a public house recently summed up for me the problem with the present incarnation of the Labour Party. A long-standing Labour supporter from Leigh in the north of England said to me “the problem is Labour is now more Hampstead than Hull”.

Data revealed as part of a recent opinion poll conducted for the Evening Standard, bears out my ersthwhile friend’s pithy analysis.

It showed that in London, the party pof Corbyn has more support among the higher earners of the ABC1 demographic than it does among the C2DE group of working class voters.

The …

Posted in Op-eds | 141 Comments

Taking action against Syria is not liberal interventionism

Embed from Getty Images

Watching the scenes of devastation and anarchy beamed at us nightly from Syria, the instant, understandable reaction is to demand that something must be done, and support UK military intervention in the country.

There is a debate for another time and another place about whether liberal interventionism is ever effective, even as it is often right.

The problem is taking action against Syria at this stage does not even qualify as liberal interventionism, for even if a coalition of the UK, France and the US were somehow, and against the odds, able to achieve through their military action a change in the direction in the present war in Syria, the outcome would not be liberal.

This is because if Assad falls, what will rise is either a fury of rival militia groups motivated by revenge and fuelled by the extremes of sectarianism, from such Hobbesian wars liberalism tends not to flourish.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 27 Comments

Why I’ve changed my mind on Fixed Odds Betting terminals

As a liberal I have some rather quaint ideas, one of which is that I generally don’t like the state banning things, because generations of governments have shown they don’t know better than the people, but I make an exception for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.

The hard wall of my instinctive view has been destroyed by the cold reason of my personal experience, the very process that powered liberal progressiveness for generations.

I began a new, and comfortably the most prestigious, job of my life in July 2017, it was akin to being flung into a scalding vat of water such was the pressure.

My way of dealing with it was, at the end of the day, to adjourn to a betting shop between my workplace and the train station, where I bet tiny sums on the outcomes of horse races.

The amount I have bet in the last nine months is comfortably less than I have spent on being a member of the Liberal Democrats in that time, and I win more often.

But while those of us betting on horses have an easy after work camaraderie, a dull intensity pierces the betting shop in the form of those huddled over the terminals, feeding wads of cash into the machines, convinced they have cracked the game of chance

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What the Lib Dems can learn about economics from Donald Trump

https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwarby/4860335535/in/photolist-8puuqx-nH9KhK-x5gkW-a2Yx4D-8putCp-a32qpS-a2YbjP-9kJJvt-7b8177-8puprR-6SKbQG-6SKbZG-oKCWvp-dkaUyr-v2EDLi-r1tFvY-r1tFHm-9kNUaq-4Mph7K-ChcB23-8puqfH-8pxBCE-8pxDRo-9kJHqK-aWwhx4-9VBBzN-5WEQZB-a2Ybz8-9kJLQR-9kP8co-4icUAV-9kMMvL-9kMSBb-9kMNwd-bYafLo-8purhr-9kKZfe-nzKQ2n-yNYtG-8pup2p-8purRn-hKv96Z-8pupSi-8pust2-bZPiEm-9kP7hq-a32p7J-8upwDg-5MSyss-9kMKy9Not least among my irritating habits is that I often take the opposite side of the argument to whatever the consensus is at any one time, not because I necessarily believe it, but rather to test my knowledge of my own point of view.

But there are times when even my ability to agitate for an unpopular cause runs aground. Donald Trump’s presidency is one where the well of mischief runs dry.

But there is a lesson for liberals in Mr Trump’s economic policies, as his actions reveal the failings of trickle-down economics …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 1 Comment

How to prevent a repeat of the Carillion catastrophe

Whenever a rather technical public policy question pokes its nose out into the wide world of mass public interest a vacuum is created, a vacuum quickly filled with a gamut on nonsense and conspiracy theory.
 
The collapse of the Carillion has prompted just such fits of hysteria, but while I don’t particularly care that a private company has gone out of business, the issue of the pension fund liabilities is one that will recur many more times for policy makers in the UK as a direct consequence of economic policies pursued since 2007.
Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 40 Comments

If the Lib Dems had won in 2015

In May 2015 I was a callow and energetic parliamentary candidate, motivating myself with the daydream, but not the expectation, of what the UK would look like in two years if the Liberal Democrats won an overall majority in the general election.

Nick Clegg was Prime Minister and Vince Cable was shopping for a new briefcase as the first Liberal chancellor of the the 21st century.

Even my far more modest hopes for the result of the 2015 were dashed, eight seats in parliament and several excellent liberals cast from it left me as devastated as Paddy Ashdown’s hat must have felt.

There …

Posted in News | Tagged | 9 Comments

Why there is nothing illiberal about cutting taxes

The decision by the Liberal Democrats in 2010 to include as part of its manifesto, and subsequent coalition negotiations, the raising of the income tax threshold was the culmination of years of debate in the party about whether to cut taxes or increase public spending.

Because tax cuts are more often associated with right wing parties, there is a tendency to view them as profoundly illiberal.

But actually cutting taxes enforces a profound liberal principal, that of devolving power, the power to spend their slice of the wealth in the economy,  down to the lowest possible level, that of the individual, and away from the centralised state. That increases the power held by the individual relative to the state, and so is surely as liberal an idea as can be.

Of course, that principle only applies when the taxes being cut are those of lower earners, the wealthy already have a lot of power relative to the state, and are not likely to benefit by having some more.

So tax cuts for lower earners  increase the freedom of the individual to do something.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 35 Comments

If you want a progressive alliance, you need to vote against Labour this time

The Liberal Democrats have officially ruled out alliances this time, but informal arrangements seem to be popping up all over the place, and it’s certain a vote for Corbyn won’t help any such alliance evolve in the future.

Vince Cable allegedly believes that there are certain Labour candidates in this election whose views ‘exactly match our own.’ If that is the case then it is rather reassuring that the current reactionary riff being performed by Corbyn and Co. is not the tune to which all of the Labour Party march.

But the problem is, that doesn’t matter. Corbyn has already said he would like to stay even if he loses the election, and that he doesn’t want alliances. So every vote for the Labour Party in any seat anywhere will become part of his narrative to suggest that rejection by the people is a mere detail, each vote a cudgel to legitimise their counter-intellectual concerns.

Socialism of the Corbyn kind is predicated on centralising power. It is an ideology of pessimism. Lib Dems like devolution and empowering the individual,  an ideology of optimism. 

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 43 Comments

Why politicians should tread carefully before using Quantitative Easing to build infrastructure

At a time when politicians grapple with how to use the tools at their disposal to reduce inequality of opportunity and outcome, quantitative easing {QE) can seem like an easy option.

To those blessedly unversed in the intricacies of the monetary policy tool that has dominated more than anything else the economy of the UK since the financial crisis, QE sounds like, ‘printing money and spending it on infrastructure.’

If only it were that simple. QE is a policy of central banks to buy the bonds  issued by their own governments, the aim being to push interest rates down and drive capital into assets more likely to make the economy grow.

So the first problem with any idea of using QE to increase government spending is that, well, the government doesn’t have the power to do it, Politicians can issue the bonds, the Bank of England can choose not to buy them, and the Bank of England is independent of government. 

Posted in News | Tagged | 16 Comments

Corbyn’s pay cap plan boosts the rich, not the poor

As usually happens when hard line Socialist utopias are created, Jeremy Corbyn’s maximum pay plan would help the rich not the poor.

That is because when employees reach the maximum, other ways would be found to reward them which would increase inequality and reduce the tax take from the rich.

In Soviet Russia access to the splendour of the Bolshoi Ballet was a perk for the wealthy. The poor weren’t helped, and no tax was collected on the perk.

So it would be if Corbyn got his way.  Employers would pay bonuses, perhaps in shares or profit share, when they can’t pay extra cash. The thing is, shares or profit shares, when sold, are liable to Capital Gains Tax, not Income Tax as wages are, and the capital gains tax rate is lower than the income tax rate above £140,000. 

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What if productivity statistics are not truly telling the tale?

In the Autumn Statement, Philip Hammond spoke at length about the productivity crisis in the UK, and how he intends to address it.

And doubtless, the creation of higher skilled jobs, of better broadband, of better trains, will all make it easier for UK workers to do more, benefitting the workers and the economy alike.

But what if the productivity statistics are wrong?

Although they hardly belong to the same generation as me, I have three friends or acquaintances who have yet to reach retirement age, but have pension provisions sufficiently large that they are not seeking employment, nor do they claim unemployment benefit.

The government has such folk as a zero in the productivity number, they don’t appear in the unemployment data, nor in the wage data.

Posted in Op-eds | 7 Comments

Responding to the anti-globalisation backlash

Ever lost a lover and then spent hours replaying the whole of the time you had together back in your mind?

If you engage in such reflection it’s often possible to see with hindsight where the cracks started to appear, and the happiness shunted to a road leading to subsequent despair.

Liberals have been shell shocked by a 2016 that has produced a slew of political upsets, and created a stew of uncertainties about the prospects for a progressive future.

The elevation of Donald Trump to the White House is merely the latest in a long line of upsets that have confounded the pundits.

Posted in Op-eds | 60 Comments

With his Trident stance Corbyn shows himself to be no fan of ‘new politics’

Few words stir the heart of the politically interested than ‘a new politics’, and quite right too, for who on earth wants the status quo?

But the utterer of that rather normative phrase is immediately pitched a political challenge, to keep on board those who are the bedrock of their support, while also delivering something challenging enough to be new.

Jeremy Corbyn is a man with far less personal ambition than he has integrity and honour, and that may be ‘new’ for a politician in the UK right now, but it is not enough to qualify as ‘new politics’.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 13 Comments

The economic case is limited, but liberals should support Sunday trading anyway

 

As the years of my youth sweep by me, increasingly I am drawn towards the comfort blanket of nostalgia, but when it comes to public policy making, such vanities must be cast aside and answers framed by the chill of the contemporary, and the pragmatic must instead rule the roost.

It is this increase reluctance to fight the dying of the light and instead embrace maturity that has caused me to pause, and embrace the idea of Sunday trading.

For personal and professional reasons I tend to view all policy decisions though the prism of their economic efficacy , rather than the madrigal of sentimentality that sometimes frames Liberal Democrat policy making.

But despite there being negligible economic advantage to the UK from a relaxation of the Sunday trading laws, I believe the Liberal approach is to favour a change in the law.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 61 Comments

The economic consequences of tuition fees 

 

Volumes have been written on this site and elsewhere about the political, moral and social impacts of the coalition government increasing tuition fees in the last parliament.

I do not propose to rekindle that debate, but rather to examine the emerging, and potentially very long-term economic consequences of tuition fees.

Whilst the UK economic recovery started to gain a genuine depth, public policy makers and private sector market participants alike commented on both the narrowness of the recovery (the rate of growth being pedestrian for an economy exiting recession), the lack of wage growth, the subdued level of capital investment and lack of productivity growth.

Some of those metrics, notably wages, have shown improvement more recently, whilst demographic changes and the impact of quantitative easing on asset prices carry much of the blame for some of the other structural ills that have haunted this economic recovery.

But it is the contention of this article that the tuition fee rise has had a direct impact on the progress of the UK economy in recent years and will continue to do so in two distinct ways.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 88 Comments

Opinion: The twin intellectual conceits that damned the Liberal Democrats’ election hopes in 2015

 

History has the delightful habit of rendering as fools those who propagate the consensus view of a contemporary event, not because the consensus is ever totally wrong, but because it is comfortable and provides comfortable answers to snuggle up to, rather than looking deeper into the harsh eyes of reality and the bigger truths that are revealed.

And so it is with the Liberal Democrat post election postmortem. The consensus view huddles around the notion that it was only tuition fees and anger about the coalition that lost it, but we knew about those from a long way out and still felt we would get more than twenty seats. Two slivers of reality that the Lib Dems could not bring themselves to acknowledge drove our total of seats down further.

The first of these conceits, and the one that is both the least contentious and the most uncomfortable, is that we were too blasé in believing that our traditional campaign tactic of talking up the local and ignoring the national would work. It has of course been effective in the past, but it was hugely conceited to assume that rival parties would not be working on ways to crack that particular code. Of course the coalition made it easier for it to happen, but we signalled what we were to do, with rhetoric in the national media about our ’57 by-elections strategy’, signposting the direction of our campaign to all.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 37 Comments

Opinion: What the Liberal Democrats can learn about democracy from the people of Ireland

I cannot be alone amongst Liberal Democrats, after the general election result we have just been through, in questioning the collected wisdom of the UK electorate.

Fortunately, as an Irishman, my faith in the collective wisdom of the people has been dramatically restored by the result of the equal marriage referendum in Ireland, as my people lustily endorsed equality, and cast off the comfort of bigotry to which it is easy to resort in times of economic strife.

But, just as Ireland becoming the first country on earth to enshrine this type of equality into the law by popular vote will, I hope, act as a beacon for other states around Europe and the world to follow a similar path, I hope that the Liberal Democrats also manage to learn the lessons from Ireland’s result.

Of course, the Liberal Democrats have much of which to be proud in these matters, being the driving force behind the introduction of marriage equality in the UK.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 27 Comments

Opinion: Liberal Democrat alternative budget is no answer to Osborne’s opaque way with the numbers 

 

Several years ago there emerged into public discourse one of those phrases that becomes ubiquitous solely on the basis of its banality – ‘joined up thinking’  – and which could be deployed to allow people with more of an agenda than a plan to escape the scrutiny of the serious observer.

This article’s purpose is not to explore the decision making process behind the alternative budget presentation, except to ponder that those Lib Dems who wanted the coalition to have the impact of us being taken seriously as a potential party of government can hardly be satisfied at how we have been ridiculed in the wake of that particular initiative.

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Opinion: There is a reason banks aren’t lending enough to small businesses – the regulator is to blame

Lloyds Bank, Leighton Buzzard - Some rights reserved by dlanor smadaSince the banks were ‘bailed out’ with taxpayers money, a regular refrain from across the political divide has been that the banks are doing decisive harm to the country by refusing to lend to small businesses.

If this refrain were accurate, banks would be denying capital to the businesses that create the jobs to engender a sustainable recovery, instead choosing to deploy the capital in complicated financial instruments that create little value, or pumping up housing markets, or in paying enormous bonuses to bank employees.

This latter is an argument that Vince Cable in particular was vocal in espousing, and as soon as the real state of the bonus culture, now much more shares based than cash based, becomes apparent, he will doubtless claim the credit for that.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 20 Comments

Opinion: In London, community politics must be less about geography and more about life choices

bicycle route signOn September 22, my friend and London Region Lib Dem colleague Anthony Fairclough wrote in excellent fashion on these pages regarding the particular challenges, and hurdles, that are dampening the party’s prospects in many parts of London.

Anthony made many well informed and cogent points, but the one I wish to pay particular heed to is his reference to our party in the past assuming that we would win votes because we are the party of local campaigners, the party which gets casework done.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 32 Comments

Opinion: Patience, not paranoia is needed if the UK is to solve the productivity puzzle

Workers bankers london bridge - some rights reserved by zoonabarEconomist’ brows furrow when they note that midst the generally positive economic data emerging in the UK and the US, wage growth continues to be absent.

On the surface the answer is simple –  the participation rate in both economies has fallen. For some, particularly those anxious to play Cassandra to the next crisis, this is a sign that economic growth is a mirage.

In the UK context, wild and dangerous theories are granted fertile ground by some determined that coalition economic policy can’t possibly have achieved growth; suggestions that benefit sanctions are forcing the number claiming jobseekers down, but not wages up, has much traction, but scandalously little merit.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 10 Comments

Opinion: Liberal Democrats must champion our economic achievements

It’s the enduring burden placed upon liberals that we are often found to have made the correct policies calls in the crucible of history. But we fail to turn such perspicacity into a victory in the more immediate court of public opinion.

Whether it is on major issues such as the Liberal party’s historic pioneering of the welfare state before any other; the commitment to green issues which predated Cameron’s hugging of a husky by two decades; Caroline Pidgeon’s proposal for a bicycle hire scheme before either Boris or Ken; liberals have historically been ahead of the policy curve, nut been …

Posted in Conference and Op-eds | Tagged and | 9 Comments

Opinion: How the government can spend billions on stimulus without borrowing a penny more

In his defence of his dexterously lethargic approach to managing the economy, George Osborne portrays his detractors as Icarus-like figures forgoing prudence to pursue fantastical growth amidst the sunny uplands forever just beyond the next horizon.

The Chancellor would contrast himself as a wise head trying to counsel Icarus towards caution, as Daedulus did in the Greek myth.

But if Icarus was wrought low by over-reaching himself and flying too close to the sun, Daedulus’s demise came when he couldn’t escape from a labyrinth of his own creation. Osborne is risking this outcome.

I described the Chancellor’s economic management as dexterously lethargic above …

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Opinion: Miliband’s VAT cut plan is deeply regressive and economically harmful

Ed Miliband’s recent declaration that a future Labour government would seek economic growth through a VAT cut is a disappointing deviation from the recent raft of progressive policies announced by Labour.

Miliband has charted a carefully centrist course for his party- embracing economically liberal ideas, such as the mansion tax, and agreeing with the Liberal Democrats on Heathrow expansion, and ID cards.

In these and other areas Miliband has shown himself to be closer to the Orange Book than the Red Flag, that’s why his proposal to cut VAT is a deeply disappointing return to the “conservative” (Tony …

Posted in Op-eds | 54 Comments

Opinion: Osborne’s mortgage scheme is the worst of both worlds

Perhaps the best outcome from the Chancellor’s budget announcement that the UK Treasury is to underwrite billions of pounds worth of mortgages has been the muted reaction to it.

In a budget which was distinctly underwhelming, the Chancellor must have hoped that his latest attempt to ‘get the banks lending more’ would be hailed in the same way that previous populist capitalist measures, such as the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme were.

Most economic decisions are empirical, and there are valid points to make on either side of any argument.

But the Chancellor’s plan has nothing to recommend it. It will do …

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Opinion: Cable’s New Statesman article presents a classic Liberal Democrat dilemma

The reason Vince Cable stood so far above his Labour and Tory counterparts during the financial crisis was his unique combination of economic subtlety and political guile; his rivals possessed those attributes the reverse way around.

In his much mentioned essay in the New Statesman entitled ‘When the facts change should I change my mind?” Cable shines a light on the dilemma serious politicians face in trying to balance the economic and political concerns inherent in policy making.

The essay, which takes its title from a famous JM Keynes quote, debunks a number of the left’s cherished myths, and delivers …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 6 Comments

Opinion: Whatever this government is, it is not neo-liberal

In my wild youth, which was as long as it was fecund, I enjoyed a brief and mutually unsatisfactory fling with Marxism. One of the most fearsome methods used by Marxists to direct debate is to retreat into the world of “ism”’s, where, rather than engage in discussion of the relevant point, opponents are branded with the prevailing pejorative ‘ism’ of the day.

While its probably too late for Marxists to change, it’s rather disturbing when more mainstream political figures fall into the same habits. A recent example of this came when Labour MP Peter Hain, speaking on The …

Posted in Op-eds | 43 Comments
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