How high taxes killed our belief in helping others

Posted on January 08, 2013

When all factual and economic arguments have failed, Britain’s proponents of high taxes fall back upon philosophical justifications for their position. “Tax is the thing that makes us civilised”, they declare, “It brings us together as a society”.

Such arguments are dragged out to perform again and again, like those 1960s pop acts who were fleeced of their retirement pots by unscrupulous managers. Of course, there’s no actual evidence for them – that’s the point, they are declarations of conveniently unmeasurable truths.

But even such intangible claims are starting to look shaky. As the debate about cutting benefits for the better off intensifies, it is increasingly clear that high taxation has killed our national sense of helping others, of the well to do making sacrifices to help those less fortunate than themselves.

Just look at the row over Child Benefit. There was a time when people recognised that if they earned a good salary, they didn’t really need welfare to top up their income – whereas others who were barely getting by did.

Now, the letters pages and radio phone ins communicate a very different world view. Those who have been squeezed over and over again by successive Chancellors grabbing at their earnings, their savings, their pensions, their petrol bills and their pasties want something back in return. The idea that just because they might be earning £50,000 a year then they shouldn’t get Child Benefit enrages large numbers of people – the payment is one of the few things they get back from the large amounts they have to pay to the Exchequer.

That is a remarkable shift from the widespread sense of “middle class oblige” that once existed to the far less attractive sight of well-heeled parents defending their right to be welfare recipients.

But people who want to hang onto their payments cannot be blamed for feeling that way. It’s a natural reaction to want to get at least a bit back when you are shelling out a small fortune every year through constant, multiple taxation. It is our politicians, and particularly the high tax lobby, who are responsible for the near-total erosion of that sense of sacrifice for the greater good.

Of course it is an absurdity to pay welfare benefits to the well-off. It is a perverse interpretation of a welfare state that was intended as a safety net – particularly at a time when there are plenty of families who can only dream of earning £50,000 a year. Worse, it means cycling cash through a wasteful tax collection and benefits payment system, only to return some of it to the pocket where it originated.

The welfare bill must be brought down, and the just way to do that is to withdraw benefits from those who need them least. High taxation has driven out the sense of responsibility which would once have made that the obvious and natural thing to do for most Britons. Far from making us “civilised” or “bringing us together”, overfeeding the tax man has made us selfish. Taking more and more money from workers has made them grip what they have left all the tighter.

The moral case against high taxes must be made or – counter-intuitive as it may seem – the moral case for helping others will continue to fall on deaf ears.

Some things change – but Prezza stays the same

Posted on January 07, 2013

A new year heralds change – 2013 will see new heights of human achievement, new lows of tragedy, new inventions and discoveries, new works of art and new ways to move the spirit.

What it will not see, it seems, is a new commitment to accuracy from John Prescott. In the history of scientific endeavour, few leopards have been discovered with less changeable spots.

This morning the good Lord – turned Sunday Mirror columnist – tweeted:

Unfortunately for Prezza, that photo – much used by the lefty twitterati in recent months – is from September 2004, as reported here.

That means the bubbly was being delivered not to George Osborne or his Coalition colleagues but to Gordon Brown, at a time when John Prescott was Deputy Prime Minister. Either Prezza knows the photo is from the wrong administration and is deliberately misleading his 167,000 Twitter followers, or he has mistakenly picked it up from somewhere else.

Let’s be charitable and assume it’s the latter. The only recent, mainstream use of the picture was in the Daily Mail last year, accompanying a story that the Chancellor intends to introduce a green tax on chilled champagne. The tax will supposedly be called the “Thermal Reduction Initiative (Champagne)”, or “TRIC”. Published under the byline “Pru Cremier”, the story was published on…April the 1st.

Oh dear, John.

Newsnight’s unasked immigration question

Posted on February 21, 2012

Last night Newsnight ran a package on the findings of the Vine Report, the damning outcome of an investigation into flaws in the security of British borders.

One expert interviewee featured condemning the current Government for allowing the problems to continue after the 2010 election was Matt Cavanagh, introduced as a former “Government immigration adviser”.

Now, Matt Cavanagh’s critique may well be right – the Coalition evidently didn’t ask the right questions that would have uncovered these failings in May 2010. But shouldn’t some criticism – perhaps the bulk of it – go to those who oversaw these security breaches opening up in the first place?

Vine reports that the holes in our borders first began in 2007/8. To prevent such a thing happening again, we surely need to know how the problem first emerged.

But who could Newsnight have interviewed about such a thing?

Perhaps we should look at Matt Cavanagh’s full tagline on Newsnight – which was, err, “Government immigration adviser, 2003-10“.

It was fair enough to interview Cavanagh and ask him about the Coalition’s role in allowing the scandal to continue. But why wasn’t he asked about how the problems allegedly started on his watch?

Ed Miliband struck by the curse of the anti-mojo

Posted on January 10, 2012

The success or failure of political campaigns rests on a lot of different factors. Many of them are solid things – do you raise enough money? Do your team work harder than the other side? Are your ideas coherent?

But there is another factor which is just as important, or potentially even more important. There’s not really a specific word in English for it, so let’s call it mojo.

When you’ve got mojo, you’re unstoppable. Everything you say comes out well, everything you do is well received, and you just seem naturally destined to win. Everything you touch turns to gold. Barack Obama had mojo in the 2008 Presidential election campaign.

Of course there are material things supporting this – the hard work is still being put in, the good team still need to be there and you still need to fundraise – but there’s an element of magic about it as well. Some politicians are touched with it for their whole careers – Tony Blair, for example – some people will get it at a crucial time only for it to vanish later, while others may see it crop up intermittently through their whole lives.

It’s when you have the opposite of mojo that things get really interesting.

I’m not talking about a simple absence of it – the vast majority of politicians are, for the vast majority of their careers, lacking it and instead forced to rely on hard bloody work alone.

I’m talking about when you are in active possession of anti-mojo. When you’ve got the Black Spot. When you’re cursed.

You won’t find politicians who have had anti-mojo for their whole lives. If they did, their careers would never have got off the ground in the first place. Instead, it strikes one day, and can prove impossible to shake off.

These unlucky souls are in real trouble. They can have the money, the team, the elbow grease, even the ideas, but everything they touch goes horribly wrong. Bungles are made. Fate intervenes to destroy the best-laid plans (remember Gordon Brown’s literally car crash poster unveiling?).

If it was a patch of bad luck alone, it might be possible to keep your head down and wait for it to pass. In ordinary life, I suspect this happens to most people at one time or another and they survive. As a political leader that’s almost never possible.

Instead, the problem becomes self-reinforcing. Your misfortune, incompetence and absurdity become a media and social theme. After the first obvious incidents occur, people start looking out for them. You swiftly become the laughing stock of the lobby, and then of the public. When this happens, the prognosis is almost always terminal. Needless to say, this is the political comms person’s nightmare – how do you manage the reputation of someone the Universe appears to have taken a dislike to?

Ed Miliband may well have reached this point in the last week. Never the most naturally comfortable or suave politician, his slow handling of the Diane Abbott furore swiftly developed into an out and out collapse in respect through his “Blackbusters” tweet.

Today, you can see the results. When for whatever reason he kept lobby journalists waiting for over half an hour for his much-trailed (and much rewritten) 6th relaunch speech, they went public and started taking the mick out of him on Twitter. (See here, here, here, here, here and here for examples). Then the BBC accidentally captioned him as “David Miliband”.

It’s not just that he’s a leader in the Twitter age – it’s that his anti-mojo has got so bad that the lobby don’t respect or fear him. When it feels natural to the nation’s political press that they can mock you in public, you’ve got a serious problem. When you lose respect to a degree that even the ordinary politeness any Briton would show to a stranger isn’t accorded to you, then that is incredibly hard to overcome.

It’s safe to say Ed Miliband was not born to be a man touched for all his days by the magic of political mojo, but there was a chance he could have been one of those politicians known for achieving through hard work what had not been gifted to him by sheer pazazz. Instead, he’s become infected by a truly severe case of anti-mojo. 2012 is barely two weeks old, but his leadership is already in serious, serious trouble.

Mandy’s McAvity memory loss on the origins of the Euro crisis

Posted on November 15, 2011

Peter Mandelson has been industriously digging himself a hole over the Eurozone crisis. Normally a fervent debater and a nimble performer when it comes to picking his words carefully, he got a bit of a shoeing from Paxo on Newsnight last night.

It can’t have been comfortable for the Prince of Darkness, but there are further troubles ahead if he sticks with the line of attack that he has chosen.

We’re choosing to be outside [the Eurozone] and not showing up at those Councils and bodies where the decision-making and economic discussions of the Eurozone are taking place

The problem he faces on this one is a curmudgeonly, sociopathic Scotsman called Gordon Brown. Back when Brown was Chancellor he was notorious for not bothering to attend the meetings of ECOFIN – the council of EU Finance Ministers. When the group met, McAvity Brown more often than not was nowhere to be seen.

As the FT reported in 2006:

Gordon Brown, Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, has not been to Brussels for a single meeting this year….Mr Brown has the worst attendance record, going to barely half the meetings since 1999. In 2004 he made it to a little over a third of meetings.

The difference between then and now is that while today’s Government are refusing – rightly – to take part in building a new Euro bailout package, which would be as expensive as it would be unpopular, back then Brown was skipping the very meetings which sowed the seeds of the current Eurozone crisis.

Around that table in the late 90s and the early years of the 21st Century a consensus developed that it was acceptable for the vast majority of Eurozone countries to brazenly breach the Stability and Growth pact, running huge deficits and piling up vast national debt mountains.

Now that is crashing down on all our heads leaving Britain, Europe and even the whole world to pay a heavy economic price.

Brown opted out of those meetings, passing up a chance to warn of the consequences of the Eurozone countries’ actions. Then, of course, Mandelson went on to help him limp on as Prime Minister for three miserable, costly years.

Does the good Lord really want to start this argument?

It was the Gordon Brown curse that defeated Yes2AV

Posted on June 01, 2011

The Yes2AV recriminations roll on with ever more intriguing revelations about how chaotic and unpleasant their campaign team were. Latest into the bearpit is Lib Dem James Graham, who works for Unlock Democracy.  Graham is the first Yesser to claim the campaign’s failure was Labour’s fault – more specifically, Gordon “Jonah” Brown’s fault.

Graham writes that Paul Sinclair, an ex-Brown spinner, was running the comms operation. Apparently his Comms team seized centralised control of everything  down to the tiniest micro detail, and allowed a culture of bullying to grow to the point where the junior staff felt they were in “a living nightmare”. The result – a demoralised organisation reliant on a tiny central bottleneck to get anything done.

Someone who worked for Gordon Brown being a controlling bully? Where could he have learned to behave that way?

Don’t let Gordon be forgotten or forgiven

Posted on May 23, 2011

Radio 4′s Desert Island Discs is a national institution. Since 1942, celebrities and famous figures from Debbie Harry to David Cameron have been nominating their eight music tracks that they would want to ake with them to a desert island.

As part of a new feature, the BBC are looking for people to nominate their eight discs, to produce a show of the nation’s favourite picks.

On the Today Programme this morning, Kirsty Young invited people to run a campaign if they wanted to. So here it is – in the spirit of remembering exactly what Gordon Brown did to our finances and our economy, overinflating an asset bubble, generating a financial crash, selling our gold at a massive loss, running the national debt up to crippling levels and more, let’s all nominate classic ’70s track “Gordon is a Moron” by Jilted John.

All you need to do is click here, type in the song and the artist along with your other favourite songs and you’ll have done your bit to ensure Gordon Brown is never forgotten or forgiven for what he did. Obviously, if you could send this suggestion on to your friends as well that’d be great.

In the meantime, here’s the song itself:

Finally, here’s the link again – go and nominate it now!

Celebrities in politics: Does it ever work?

Posted on February 07, 2011

James Frayne, a predecessor of mine as Campaign Director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, has been blogging for some time now at the excellent Campaign War Room. He mused over the weekend about celebrity endorsements in political campaigns and whether they actually bring any benefits. He concludes:

Sometimes celebrities can make a campaign look normal and mainstream by having celebrity establishment endorsement, and in such circumstances then why not. But I don’t think it substantially changes the way a campaign is perceived. More often than not, in Britain at least, you’re probably better off focusing on sorting out your message and developing case studies / endorsements from real people who genuinely do amplify the message you’re pushing out.

By and large I agree. As I see it there are four possible outcomes that a celebrity endorsement can bring for your campaign, which are worth pondering:

1) The “Eh? Who?”

Smaller parties and campaigns who are frustrated that the mainstream media are neglecting them can often fall into a state of clutching at straws. This means that when a so-called “celebrity” turns up on their doorstep, they will grab them and shout it to the rooftops – even if they are either unheard of or completely irrelevant to the issue at hand. Or both.

The outcome is normally that your campaign will suffer from the embarrassment of being visibly proud of the dubious endorsement of someone a bit random – causing harm rather than the supposed gilded benefits of having a celeb on board.

The classic example in this category is Rustie Lee. I know, I hadn’t heard of her either. Rustie Lee is – apparently – a TV presenter and chef, who enjoyed her heyday in the ’80s. In 2004 it was announced with great fanfare that she was joining UKIP, and she’s since stood for them in one General and one European election. She’s not a bad candidate  so far as I can judge, she’s just a bit random. When UKIP sing about her as a celebrity, it just exacerbates their key problem of people assuming they are small fish in a big pond.

2) The Liability

Far worse than a little-known celebrity is one who you initially welcome on board but who then proceeds to become an embarrassing liability. The famous are particularly prone to this because by definition they tend to be unusual, driven characters and because they are normally quite naive and unpracticed when it comes to how politics actually works.

There are quite a few examples of this phenomenon, ranging from Jim Davidson speaking at the 2000 Conservative Party Conference, through David Icke acting as co-leader of the Green Party before discovering the “truth” about how giant lizards run the world and announcing he was the new Jesus, to Frank Maloney refusing to bring his UKIP campaign to Camden because there were “too many gays” there.

Even Sir Michael Caine, with long experience of learning scripts, managed to fluff his lines last year by praising the Government rather than the Opposition when he was supposed to be endorsing the Conservatives.

3) The Backlash

The other risk you take on board when you given prominence and importance to the political views of a celebrity is that they will later change sides – slamming you with the Backlash. It’s difficult to shrug such a change of heart off – after all, if the voters were meant to listen to them when they were on your side, why shouldn’t people pay attention now your pet star has decided you’re actually rotten to the core/personally rude/a massive let-down/a danger to the nation?

This is exacerbated by the, shall we say, flighty nature of a lot of celebrities. What little benefit the Lib Dems got from Colin Firth’s backing swiftly evaporated when he withdrew it over tuition fees. Labour got a flush of embarrassment when D:Ream-star-turned-celebrity-physicist Brian Cox announced that while he had hoped things could “only get better” in 1997, he would in 2010 be voting Lib Dem due to Labour’s “cock-up” on science funding. In 2009 UKIP learned the danger of getting a newspaper columnist on board when the Telegraph’s Robin Page used the paper to denounce them and announce his resignation after a personal spat with Nigel Farage.

4) The Smooth Runner

Sometimes, of course, celebrity endorsements do go well – or at least don’t go badly.

Plenty of celebrities are uncontroversial  political players – Tony Robinson has played a prominent role in the Labour Party since the 1980s, Daniel Radcliffe announced his support for the Lib Dems but hasn’t apparently done much for them and William “Ken Barlow” Roache is apparently a lifelong Tory. The thing that really stands out about those celebrities who aren’t actively bad news for their chosen cause, though, is that none of them really stand out as stunning successes either.

Best of all was probably Joanna Lumley as an advocate for the Gurkhas. As well as being articulate and media-savvy, she had a genuine reason to be interested in the issue at hand and stuck with it throughout the campaign. It’s telling as to the value of celebrity support that she is notable mainly for having been pretty good at it – an almost unique example of a successful endorsement that didn’t backfire.

Of course, these four categories are slightly artificial distinctions – things get really tricky with celebs when they appear to be one of these categories and then turn out to be another (or even several of the others). Most dramatic was Robert Kilroy-Silk, who when he joined UKIP at first appeared to be a bit of an “Eh? Who?“. He swiftly shifted to the appearance of a Smooth Runner, giving UKIP a poll boost and romping home in the European Election. Unfortunately he then almost immediately became a Liability, jumped quickly into Backlash mode by slagging off the party and then left – to become a Liability for his own ill-fated outfit, Veritas. Let that be a warning to all others who are tempted by the siren call of a celebrity saying “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Brown in the USA

Posted on December 16, 2010

Gordon Brown is treading the traditional path for ex-Prime Ministers by going Stateside to lecture our American cousins about how he “saved the world”. On Monday he was hawking his book on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. So how did he do?

Tony Blair remained very popular in America even when his approval ratings were languishing back home. Judging from the reaction on Twitter, though, the Yanks didn’t really warm to Gordon. Here are just a few choice snippets:

The guy’s a complete idiot“…”unfunny“…”Oh God“…”slightly scary….shivers down your spine“…”Not exactly shocking that Labour got smacked around“…”demented“…”oh, crap“…”too weird-lookin‘”…”what a dick“…”reinforces why the Yank Patriots conducted the American Revolution“…

Really, the Americans got off lightly – most British viewers felt they were seeing a jollier, more relaxed Brown than ever before.

The old Brown still shone through, though – that “weird thing with his mouth” was picked up, and the smile was as worrying as ever. In classic, embarassing Gordon style he also committed his old sin of using the same lines at different gigs, opening on the Daily Show and the Late Late Show with a cringeworthy “what a great country!”

Americans evidently know how to spot a wrong’un when they see one. It’s hard to imagine Gordon Brown ever winning an election in the USA – much like in Britain, in fact…

Has Gordon gone all Zen?

Posted on September 03, 2010

Ed Balls has pulled some pretty outrageous stunts over the years, but this morning’s Today Programme interview took the biscuit.

In response to the question “Have you spoken to Gordon Brown since [Blair's] autobiography came out?”, he replied:

“I spoke to him the night it came out. I said I thought it was pretty one sided and unfair, and he shrugged his shoulders and said…you know…err…in life you should think about the future.”

Are we really meant to believe that? For a start, it even sounded like Balls was making it up on the spot. More fundamentally, when has Gordon Brown ever been known to shrug his shoulders, lackadaisically chalk something down to experience and counsel that you shouldn’t bear grudges? Bearing grudges is practically his only transferable skill!

Either Balls just made that up, or he phoned the wrong Gordon Brown by mistake.