Welcome, belatedly, to my day: 20 November 2023 – perhaps Bhutan might have a useful suggestion on levelling up…

Greetings from a sunny Ipswich, East Anglia’s Waterfront Town – yes, I know, but…

Nice, crisp autumn days like these are a useful reminder of the value of happiness, a sometimes underrated notion unless your life is not that good. And I was reminded that, if levelling up was intended to make people outside London better off, and therefore happier, couldn’t you instead start from the notion of making people happier and thus levelling them up?

Bhutan adopted the idea of “gross national happiness” more than forty years ago and, whilst the idea has been given lip service by politicians since then, it hasn’t been mainstreamed into policy making. Perhaps it should.

The Bhutanese index uses nine core indicators:

  • Community Vitality
  • Cultural Diversity and Resilience
  • Ecological Diversity and Resilience
  • Education
  • Good Governance
  • Health
  • Living Standards
  • Psychological Wellbeing
  • Time Use

and these seem like a list of core themes that suit Liberal Democrats, especially given the increasing concerns about a perceived lack of philosophical heft in our public campaigning.

Elsewhere, I have a funny feeling that we’re about to see one of two things in Argentina following the result of their Presidential election at the weekend. Javier Milei’s clear victory, and his policy statements during the campaign point to a libertarian approach to government. I’m more relaxed about that than some – that’s what the Argentinian people voted for in a free and fair election, and that’s what they should get.

There’s no doubt that some of his headline proposals are radical. Abolishing the Central Bank, moving Argentina onto the US dollar, removing subsidies on a range of core items and axing half of the government ministries will certainly not go unnoticed in a country where 40% of the population live in poverty. But Argentina is already in crisis, after multiple defaults on its debts and has little international goodwill to count upon.

And campaigning and actually ruling are two very different things. He may attempt to do exactly what he’s promised, which will certainly have consequences. Or he’ll “bottle it”, compromising on virtually every major issue when the consequences become apparent. In my experience, the latter is more likely when faux-libertarians gain power or obligation – responsibility for the consequences is seldom what they want to accept. We’ll find out what sort of libertarian Javier Milei is soon enough…

It looks increasingly like the Government are going to give their fiscal headroom back to those of us less in need (note – that doesn’t mean that some don’t have needs) and will require the most vulnerable in society to pay for it, as Steve Webb has exposed:


Was the talk of inheritance tax cuts just a means of “drawing fire”, distracting attention from the possibility of effective real-terms benefit cuts? If it was, it’s not the first time that inheritance tax proposals have influenced the wider tax and spend debate. But basic rate income tax cuts act to further limit the freedom of action available to an incoming Labour administration – will Starmer and Reeves want to raise taxes to fund the NHS or anything else in terms of public service reform? Given their general sense of timidity, it’s probably a good political call even as it’s damaging to the fabric of the nation.

It’s going to be an interesting week…

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  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 20th Nov '23 - 5:07pm

    Our friend in Argentina is libertarian except when it comes to women’s control over their bodies – an abortion ban was part of his platform.

  • David Warren 20th Nov '23 - 8:42pm

    The new Argentine President will be faced by a legislature where he has very little support. How he deals with that will be his biggest test.

    I wonder whether he will actually last the full term.

  • Martin Gray 21st Nov '23 - 8:19am

    Mark – maybe we should ask ourselves why people turn to populist movements wether in Europe or abroad..
    Some social democrats in Europe have seen there support wiped out – to a point where it will probably never recover …It’s all too easy to dismiss it as a populist backlash – but against what ..

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