Good riddance to the freak show that shamed Britain (and no, it wasn’t Big Brother)

Back to the present today and another biting article from the sharpened pen of Richard Littlejohn. His target here is New Labour and that really isn’t the issue. Everyone is entitled to their opinion on political parties and he just so happens to have a very public platform from which to air his. I was going to just ignore this article as it really isn’t saying anything new and feels a bit like a slow news week filler (because the death of Ted Kennedy, continued election protests in Iran, the ‘end’ of the war in Darfur and continued ramifications of the ‘Libyan Inncident’ are seemingly not worthy of Richard’s comment right now). However, I couldn’t get past a few of the comments he makes which we shall look at now.

The entire article is written in what I imagine he hoped would be a witty and sly allegory between the end of Big Brother and of the New Labour party. So he uses contestants instead of MPs and audience instead of electorate… Anyway.

“New Labour has demeaned its contestants and audience alike, coarsened our culture, debased living standards, promoted a climate of bullying and exhibitionism and lowered Britain’s standing around the world. It has become a byword for corruption and incompetence, obsessed with sex, greed and racism.”

Well let’s just start with this shall we. Exactly how has our culture been coarsened by New Labour. What does that even mean? It seems now every time someone says something on television that is deemed immoral, insulting or just displeasing to the readers of Richard’s very paper, there are swift apologies, sackings, resignations and the sphere of freedom given to entertainment is contracted that little bit further. If anything, I’d say culture is being tamed and is much the worse off for it.

Britain’s standing around the world has been on a decline since people started pointing out that travelling about in boats, occupying and enslaving countries and calling them ‘ours’ was perhaps not the nicest thing and maybe we should give things back. Under Richard’s beloved Conservative party we saw the unnecessary and damaging war over the Falklands because we felt we had the right to some islands on the other side of the world. Britain supported the first gulf war, made no action to stop the atrocities occurring in many African nations throughout the eighties and nineties and put across such a euro-skeptic and isolationist from for most of those two decades it’s a wonder the Channel Tunnel ever opened.

Finally, how exactly are we anymore obsessed with sex and greed (we’ll get to racism in a moment). That Thatcher and Major governments were devoted to the accumulation of wealth and the building of a fully operational consumer society. As for sex, we saw just as many so-called scandals in the Tory party as we have in Labour. The truth is less that New Labour themselves have bred corruption and sleaze and more that any party in power for a long period of time will be to some extent overpowered by it’s own success. This isn’t a New Labour problem, it’s a power problem.

As for racism, I for one am glad we’re a country ‘obsessed’ with racism (if that is indeed the case) as perhaps we can use that obsession to lessen the amount of it that occurs. Richard is always so worried about his freedom of speech being limited he rarely stops to consider his responsibility of speech. The freedoms given to him to say whatever he likes about whomever he likes should be used with the respect they deserve, not to decry anyone of a different faith or with a different skin tone or (gods forbid) someone with less money or no job. If New Labour has instilled us with an obsession regarding prejudice then this is not something we should be critisising for. I don’t want to live in a country that’s regarded elsewhere as the place where ‘they don’t like anyone different’.

“Housemates included an effete public schoolboy, a former ship’s steward, a dour son of the manse, a blind man and his dog, a gay public relations man and his exotic Brazilian boyfriend, and a scary, former convent schoolgirl who quickly became known as the Wicked Witch.”

I have noticed a trend with Richard and other Daily Mail columnists to be much harsher on female politicians and public figures than male. They get the cruelest names, the most attacks on their looks and the constant disparagement of their ability to do their job. Of course this should not be a surprise to anyone as a fair number of the columns are solely about the non-existence of misogyny or how women have ‘never had it so good’. Whatever your views on Ruth Kelly, is it fair to label her as scary and call her the wicked witch whilst the men are pretty much given a label of what they are. Peter Mandleson is predictable defined by the fact he his gay and had a partner who was not British. Really Richard? Thirteen years and you’re still on that tired bandwagon?

“More than four million CCTV cameras were erected all over Britain so that every move of the audience could be captured, too, and used in evidence against people putting out their dustbins on the wrong day.”

Oh and this bandwagon too (ir should that be rubbishwagon). I will never understand why the rules of dustbins upset him so much. In a world where close to 2 billion people have no access to clean drinking water and a good 75% of them are also starving, I would think the fact out rubbish is taken away on a weekly or biweekly basis would not be something to fill pages and pages of newspaper every single month. We could of course go back to the Victorian era where everyone was white, no-one talked about sex, queers will killed and everyone knew their place. Oh and rubbish was generally left in the street or dumped in the rivers. Yes, I’m sure Richard would enjoy that life much better, especially if he had to work in a factory as he believes every unemployed person should be forced to.

“From the start, the show was mired in controversy, after one of the housemates, Cookie, was caught having sex with another contestant, a flame-haired civil servant called Gaynor.

Ally, the house bully, a recovering alcoholic and pornographic novelist, with a history of mental illness, forced Cookie to leave his wife or face eviction.”

Yes because being about to write erotica AND having overcome an addiction AS WELL as suffering from depression means you should definitely not be in power. Actually, you shouldn’t be allowed to have a job at all, better go on benefits wouldn’t you say Richard? I always felt sorry for Robin Cooke that he was made a total scapegoat for New Labour’s obsession with being the anti-sleaze party. I’m not condoning infidelity but as one in two marriages now ends in divorce it’s going to happen in parliament and sometimes, the details will leak. In the grand scheme, I’m not sure it should be punished or require public apologies but there’s a discussion for another day.

“[Blair’s] emotional reaction when the popular royal housemate, Diana, was killed in a car crash in only the third episode made TV history and proved to be the defining moment of series one.”

Yes, even Richard finds it hard to critique this one, especially as his favourite royal family did not come off so well from the whole affair. Better to just breeze over it I think.

“New Labour’s resident village idiot, Two Jags, was captured on film punching a member of the audience during the warm-up to the second series. He was the clown you loved to hate, always raiding the fridge while the other housemates were asleep.”

But surely Richard giving those protesting layabout sum the old one two is exactly what they need? Hasn’t the country wanted leadership that wasn’t afraid to apply the carrot as well as the stick? Or does that only apply when said leader is not a working class man from Hull? (Again, I’m not condoning John Prescott’s actions, violence is never, ever the answer and I do not want politicians in power who lash out because their suit get’s a bit eggy. All the same a surprising about face for Richard “bring back corporal punishment” Littlejohn).

“Then there was Blunkett, the first blind character, who formed a passionate attachment to the only American housemate, Kimberley, drafted in on the strength of her performance as Snow White at Disneyland.

Viewers were captivated by Blunkett unravelling as he launched a demented paternity suit to prove that he was the father of Kimberley’s baby.”

Of sex and infidelity, by my count, the Conservative 1979-1997 run is still in the lead.

“Today, the programme is a shadow of its former self. Only two of the original cast remain: dour, Scottish sociopath Gordon and gay PR man Mandy, the self- styled Prince of Darkness.”

NEVER FORGET THAT PETER MANDLESON IS GAY. HIS POLITICS DON’T MATTER, ANY GOOD HE DOES IS IRRELEVANT WHEN COMPARED TO THE FACT THAT HE IS A GAY MAN! HE HAS SEX WITH OTHER MEN!!! DIDN’T YOU KNOW? AND HE LOOKS A BIT LIKE A VAMPIRE. A GAY VAMPIRE. BECAUSE HE’S GAY. THE GAY.

“After Blair was evicted in 2007 and went on to become a global star, earning millions of pounds a year, Gordon attempted to become the main character, but ratings continued to slump and he soon realised there was nowhere to hide.”

Once again, if this is truly supposed to be a commentary on thirteen years of Labour government, Richard is somewhat ignoring some key events that have led to the current unpopularity of the party.

“Other housemates were drafted in, notably Jackboot Jacqui, a disciplinarian schoolteacher from the Midlands who marked her arrival with an ostentatious flash of cleavage. For a while, the tabloids were fixated upon her breasts and her enthusiasm for punishment.”

WOMAN HAS BREASTS! AND DOESN’T WANT TO COMPLETELY COVER THEM! Ok, I’m going to have to stop accidently hitting caps lock. Honestly for a man who writes so often about the Burqa and the Niqab, Richard get’s very upset when any woman decided to wear something any less than a nun’s garb. Unless they’re a ‘smoking twenty year old hottie’, then it’s “phwoar ma’am don’t mind if I do”. Am I being unfair? Possibly a bit and for that I apologise but this sort of comment after at least discussing some of the policy of the men in the party infuriates me. He takes Jacqui Smith and reduces her to nothing more than a dominatrix figure to be laughed at. How carefully Richard uses disciplinarian and then mentions her breasts and how she likes to punish. Not ten paragraphs ago he was talking about how New Labour had brought on an obsession with sex, I think we might be seeing where some of the impetus has come from..

“As New Labour has resorted to increasingly desperate and cynical stunts, viewers have stopped watching, the sponsors have dried up and the show has run £1.3trillion over budget.”

Well the budget is somewhat overrun yes, I don’t think anyone can argue that the current financial status of the country is relatively dire but I would love to know how any other government would have dealt with a global economic crisis of the scale we’ve seen across the past two years.

I also note in this whole article Richard doesn’t mention anything about what the government has achieved in it’s time in office. No comment on fox hunting bans, smoking age changes, improvement in education from the Major years (in terms of funding and teacher training), legalising civil partnerships, championing the Northern Ireland Peace process, devolution, regulating the House of Lords… some of these things are subjective but they have none the less been achieved. The government is far from ineffectual, they’ve done things I don’t agree with and things I do but to reduce the whole thirteen years to an allegory with a low quality reality TV show is simplifying things to the level of pointlessness.

On second thoughts perhaps this is nothing more than slow news week filler, even if it is filled with Richard’s usual stereotypes of women in power, gay men, liberal ideology and of course those ‘bloody bins’. Don’t worry Richard, under the next government, I’m sure that your favourite ‘dole scum’ will be hired to come and eat your rubbish on a daily basis. And you can whip them while they do.

“The final episode is due to be broadcast next May. We will all be glad to see the back of it.”

And how long will that last I wonder? And which party would you like to replace them Richard… oh, he’s gone home.

Advertisements

Mrs T defeated the miners – and then replaced them with homophobia outreach workers

One of the striking things about the Mail‘s columnists in general is their lack of positive vision – take today’s column from ‘Peter’ Hitchens:

“Margaret Thatcher was a failure. It is time, 30 years after she entered Downing Street, that her admirers forced themselves to admit it.

For a start, if she had been the great success they claim, we would never have needed to suffer the current rule of Gordon Brown, or the disastrous years of Anthony Blair.

Almost every good thing Mrs Thatcher achieved has already been overturned, reversed and wiped out.

By contrast, the Labour Party devotes much of its time to making sure that the damage it does can never be undone.”

So far fair enough – the bit about Labour is entirely negative, but by saying Thatcher failed ‘Peter’ is suggesting at least some sort of positive plan against which her time in government can be measured.

“True, she reduced the number of direct employees of Whitehall.

But the jungle of quangos grew and grew, and so did the slithering, choking, parasitic bindweed of local government and the unwieldy, Soviet-scale monstrosity of the NHS.”

Here we have hints – ‘Peter’ is broadly for smaller government. This isn’t especially visionary, as it assumes that small government is good in itself – particularly in terms of quangos, local government and the NHS – without justifying this or saying where the benefits lie, but it’s a start. We can assume from the Soviet comparison, for example, that smaller government would be less bureaucratic and thus more responsive, so there may be some implicit positive vision. As it stands though, this is essentially an unjustified statement of negation of the current state of things.¹

“Challenged to come up with a lasting achievement of Thatcherism, her admirers often tell us how hard it was, in the days before British Telecom, to try to get a new phone installed.

So it was. But have any of these people had any recent dealings with that fearsome, greedy and arrogant monopoly, BT?

BT and the other former nationalised giants are now regulated by the State but responsible – in reality – to nobody. Is this an improvement?”

This would seem to be quite positive – ‘Peter’ wants renationalisation of State infrastructure – but this positivity is hedged by the sense that we’re returning from the negative present to the negative past. BT, it would appear, was horribly under-regulated both then and now. Taken with ‘Peter”s earlier desire for an end to quangos (which include regulators), it’s unlikely that this would a much better world than the one we live in now. Alternatively, ‘Peter’ wants to retain BT’s freedom, but with tighter regulation from a state employing less regulators, which seems somewhat over-hopeful. We’re left with the feeling that ‘Peter’ is pushing change despite the lack of obvious benefit, purely because he doesn’t like BT.²

“We also used to have a number of state industries – coal and steel – which, for all their faults, made or provided things the nation needed.

They’ve gone. Now we have regiments of condom outreach workers, facilitators and homophobia monitors, all costing much more than coal miners, and far less useful.”

Again, this seems to be a hint of positive vision – ‘Peter’ wants a break with market forces that reduced the costs of steel and coal by making them more cheaply overseas and a return to statist economics where a premium was paid for keeping people in employment. How he hopes to make this fly in the cut-throat capitalist world we’re living in, or how to do this without increasing people employed directly by Whitehall or building up a ‘Soviet-scale’ monstrosity at the Ministry of Industry, he doesn’t say. It’s a bit like those conversations you have in the pub where you suggest bringing Shearer and Cole back to sort out England’s problems up front – it’s positive to be sure, but not the most sensible of visions. It, too, suffers from being hedged slightly as it appears to only be there as a comparison for the list of people currently employed by the State. The idea is that we couldn’t afford either, but at least the coal miners were less unaffordable. Like the return to the unpleasant past when BT really was B, ‘Peter’ wants to go back to the days when the police beat gays with impunity but coal was plentiful. Alternatively, ‘Peter’ might be making the even less nuanced point that everything is rubbish, coal and community work both, and we should scrap the lot. Which isn’t so much a positive vision as an fully negative view of both past and present.

“But what about the unions? Didn’t she defeat them? Well, sort of. But who needs stroppy shop stewards now that we are chained up by the intrusive labour laws of the European Union, so that every employer, large or small, lives in constant fear of a ruinous employment tribunal claim?

The European Union is at least as much of a threat to jobs and profits as the Transport and General Workers’ Union ever was.”

Here, at least, we have some idea of what ‘Peter”s bright new future looks like – a free hand for those whose money is made from the surplus value created by their employees. It’s negatively defined in terms of the removal of the hard-won rights of employees to be treated as human beings and the European Union’s on-going project to stop companies passing things off as things they aren’t³ This, presumably, is where his smaller state is coming from – less rules means less oversight is required and thus less overseers. Essentially we institutionalise the arrogance of BT, even if we are now renationalising it, or at very least shift its arrogance onto its workforce and not its consumers.

“Above all, she failed to fight the cultural revolutionaries who wanted to undermine marriage, dissolve the family, sexualise children and use State schools as an egalitarian sausage machine, turning out brainwashed Leftists by the million.”

Again, we have equivocal positivity – a vision defined in opposition to the present. The case isn’t made for marriage, the circumstances which led to the dissolution of the family or sexualisation of the family (and so whether any government could have held them back) are not considered , the aspects of the school system which are problematic are not named. We’re left to assume that the ideal government would have done something. We’re back in the pub saying that what England need to do is score more and concede less. Which leaves us with the conclusion:

“The real counter-revolution, more badly needed than ever, will have to come from somewhere else.”

The revolution in favour of what? The present is bad, fine, but the past was as well. ‘Peter’ wants less of the bad things of the present – if only we got rid of the bad things, without re-instating the bad things of the past, we’ll be OK. We could regulate some things more, some things less, by employing less people doing different things more cheaply and, hey-presto, inevitable utopia. Things will be better purely because there will be less bad things. As an idea, that’s sound enough, but I can’t help but think it’s a little simplistic – how will things be better, and what effect will the removal of the bad things make (after all, if they’re fully bad, someone would have removed them already)? Running things down is easy, but without an alternative it is completely pointless and does nothing but add to the nihilism and depression that it claims to rail against.

—————-

¹ Looking still at the NHS example, we would have some serious questions, starting with ‘what form does this smaller NHS take?’ – are we talking more private provision, the same provision on a smaller/cheaper staff, an increase in treatments offered, a decrease in treatments offered? Where do the benefits lie – lower taxes, better service for some, for all, a re-adjustment of treatment priorities to maximise utility, an end to ‘post code lotteries’?

² This isn’t to say that our situation wouldn’t be greatly improved by returning national assets to the nation – simple economics suggests that if a company isn’t paying a dividend to faceless investors in return for their purchasing of its shares from a third party in the hope of getting a dividend then that company has that much more money to invest. ‘Peter’, however, doesn’t say this.

³ For every piece of legislation demanding straight bananas, there are any number preventing companies pretending that their ground-meat sandwiches constitute burgers.

From that spiteful 50p tax to Harriet’s mad sex war, Labour is blasting Britain back to the dark ages

A particularly gloomy take on current events this morning from Melanie Phillips:

“For with the economy in far worse shape than even the most pessimistic among us had imagined, we appear to have entered a time machine which is blasting us back to the dark ages of state control and economic paralysis.”

There are instantly problems with this comparison – to take the obvious, it’s only really the banking sector the state has started moving into, and you’d be hard pushed to say that it ‘controlled’ banks when it can’t even get those it owns to lend money to small businesses. The idea of the machine ‘blasting us’ towards a point where it’s not just the banks the state controls is scare-mongering – the state has no money to take over anything particularly impressive, we still remember things not working so well the last time it tried, the government is currently trying to offload the state-owned postal service suggesting little appetite for further state expansion and the likely candidates to form the next government are opposed to any such expansion. It also misses the way we got into this mess in the first place – through historically lax state control leading to a necessary take-over of the banking sector. Although there is some comfort to be gained from seeing current events through the prism of history, we shouldn’t let superficial similarities scare us into believing the two are the same – this focuses our fears on the wrong things, meaning we miss the real issues while paranoidly waiting for unrealistic evils to befall us. For example,

“The 50p tax rate has left the out-manoeuvred Blairites aghast for the very reasons that the fossilised Left is triumphant. By singling out the wealthy as scapegoats for the failure of government policy, it implicitly classifies as the enemies of society people whose efforts are essential to its prosperity.”

There are a few things to note about this. Firstly, the Mail was, not so long ago, leading a witch-hunt against the well paid (eg.), which arguably does more to mark out the well-off as enemies of society. More crucial though, the duties on fuel, cigarettes and alcohol all went up in the budget – these all disproportionately affect those on low incomes, making them at least equal targets of the Chancellor’s disapprobation.¹

“It punishes them for the crime of achievement and acts as a powerful disincentive to others to seek success or advancement, thus ensuring the stagnation of the country. It is a throwback to a primitive era of class prejudice and economic illiteracy. It is the dogma of political and economic cavemen.”

This is debatable – one could easily argue that they are being rewarded for high achievement by being offered the opportunity to contribute mote to society, adding additional incentive to succeed. On this argument, the problem here is not the tax, but the ideology pushed by the mainstream media that defines success in terms of materialistic self-aggrandisement. Possibly more compellingly, a 50% rate of tax (rising to 60% with various alterations to personal benefits announced at the same time) on £150,000 leaves the earner with 50p in the pound for every pound over £150,000. Although this is 10p less than they used to get, they still have 40p’s worth of further reasons to strive.² Unlike a salary ceiling, tax brackets do continue to offer incentives to earn, they merely make it slightly more difficult to do so.

“It is also, as the rest of us can clearly see, a fruitless act of cynical spite. Far from increasing tax revenues, it may even mean less money comes into the Exchequer as people resort to various tactics to offset their losses.”

It’s worth considering, at this point, the raft of steps the Chancellor announced in the budget to make it harder to avoid paying tax. More than this, however, is the general point that the Chancellor has to do something to increase the money coming in as the economy tanks. He’s not going to be coining it from corporation tax on the banks any more, what revenues came in from the employment of low earners will be eroded by rising unemployment, a new source must be found. So up go cigarettes and alcohol, increasing incentives for people to source them on the black market to offset their losses. It’s not an option everyone will take, as the costs of such evasion will, for some at least, outweigh the financial benefits – for the increase to result in lower tax-take the number of people evading, and so dropping out, would need to out-weigh the increase secured from those not avoiding. It’s a calculated risk, but to suggest that it’s a risk not taking purely because it is a risk is to say that no tax increase should ever be made as any tax increase will carry the risk of prompting evasion.

“With this huge and increasing burden of higher taxes, red tape and ruinous regulation, yet more entrepreneurs are going to pack up and leave Britain altogether for more hospitable climes.”

There are a few things to consider about concerns of a brain drain. One relates to the Mail‘s equivocal relationship with high-earners – by their lights, it is not just the brains that will be drained, the increase in tax-rate will rebate a certain amount from the public sector and the much demonised banking sector and possibly drive some of the ‘fat-cats’ away, presumably opening the way for thinner cats or people who aren’t cats at all. This is to say nothing about the sense or justice of the measure, but only to note that, from the newspaper’s point of view, this will do much to resolve some of its recent concerns. More pressingly, the evidence of brain drain in countries with high tax rates is equivocal – looking at research into Canada, for example, while there is definite evidence of people moving to the lower-tax regime of the USA to earn more, the numbers are low and appear to be influenced by more than just taxes. This makes intuitive sense – brains need somewhere to drain to (at bare minimum, a job market where they can gain more after tax for the same amount of job which at the same time offers a comparable or better quality of life, difficult to find in the face of a worldwide recession), and to be sufficiently mercenary to be willing to drop their current home and lifestyle to do so. Undoubtedly, some will, but the extent of this is unlikely to be overwhelming.

So the 50p rate of tax is not the obviously bad idea Melanie presents. Indeed, she herself seems confused on the import of it all:

“Indeed, since it was Tory Chancellor Nigel Lawson’s 1988 Budget that reduced the top rate of tax from 60 per cent to 40 per cent, last week’s travesty can be seen as not just burying Blairism, but reverting to the era before Mrs Thatcher came along to try to arrest Britain’s apparently irreversible decline.”

If we’re trying to conclude that Labour are reverting to type using Lawson’s budget, we must also bear in mind from the same that Thatcher was more than happy for the majority of her time in power with a taxation of the rich higher than that of the current Labour government, that this high rate coincided with the arresting of our ‘apparently irreversible decline‘ and that we’re now actually reverting to the dark days before the halcyon days of the Major government (which started in 1990). As such, we should be concluding that this is a bold return to Thatcherite tax policy, and not statism at all. In her attention to the superficial similarities, in this case that Thatcher got rid of a high tax rate, she misses the obvious differences in our situations, such as the fact that the rate of tax wasn’t Labour’s alone and it wasn’t the only thing Thatcher undid.

Nothing is ever as simple as Melanie makes this. After 12 years of Labour, we need a lot more than a 5% increase on the top-rate of income tax to herald a return to ‘the dark ages of state control and economic paralysis‘. The choice isn’t between the dark forces of socialism making us all poor and the bright Reaganomics of the future where the rich get rich and trickle it down. It’s not between a Thatcherite tax regime and a mass exodus of the long-suffering rich. At the moment, the choice is between definite lower tax revenues or possibly slightly less-lower tax revenues. It’s a gloomy choice to have to make, but not as gloomy as a time machine that only took us to the 70s would be.

—————

¹ The Guardian claims that “Early indications suggested the poor would still pay proportionately more than the rich because of a rise in fuel duty.” but don’t provide anything to back the statement up.

² This section is corrected as of 29th April, thanks to Ben (see comments below). The original, incorrect text, read: “with £75,000 after tax (£60,000) – this is still a fairly impressive reason to try and earn £150,000. Taking this further, the maths of the tax-bracket system also means that what disincentive there is only kicks in on a relatively small range of salaries around the £150,000 boundary – the previous 40% rate on a salary of £149,999 meant you took home £90,000; you would need to earn £30,000 more to take home the same amount at a 50% rate. This means that you have no incentive, at £149,999, to earn anything less than £30,001 more, but it would still pay you, increasingly handsomely, to aim at a job worth £180,001 or more.” As Ben kindly and correctly points out, this reading is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the tax system. Ben is too kind to call me an idiot, but he could very fairly have done so.

No longer will we need to watch Life On Mars to relive the drab poverty and political bankruptcy of the Seventies

I’ve been avoiding stories on the economy and the budget, for two main reasons. One is that money isn’t really my area of expertise (in so far as I have an area of expertise), but more important is a sense that no one really knows what the correct answer is, so any speculation is fair. Whether the economy sinks or swims as a result of Darling’s budget remains to be seen – it’s not really something we can speculate on with any great deal of accuracy from where we stand at the moment.

Having said that, we should note a couple of things. The first is that Darling probably wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t think it was going to work. The idea that this was a budget designed to paper over the cracks for long enough to get the government re-elected implies that the government’s sole aim is staying power for the sake of being in power. I don’t believe that anyone operates at that level of abstraction. This isn’t Macbeth. And it’s not like you can do anything particularly interesting with the power, it’s only good if you’re using it for something. In fact, you’d probably be freer and better paid by retiring to a board of executives, or becoming an emissary to the Middle East. Given that the popular opinion of the budget is that it stores trouble up for later, Darling either genuinely believes that to be wrong or thinks it’s the lesser of two evils and something we can clear up later.

The second is that Stephen Glover’s comparison with the 70s is not right. It’s arguably not as off with his previous comparison of the present with the Stasi, but he’s certainly beginning to mark himself out as someone whose analogies are faulty. Let’s start with the scene-setting:

“Viewers of the series are invited to believe that we live in a more enlightened and privileged age. The Seventies, as depicted in Life On Mars, were a drab and dingy decade. The police are supposed to have been unreconstructed brutes.

Whether or not the series is right about that – and I suspect that in some ways the police were more effective then than they are now – it is broadly correct about the Seventies.”

There should be no doubt – we do live in a more enlightened and privileged age. We no longer have the Black and White Minstrel Show, it’s easier to convict men of violence towards their wives, homosexuals can marry and the European Human Rights act ensures that the reactionaries can’t take any of that away from us. And, although Glover suspects that the police used to be more effective, suspicion is no longer good enough to convict them of it¹.

“Economically, the country virtually ground to a halt. Britain was widely seen as the sick man of Europe.”

The extent of this sickness isn’t mentioned, but is the point of the comparison. The 70s was the decade of the Three-Day Week, the Winter of Discontent, bodies unburied, rubbish on the streets and Sunny Jim wondering about crises. Grim though the future might well be, we’re not talking that grim. No one is. Even Glover can’t bring himself to say it’ll be that bad. But this is the association he’s drawing on. There is a chasm between then and now though, making the analogy unworkable.

You can tell it’s failing with the very first piece of evidence produced:

“The trades unions, rapacious then, have much less power now, though they still flex their muscles.”

Presumably he means the public sector unions and the RMT occasionally working to rule or carrying out one-day strikes, which isn’t quite the havoc of the 70s.  Union representation is much lower than it was, secondary picketing is now illegal and, having had the 70s and the Miners’ Strike, unions are a lot less militant. ‘Flexing their muscles’ now consists of withholding money to the Labour Party. For the record, a strike isn’t, in fact, merely a flexing of the muscles, it’s the democratic expression of the will of a union’s members in response to perceived unfair treatment by an employer. Such as when they renege on a deal to abide by an independent pay review body. The language Stephen uses paints a false picture, and an unnecessarily gloomy one.

“As in much of the Seventies, we do not expect the economy to grow or the stock market to rise. Unemployment is certain to increase, as it did throughout that decade.”

This quote has the opposite problem – rather than trying to stretch the point it manages to say nothing at all. If the best your analogy can manage is that in both the 70s and now we had unemployment and inflation, all you’ve managed to prove is that both had recessions. The comparison suggests a similarity of scale and accompanying social unrest, which is a bit of a leap.

“Such people [entrepreneurs] are bound to be discouraged by the new high-tax regime towards which we are drifting under Labour, which after 14 years of being ‘new’ is reverting to its old, high-spending self.”

The gap between the richest and the poorest in our society is wider than its ever been and considerably larger than in the 70s. The argument suggests that people will be put off earning money, for fear of having it taxed. Which is dubious, and implies the equally dubious ‘trickle down’ theory which practice has proven to be false². A better way of ensuring that the engines of the economy kept spinning would be to keep business taxes low, while still cadging a little bit more off those who can afford it. Which is exactly what the Chancellor did. And if Stephen believes that those earning in excess of £100,000 are the ‘not-so-rich’, then I don’t want to know how poor most of us are.

“By 2014, Government debt is projected to be 57 per cent of GDP, higher even than it was in 1976 when a stricken Labour Government had to be bailed out by the International Monetary Fund.”

This comparison is slightly misleading, as much of the debt currently held is not debt in the conventional sense but distressed assets which may well turn a profit for the taxpayer. On top of that, the government didn’t look for a loan from the IMF to solve it’s debt problem (that would be silly – a loan, to pay a loan) but due to the precipitous fall in the value of sterling caused by the balance of payments crisis and the high price of oil. Suggesting a link between the two as if the current debt foreshadows another loan from the IMF verges on scaremongering.

“Another depressing parallel with the early Seventies is the absence of strong Tory policies that differentiate the party from Labour.”

Just to finish off, if our impending doom weren’t enough, no one is around to save us. Except politics is very different now than it was in the 70s. The lack of distinguishability between the two parties is a result of the homogenisation around the centre of British politics – Labour have become more like the Tories. The Labour of today, even with their slight retreat from their ‘New’ heights under Blair, are unrecognisable from the party of the 70s. Again the analogy of the 70s suggests a more worrying similarity than actually exists – as evinced by doing a search on the Conservatives’ website for “smaller state”.

An arguments by analogy stands or falls on whether the two things being compared are similar. The present and the 70s are superficially so, in that they both had recessions, but the political and social situations were completely different. Glover goes through his article overlooking that, suggesting by implication that the recessions will have the same paths and same outcomes. The dissimilarities mean he is not entitled to draw that conclusion. I wouldn’t be worrying about burying your relatives yet.

——————

¹ He’s also, very clearly and simply, wrong: upholding the law implies being within it, the fact that the guilty sometimes walk free for lack of evidence instead of being fitted up is a mark of a job done properly.

² The graph covers a period of predominantly low taxes for higher earners, which were ideologically justified on the basis that the best way to make everyone rich was to allow the rich to get very rich. The wealth would trickle down. It hasn’t, as the graph happily shows.

As £170,000 a year is spent on an Afghan single mother… A story that sums up the howling insanity of modern Britain

Just so we’re under no illusions, Richard Littlejohn has nothing but respect for people seeking asylum

“Let me make it clear, I don’t blame anyone for coming here to make a better life.”

it’s just that

“we get more than our fair share”

You see, it’s about fairness.Why should

“those in secure employment [who] are pulling in their horns in the face of soaring food and fuel prices and the mounting burden of taxation”

watch while the government spends their money on asylum seekers who

“would clearly be happier in a country with which they were more culturally aligned”?

Where do we start? Well, here’s the definition of ‘refugee’ (a word Littlejohn studiously avoids, in favour of ‘asylum seeker’, a phrase which implies the prefix ‘bogus’ by long association):

“owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

[Source: UNHCR, Convention relating to the status of refugees, 1951 modified in 1966]

And, just for completeness, here’s a table with the number of refugees given asylum by the UK in 2007, set against the number refused by the UK and the number accepted by other selected nations.

Granted Asylum 3,800
Granted Exceptional Leave to Remain 2,335
Refused Asylum 16,755
Total refugees in UK 299,700
Total refugees in Pakistan 2,033,100
Total refugees in Tanzania 435,600
Total refugees in Chad 294,000
Total refugees in Iran 963,546
Total refugees in Ecuador 264,907

[Sources: above line, Home Office, below UNHCR]

I think that probably covers us – what we’re actually talking about is offering sanctuary for people who are being persecuted, we have an ‘open door’ policy which refuses admittance to around 73% of those who ask to come in and, as a result, end up with less than as sixth as many refugees as Pakistan (including considerably less Afghanis). This is a matter of human decency towards the world’s worst off, fair shares should not come into the discussion – but since he’s brought it up: we don’t allow in as many refugees as we could, our burden is a lot lighter relative to the size of our economy than it is for many countries and the real question should be ‘shouldn’t others be doing more’ and not ‘can we get away with doing less because that would be cheaper’.

But then, Littlejohn isn’t really interested in fairness. If he were, that question above would have been quick on his lips – he could have had a pop at the French (151,789 according to the UNHCR figures) and hailed a plucky British second place in the EU humanitarian admissions stakes. I doubt he would have suggested more money to help Chad, but maybe we’d be lucky. Instead, the ‘fair share’ is forgotten as soon as it’s mentioned.

He’s also not actually that interested in the government misspending our money as such – the headline is a world away from ‘Housing allowance blunder costs rate-payers 170k – give us more oversight of spending by bureaucrats’.  If this were the issue, the column would not hinge on an anecdote about a single council interpreting a regulation in a way he himself does not understand.¹ This is a localised error, not an example of systemic misspending. As such, it doesn’t serve to introduce government misspending as a theme. Which is just as well, since instead of picking up that theme, he immediately goes off on a tangent about immigration.

This tangent is introduced quite well, suggesting that, in fact, it isn’t a tangent at all. We have an immigrant, clearly doing better than the average Briton, who is completely unrepentant. We get the ‘like winning the lottery’ quote three times, just in case we missed it – these people are laughing at us. The focus shifts immediately from the council and onto the accidental recipient of their bounty. That this immigrant should be an Afghan, who are all here under false pretences (the Taleban of 2000 and the subsequent war are forgotten while Littlejohn remembers a criminal act eight years ago²) and only leave their mountain paradise because they fancy a council house from which to plot their latest international terrorist atrocity, only makes things worse. Meanwhile, you and I can’t get houses, because

“Mass immigration is one of the main reasons we have a housing crisis”

(Not the Tory sell off of council stock or any subsequent government schemes to promote take-up by tenants, nor demographic shifts towards one-person houses. Just in case you were wondering.) It’s immigration that is the problem – that we should be spending any money at all on refugees is a waste when all they do is sap our resources.

When the  well rehearsed argument about government spending does arrive, it’s to drive home this central point – immigrants per se are just another example of government mispending, and one we can’t afford at this difficult time.

To compare the care of those fleeing death and persecution with

“pulling in [our] horns in the face of soaring food and fuel prices and the mounting burden of taxation”

would be bean-counting of the most despicable kind were the motivation for it not so painfully obvious. The hijackers, the terrorists planning atrocities, the spoof game show with its wearying predictions of people outstaying their welcome, the fatherly concern about ‘cultural alignment’: dressing it up with the faint understanding of “I don’t blame anyone for coming here to make a better life” doesn’t wash. This is odious. The only thing worse than the fact that propaganda like this can find a publisher in this day and age is that it can find an audience. If we really are “all going to hell in a handcart”, columns like this are what’s paving the way.

¹ He’s not the only one. The Local Housing Allowance (LHA), as described here, does not, to me at least, appear to have a weakness for paying above market rents built in. My best guess is that the Broad Rental Market Areas do strange things when you’re looking at houses for 7 in West London. However, since the BRMA offers an upper limit to the allowance, not a full entitlement, something has clearly gone wrong somewhere in the application.

² Note that Littlejohn also fails to question whether they might have committed the hijacking in 2000 because they were desperate to leave the land of their birth for one “with which they were more culturally aligned”, probably because he means this in the apartheid sense of the phrase, rather than the self-determining one.