Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cometh the hour, cometh the moron

The Crewe and Nantwich by-election seems to have kicked off a special variant of moron poker in which prominent Labour thinkers share their thoughts about what the Labour Party needs to do to ensure total obliteration, rather than mere defeat.

Neal Lawson, as ever, kicked this off, quickly to be trumped by Phil 'not the singer' Collins with his call for the Labour Party to 'liberalise or die'. These pieces in turn inspired a quite stupendous trump from long time moron poker favourite Denis MacShane.

MacShane's argument is that what is needed now is to cut public spending in order to reduce taxes. In essence, his article was a retread of the incredibly popular and persuasive Michael Howard argument from the last election - there is all this (unspecified) government waste that could be got rid of with no difficulty whatsoever in order to fund tax cuts. It was an article so good it featured in the Telegraph, with a shorter version in the Guardian with fewer anecdotes about loony left councils and less about how someone had told him all about how there is all this money wasted.

It doesn't read like an article which he spent a lot of time over, hence sentences like "But a third of voters in the recent London mayoral election are individuals." [what's happened to the other two-thirds?]

The best/least coherent theme is about how local government flourished under the Tories because all the Labour council leaders (except for the loony lefties who were bad) did all this good stuff and regenerated cities under a ruthless regime of cost-cutting [what do you mean, you don't remember the northern cities flourishing under Thatcher and Major? Less is more when it comes to community regeneration!] Sweden is good because they raise and spend taxes locally. Councils in the UK are bad because they inexplicably choose to raise the council tax by more than inflation.

And what should central government do instead of spending? MacShane suggests that we need to see 'encouragement to councils to build council homes' [he didn't have space for the bit where he explains how councils can build lots of new homes with less money than they have got at the moment].

Finally, there is his assertion that what's needed is a 'counter-cyclical programme of increasing community spending power by allowing individuals to have a little more cash and the state a little less'. The idea that if the public sector spends less money, it will lead to the empowerment of the individual works rather better in theory than in practice. Examples of this 'counter-cyclical programme' could be found in Oxford, where the Liberal Democrats wanted to close a load of play areas to save the individual about £1 per year, or in Liverpool, where keeping council tax rises down involved closing down respite care centres for elderly people. It's a cruel trick to force parents to drive for miles or keep their kids at home because there is nowhere local for them to play, or to turf elderly and vulnerable people out of care homes. But it takes a true moron to claim that this is the right thing to do because it 'empowers' them.


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