Thursday, April 30, 2015

Most exciting UK election in ages? What small government option? (Part Three)

What do the Conservatives offer?  Rebuttal of the Labour narrative?

Barely.

In fact, Labour's accusations that the Conservatives will "privatise" and "destroy" the NHS (with implications of the doomed "American style health system") are total fabrications.  Labour also claims the Conservatives will cut public spending to the level of the 1930s, which is also a fabrication.  Yes, there will be cuts, but the level of public spending as a proportion of GDP will drop to levels seen around 2000-2001 under Tony Blair, and still higher than both Australia and Switzerland. Labour implies that the sick and poor will all suffer, and its class war narrative reinforces that, regardless of how much of a fictional piece of agitprop it all is.

The Tory narrative is "we've fixed the economy, there are two million more jobs, we fixed the mess Labour left us, we've cut the deficit, we're on the path to prosperity".  That is all very well, but is there a serious attack of the core Marxist narrative of Labour?

No, not really.

The Conservatives plead, rightly, that they cut the taxes of the lowest paid, by raising the threshold where income tax gets paid, to over £10,000.  However, they don't defend cutting the top rate of tax from 50% to 45%.  They find it difficult to defend raising the threshold at which inheritance tax cuts in to £1 million.

They talk about the money they have poured into the NHS, but never rebut the narrative that the way to get better healthcare is simply to put more money into an enormous bureaucracy full of producer capture, because who can say nurses and doctors are paid too much, or are not experts on how to procure supplies for enormous enterprises very wisely? 

The Conservatives play the "tax avoidance", "tax evasion" narrative as well, but don't say it is good for people to keep their own money often enough, although to his credit David Cameron has said this occasionally.  The problem is the Conservatives have raised other taxes, like Air Passenger Duty and have never addressed the biggest problem of the tax system - its complexity.

What about business?  No, the Conservatives have not argued that big business is good for Britain, and that the best way to deliver better goods and services for consumers at reasonable prices is to lower barriers to competition.  There is little talk about enterprise, entrepreneurship and how more people ought to set up their own businesses, and grow the economy and jobs through the private sector.  Yes there are votes in that, obviously, but when HSBC is looking to leave the UK, who is going to say this is bad?

What about welfare?  Yes, the Conservatives are seen as being tough on welfare, but the only real gap identified by the IFS is that there are to be £12 billion in welfare cuts, but no one from the party will say where these will come from.  So instead of saying that we shouldn't be borrowing to sustain people on welfare, the main narrative is that the Conservatives "hate the poor".

The number one weakness the Conservatives have is that the "class war" narrative, which has been waged not so much by Labour until recently, but certainly spread amongst its foot soldiers in unions, the public sector and crucially, the education system, has taken hold.

The Conservatives are said to be the party of the "well off" and look after their interests, but Labour is the party of everyone else, and looks after them.  Not the party of individual enterprise, effort, responsibility, opportunity and freedom versus the party of large government, ever growing welfare, subsidising irresponsibility and failure, more regulation and identity politics stereotypes.  It's a view expressly commonly by young people, no doubt having been taught this by their Labour aligned teachers.

Beyond a few tax cuts, the Conservatives are mostly offering "we're not Labour", and most recently given the high polling of the Scottish National Party (meaning Labour will most likely need SNP support to get a governing majority), which is more leftwing, the narrative is "you don't want to be ruled by a government held to ransom by those who want to break up the UK, and want to vote on English laws".

It's fear, which is much less than a positive defence of the government incrementally rolling back. Because, you see, this Conservative Party is not offering much rolling back.  You see, I can have the same headlines as with Labour and you get this...


Attack the rich
Not much here, but capping tax rebates for pension contributions for those on high incomes. However, the Conservatives go on about "paying your fair share" and cracking down on tax avoidance, a moral and legal way of protecting what is yours.  The best way to address that is have lower and simpler taxes, but that isn't being pffered/

Attack the private sector
- Require mobile phone companies to cover 90% of the UK's landmass;
- Exclude medium and large businesses from more than two-thirds of government contracts;
- Extend the "right to buy" to Housing Associations

Protect Conservative vested interests
 - Subsidise high speed broadband to 95% of the population;
- Set up a Great British Food Unit;
- Allow local authorities to add to Green Belt protected land;

Grow central and local government
- Devolve powers to local government;
- £38 billion of taxpayer subsidies to new railway capital projects;
- Set up a Pub Loan Fund;
- Maintain 0.7% of GDP as the minimum level of UK taxpayer funding of foreign aid.

Embrace religious fanaticism
- Fund high speed railway from London to Manchester and Leeds
- £0.5 billion to make all vehicles emission free by 2050;
 - Continue to subsidise renewable energy projects.

Grow Nanny State
- Expand National Citizen Service;
- Ban on new "legal highs;
- Introduce "sobriety orders" in courts in England and Wales;
- Extend the scope of the Unduly Lenient Scheme, so a wider range of sentences can be challenged (forget judicial independence);
- Review the case for extending hate crimes to cover disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity;
- Keep up to date the ability of the police and security services to access communications data;
- The harmful activities of "extremist individuals" will be limited by Extremist Disruption Orders;
- Employers will be able to check if an individual is an "extremist" and ban them from working with children.

Increase handouts
- Double taxpayer funded childcare for 3yos and 4yos
- 200,000 "Starter" homes to be built with a 20% discount for first time buyers under 40;
- Fund "Housing Zones" to transform brownfield sites into new housing
- Increase state pensions by the highest of inflation, 2.5% or incomes;
- Maintain handouts to all pensioners to help them with their winter energy bills, free bus passes and prescriptions.

However, it goes further.  Under the guise of protecting children, it wants a new internet regulator to be set up to ban websites from the UK, that contain "adult content" without an age verification system.  So if foreign providers of any content deemed unsuitable for children don't abide by UK law (it's worth noting this includes vast numbers of non-pornographic sites like Twitter, Blogger and Tumblr at present) they will be banned from the UK.  Welcome to the People's Republic of China. The Conservative Party will not only effectively make such content leave UK servers and go offshore, but will seek to impose the sort of regulation of the internet seen in dictatorships.  What happened to parental responsibility?  What happened to simply telling parents to either subscribe to a sanitised filtered internet service (which is now widely available) or install protection software?

On the bright side, probably the single best measure implemented by the Conservatives is the free schools policy.  Letting anyone set up an independent school (just not for profit), where government funding follows the student creates a new, competing, parent led sector that isn't beholden to political imperatives, or the ones driven by the monopolistic teaching unions.  That is why Labour wants no more of it and to ban "unqualified" teachers.  You know the ones, the academics who are accomplished at communicating, but despite their Ph.Ds or Masters degrees, haven't been taught the "progressive" lore of how to teach "fairly".  Yes, that has meant a few Islamist schools have been set up, which should be comprehensively shut down, but that reflects the Conservative fear of the hypocritical left's appeasement of Islamism.

Beyond that though, it's very much a "we wont rock the boat" campaign.  The fiscally unsustainable NHS and state pension commitments are largely ignored, the extraordinarily expensive renewable energy commitments (including promising to guarantee a minimum electricity price three times current market prices for a foreign government owned nuclear power plant), maintaining the housing system that combines guaranteed free housing for anyone who turns up to a council with Leninist control of planning permissions.

However, the main Tory campaign is simply to say be scared of Labour.  It wrecked the economy (partly true), and its solutions will wreck it again (again partly true).  It campaigned on Ed not being a credible leader.  Indeed as Toby Young, a pro-Conservative commentator says:

Throughout this campaign, Labour has tried to paint the other side as a bunch of tax-dodging, privately-educated millionaires who are in favour of zero-hours contracts and are intent on privatising the NHS and sending their children to independent schools, when Labour politicians are guilty of all of those things themselves. The hypocrisy of Ed Miliband and his allies is breath-taking, but they’ve concluded that it doesn’t matter because the electorate just doesn’t care.

In other words, from the left, Labour can also be seen as inauthentic.  However, I don't care about the hypocrisy of Labour, because the Conservatives have largely sold their soul to the philosophy of Labour.

The Conservatives sell more government, but not as much more as Labour.  They sell a bigger Nanny State, although in different ways to Labour (with the traditional Tory obsession over "smut", which tends to parallel its own members consumption of it).

Yet, there are two reasons to vote Conservative.

One is simple.  Labour is, demonstrably, worse.  It is the most leftwing Labour manifesto since 1987, and includes some truly disturbing measures.  The Conservative proposal on website filtering is almost certainly going to prove impractical, but Labour's proposal to outlaw "Islamophobia" is chilling.  After all, it is Islamism that is one of the greatest existential threats to us all.

On economics, the Conservatives will cut state spending, will cut taxes and will not engage in the class war attack on the productive sector that Labour will undertake.

In education, the Conservatives offer the ability for a growing proportion of young people to not be subject to the "progressive" statist doctrine of education, albeit under watch of a state curriculum.

On the European Union, the Conservatives do offer a referendum on continued membership, which offers the chance to escape the sclerotic regulatory and subsidy bound customs union of democratic socialism, that shuts its members away from trading freely with the rest of the world.

Hang on, I hear you say, what about UKIP?  That's coming later.

The second reason to vote Conservative, is that there are some MPs and candidates who are worth your positive endorsement.  Steve Baker, Kwasi Kwarteng, David Davis and even the more moderate Sajid Javid and Adam Afriyie are all supporters of less government.   Furthermore, there is some evidence of libertarian oriented Conservative activism see in Conservative Future and Conservatives for Liberty. You'll see none of that with Labour.

Is this what it has come to?  Vote Conservative for some infringements on your freedoms for fear Labour will do much worse?  Vote Conservative to reject Class War, but accepting policies predicated on its philosophical validity?

You'll have to decide if you can stomach this manifesto (Conservative) over this one (Labour) enough to positively endorse the Conservatives.

Wait, you say.  What about UKIP?  You see, at one time the UK Independence Party (UKIP) touted itself as a libertarian party.   More on that to come...

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