Saturday, 18 April 2009

First the bankers, next the tax evaders

I joined "The other taxpayers alliance" on Facebook recently - a useful opposition force to that motley collection of very rich people in the Taxpayers Alliance who dont want to pay any tax.
They directed me to a meeting at the TUC congress house which I went to on Thursday. It was organised by Compass, the left of centre pressure group within the Labour party who are supporting John Cruddas, MP for Dagenham and their main hope for rescuing the party from it's dead end neoliberal trajectory.
This was a significant meeting as Angela Eagle - a cabinet minister was there, mostly to listen although she did give a brief speech at the beginning.
The message of the meeting was clear, it is time to close in on the tax evaders and the tax avoiders. Although the number of rich people is small as a proportion of the population, they withhold far more of their capital than do those at the other end, the so-called "benefit scroungers".
The opinion poll evidence was clear, public opinion is now wanting the loopholes to be closed. The next budget is on Tuesday. Compass may well be pushing on an opening door.
I hope the Liberal Democrats take the opportunity to pre-empt them on this, this weekend. Vince Cable and Nick Clegg often refer to this injustice in their speeches - it is perfectly consistent with what they have said all along, unlike Labour who only now are thinking about it, and the Tories who have long been financed by tax evaders and dodgers for services rendered. At the meeting our attention was drawn to the activities of Micheal Ashcroft, one of the major Tory donors and still involved with banks in Belize and the Tory party.
I was impressed with the meeting for it's caution. The right wing position (supported by "New Labour" under the influence of Rupert Murdoch) of attacking benefits scroungers still wins votes for Labour/Tory and that was recognised - although not agreed with. A crude "attack the rich" position was not supported by the meeting, with the possible exception of a certain Richard Murphy, who urged us not to be timid.
Richard Murphy is the man who set up the Tax Justice Network (TJN). He is a passionate, colourful individual who knows a lot about his subject, but also has his foibles. The main one being his supersized ego. It is no surprise that he started this group - it is hard to imagine he would be able to join someone else's. It is hard to imagine the TJN can represent anything other than what Richard Murphy thinks at any particular time. Most of what he said fitted in well with what the audience wanted to hear, but he did acheive the remarkable feat of actually being heckled at a meeting organised and attended by people who expected to agree with him.
Well that is an aside for now.
The left have some grounds to be optimistic that public opinion will now support greater redistribution of wealth. Our main challenge is that that in itself will not prevent the rise of the far right, who may also seek to cash in on this, and who are likely to benefit most from the failures of neoliberal economic policy and for other reasons such as the threat of terrorism.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Maybe we will have nuclear disarmanent after all

The Liberal Democrats made a big mistake when they decided a while back not to take advantage of the new world order and adopt a policy of decomissioning our nuclear weapons. It was Ming Campbell, still fighting the internal battles of the 1980s (when the disarmers in the Liberal party had the upper hand) who insisted on the policy that we now have.
The SNP took full advantage in Scotland and showed beyond doubt that nuclear disarmanent is actually a vote winner, especially since we don't need the weapons.
But we can hope that although the opportunity was missed, maybe it does not matter so much anymore. The economic pressure on Russia, the US and the UK to disarm is so great, they might as well agree to "multilaterally disarm" at the earliest opportunity. With Obama now talking about disarmanent, we should bring forward the talks and agree as soon as possible.
Another military adventure we cannot afford is the war in Afghanistan. Obama said all along that he was going to intervene further in this conflict. He continues to propose this policy whilst wracking up even more debt in order to finance it, debt that neither the US or UK can afford.
Whilst wishing Obama well, the EU still has a responsibility to be a candid friend and tell the US to settle with the Taliban and get out of Afghanistan before it becomes another Iraq.
The US/UK cannot come to terms with their loss of power in the world, the harder they try to find it the more they diminish it even more. And the expense is great human tradegy.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Vince Cable lays into Libertarians

Early on in this Parliament I viewed the utterings of Vince cable with some alarm. He was then proposing that the Lib Dems support a "flat tax", which appeared to be very regressive, and he proposed ridding the party of it's very popular policy of taxing the rich at 50%.
The party very quickly dropped the flat tax idea (as did the Tories) when the German Christian Democrats nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in their general election, having proposed such a policy. However Vince succeeded in changing the 50% policy. At the time he argued that the new replacement policy was even more progressive - more revenue would be generated from Green taxes and these really would be progressive. On the other hand, Ming Campbell suggested another reason; he wanted the policy to "reward ambition" - the same logic you would expect from a Thatcherite.
So Vince Cable was identified with the right of the party, but listening to his speeches I was not so sure. He was coming up with many progessive ideas on taxation, and in my mind I repositioned him as "hard to categorise".
This of course was confirmed when he supported the nationalisation of Northern Rock as an emergency measure. I wonder if other LD MPs like David Laws and Jeremy Browne would have proposed such a policy? Yet the party was united on this, apart from a few fringe bloggers.
Recently Vince has somehow found time to write a book, and this of course gives an excellent opportunity to find out what he thinks, albeit in less than 160 pages.
I have read the book and would heartedly recommend it. I agree with most of it. Because it is short there are obvious gaps - the chapter on Malthus is rather short and inconclusive which is a shame as I for one think it ought to be the most important part.
However there is no doubt what he thinks about extreme Libertarians;
"(quote from Herbert Spencer) 'The ultimate result of shielding man from the efects of his folly is to people the world with fools' . This approach was influencial in the years of the Great Crash, and it helped inform the advice given to president Hoover by his treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon: to do nothing. '[Panic] will purge the rottenness out of the system ... People will work harder and live a more moral life ... enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people.' Since Hoover and Mellon emerged as the fools who precipitated the Great Depression, their abstemiousness become seriously unfashionable", page 46, The Storm.

The economic crises we face today has resulted from the policy mistakes of those who believed in the philosophy of "setting business free". The business lobby is a formidably powerful lobby and has persuaded even nominally socialist politicians to buy into this philosophy. We are where we are today because of the failure of "light touch" regulation. However even if you persuade the politicians the policy still has to work, and instead it has failed, big time. The backlash is now well under way, and libertarians will be one of the foremost causalities.