On Monday Greece is meant to produce her schedule of reforms to prove that the new government is serious about accepting the disciplines and rules of the Euro area. By all accounts it is taking time to produce much to go on the list. The government is much keener on measures which target tax avoidance and evasion, than on measures which cut spending. It is also willing to impose more taxes on the rich, for those who have stayed to pay. Previous governments said they were seeking to cut avoidance and remove evasion, so it will be interesting to see what new ideas they come up with which might increase the revenue rather than make the position worse.
The truth is Greece is running out of money, and does need to borrow more. The EU has slipped them another 2bn Euro, and the European Central Bank has cut them a lot of slack, through its Emergency Lending facility. They have needed that, as there has been some flight of deposits out of Greek banks during the present period of uncertainty.
Greece needs money for a variety of purposes. The state needs more money to pay its daily bills, as it appears the primary balance or surplus has slipped away. The state needs money to repay debts owing soon. The commercial banks need money to deal with deposit outflows and to keep them liquid enough for their day to day operations.
Many Greek people need money. Out of work and squeezed too much, the voters have made clear they want change. The trouble is, the state has no extra money to give them, and the private sector is still badly hit by poor demand, lower incomes and by the tax demands of a state that needs more cash.
The government can see this, and wants to change the position somehow. It finds instead that creditors expect payment and the European institutions expect Greece to play by the rules. Greece lives on in hope that the EU will make an exception again for this country. The governments of Spain, Italy and Portugal are none too happy at any special treatment. Why should Greece be let off the controls if we have to keep to them, they ask? Ringing in their ears is the noise of new challenger parties in their countries, watching everything that Syriza says and does with a view to exploiting it.
I cannot ignore this drama. A huge amount is resting on it. The Eurozone is inching forwards economically at last. It is in the UK’s interest that their economies do pick up, and their citizens buy more goods and services. Greece could still damage all that. Cans kicked down roads too many times fall to bits.
In 2009-10, Labour’s last year in office, health spending (on NHS England) was £97.6bn. There have been rises each year since, taking the total to a forecast £111.8bn in 2015-16. So much for the story of endless cuts.
There were cuts in the bureaucracy under the Coalition’s changes made in the first half of the Parliament. These changes were designed to require fewer administrators, freeing more money for clinical staff, and to allow more decisions to be taken locally by senior medics and senior administrators who know and understand their local health service.
The Conservatives are offering to complete their move of the service to a seven day a week service. Progress is being made in this direction. A Conservative government next time would complete the transition. GP services would be available at week-ends as a matter of routine, and there would be Consultant led services working in hospitals seven days a week as well. There is an extra cost for this, which the NHS is spelling out. The government has met their requests for extra money to cover this for 2015-16, and would meet reasonable requests in future years which will be negotiated budget year by budget year in the normal way.
Labour say there is a financial and privatisation threat to the NHS, but I see no evidence of this. Labour has not made an offer of better or more extensive service to the public. They concentrate on matters of internal organisation, and have decided to impose profit controls on any private sector contractor the NHS might use. It is difficult to see how this might help, as any such contracts are only awarded after competitive tender to ensure a fair price, and are presumably only put out to tender where they think the private sector can do it cheaper and better. The NHS under the coalition is not under any new directive to contract out. In office Labour Ministers allowed substantial contracting out by the NHS presumably to achieve savings and improve performance.
There are two very odd features to Labour making the NHS the centre of its General Election campaign. The first is, the General Election is irrelevant to the NHS in Wales and Scotland, so why is Labour ignoring their vote in those two countries by talking all the time about NHS England? The second is, Labour has nothing new or positive to say about the NHS. It is not offering us a better service, not telling us how it will prevent Stafford style crises in the future, and not telling us if it will start to put patients first with better services. There is no evidence from Wales, where Labour does run the NHS, that it is better – far from it.
I cease to be an MP tomorrow. Once Parliament is dissolved all MPs lose office and cease to qualify for salary or expenses.
This website is not an MP website, but my personal website paid for out of my own income. I will continue to run it during the election period. Any previous reference on this site to my work or role as an MP remains on the historical record but relates only to my past role.
I become the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for the Wokingham constituency. I will use my local pages for the Wokingham campaign. There will be a daily piece on local and party matters. This will be my voice as Wokingham’s Conservative candidate.
I will continue with the general blog as well. This will provide commentary on UK matters and on wider international issues as before. This will not be an official Conservative site, and will not change style because there is an election on.
This is one of the sillier questions in modern politics. All sensible parties and politicians want people to have well paid jobs. We all recognise you need a decent income to meet all the household bills, and all main parties support a range of top up benefits to help those in low paid employment. No party recommends outlawing all zero hours contracts, as for some people and for some tasks these might make sense. All do agree that they cannot be used to break minimum wage laws, nor does working under such a contract render you ineligible for top up benefits and other state financial support.
Whether a particular zero hours contract is bad or not depends on its terms, and on how many hours of work materialise in practice. What is unfair would be lock in contracts which stop someone working elsewhere when no work is available under the zero hours contract. Some people like their zero hours contract. Others see them as a steeping stone to a contract with specified hours. Labour often condemns them ,yet uses them within Labour Councils and Unions.
The answer to the question is simple. No, you cannot live on a zero hours contract if the rate of pay is low and the hours on offer are limited. If you are a student, if you want limited hours work, or if there other reasons why you are not seeking a fulltime job, a suitable zero hours contract might work.
The last General election brought a new low for the combined vote of the Conservative and Labour parties. It was no wipe out or complete meltdown, Euro style, but it left the two sharing just 65% of the total vote. The remaining 35% of the vote meant 57 Lib Dem MPs and 28 others, mainly nationalist or regional party MPs, arrived at Westminster. The UK ended up with a coalition government no-one had planned or argued for.
The latest polls suggest that the two main parties are now polling around 70% together. That’s well up on 2010 and may lead on to further gains in vote share for one or both as more people may wish to directly help fashion the choice between a Cameron and a Miliband led government.
The two main parties remain close in the polls, and the vote going to others though down is now much more powerfully concentrated in Scotland in favour of the SNP. So on the present reduced 30% vote for others, the number of MPs from outside the two main parties could stay quite high if the SNP gets 40 plus MPs to Westminster and if the Lib Dems still keep enough of their seats.
The election should get more competitive from here, as the campaigns proper kick in with full manifestoes after Easter. Will UKIP supporters who want out of the EU really let a chance for an EU referendum slip through their hands by not voting Conservative ? Will recent Green voters stick with their new party? Will some Scottish Unionists vote SNP in the hope of a still better deal for Scotland, or will they see the damage that can do to the Union?
What is for sure is that England can no longer be ignored. The politics of the next Parliament may well be dominated by the business of Scotland, which will also trigger the business of England.
The UK used to have a bad inflation problem. UK politics in the 1970s and early 1980s was fought over rises in the cost of living and which party had the best way of controlling it.
Mr Miliband wanted to take his party on a trip down Memory lane, by making a central issue out of what he called “the cost of living crisis”.
This followed hard on the heels of his forecasts that the UK economy under the present government would go into double and treble dip recession and would end up with worse unemployment than it had suffered under Labour government. He abandoned that attack as the news gathered momentum of many more jobs being created, and many people getting out of unemployment into work.
This week the government announced that the present rate of inflation is zero. For the whole of the last year prices overall have stayed the same. Forecasters expect prices to fall a bit from here. Wages are rising, so people are now experiencing some increase in living standards, after the sharp fall in real incomes at the end of the Labour period in office, and the continued squeeze in the early Coalition years when inflation remained high.
The government and Bank do wish to see better pay rises and further progress in raising people’s spending power. For the time being none of this threatens low inflation, which remains as a welcome achievement which eluded most post war UK governments.
The EU came to Greece’s aid, with Euro 2bn to ease the Greek “humanitarian crisis”.
It’s all part of their “too little, too late” strategy towards the Euro. Forcing Greece into the Euro prematurely was a mistake by Greece and the other members. Offering the new government 2bn Euros of charity is not going to tackle the underlying structural faults of the scheme, nor will it get Greece back to work. Once you have allowed unsuitable economies into your single currency scheme, the whole zone has a problem as well as the problem country.
The recent meeting between Mrs Merkel and the Greek Prime Minister may have defused a few of the extreme tensions between Germany and Greece, but it did nothing to resolve the fundamental issue – who will pay the Greek bills coming up. Mrs Merkel was doubtless sincere in saying she wants Greece to experience economic recovery and rising employment, but such words create no jobs.
The Greek state and economy needs more money. The Greek PM says he does not want to borrow more, yet that is exactly what he has to do if the rest of the Euro area will not give him the cash he needs. The Greek commercial banks are dependent on support from the European Central Bank, and have had to borrow from the ECB to handle deposit loss. The Greek state needs to borrow more cash to pay its day to day bills, as it seems a tax shortfall once again leaves the government spending more than it raises in taxation. The Greek state also needs to find the money to repay some of the older borrowings as they fall due.
Greece cannot just print its own cash for its banking system as a country with its own currency can. Nor can the Greek state simply issue more Treasury Bills or bonds to borrow more to carry on spending, as all of Greece’s borrowings are under control as part of the loan agreement called the Master Financial Assistance Facility. The truth is Greece can run out of money, and can be squeezed by borrowing rules, loan covenants and by the European Central Bank.
Mrs Merkel’s fine words about growth, and the EU’s 2bn assistance is a sign of some willingness to compromise. It is still way off the scale of the debt relief or new money that Greece needs to repair the damage to its recession ridden economy with mass unemployment at worrying levels.
I was pleased to read in the week-end press that the Conservative Manifesto is likely to include a better right to buy offer for people renting from Housing Associations. We have been talking about this for sometime in the Parliamentary party with Ministers.
I am also pleased that the more radical idea of gifting the properties to tenants who have paid rent and behaved well for a specified time period has been vetoed. It would seem to be very unfair on all those who have saved and struggled to buy a home in the normal way, or on those who have to rent from the private sector because they have not qualified for Housing Association property, that they have to help pay for free homes for those who do rent from the state.
There will be the usual left wing protests against this policy, as there were against Council house sales in the 1980s. They are already out and about saying it is quite wrong because it means fewer social homes for people to rent. It means nothing of the sort. The day after the purchase has gone through the same people are living in the same home. The home is not destroyed or made empty. It is still the family home. The only thing that has changed is the state has some of its money back from the sale, so it can reduce its debts or build a new property with the money.
The impact on state finances is usually positive. The new owner takes over the costs of maintaining and repairing the property from the Housing Association. The Housing Association saves costs and has a receipt which it can use for other purposes.
If you share a country with others, you sign up to sharing burdens and risks. It also means you sign up to sharing successes and riches.
In Europe today some of the separatist movements are from parts of countries that are richer than the rest. They get fed up with sharing their success with others. Thus many in Catalonia in Spain, Padania in Northern Italy and Flanders in Belgium think they would better off without the poorer parts of their countries which they have to help finance.
The case of Scotland is a bit different. Scotland is not the pre-eminent richest part of the UK. London is. However, Scotland feels rich thanks to the presence of oil reserves. Much of the debate about Scottish independence entailed the two sides throwing around different calculations of tax revenues, income per head and general prosperity depending on how much of the oil was regarded as Scotland’s, and how bullish you were about future levels of extraction and future oil prices.
The case of Greece is similar. Germany and other richer parts of the Euro Union do not want to accept full burden and risk sharing with Greece in the way West Germany does with East Germany or Northern Italy does with southern Italy. Germany says No to propping up Greek banks, to sending Greece more money to pay benefit bills or for local authority programmes.
The Scottish case has served as a great reminder of why risk sharing and burden sharing can help. Scotland now has to accept that volumes of oil extracted will be well down on peak levels, and at least for the time being prices well down on Nationalist expectations last autumn. If Scotland were on her own that would mean big spending cuts. Inside the UK the loss of revenue is manageable, and it will be covered from elsewhere.
It reminds us that to be a successful union most in the union have to accept the idea that success is shared and risks are underwritten throughout the whole union. Because many parts of the Euro area are not ready top accept that, the area will remain crisis ridden and unhappy.
One of the ironies of the Greek predicament is that thanks to the previous Greek government the state deficit there reached low levels, beneath the EU ceiling and considerably better than some of the countries judging the Greek response. Unfortunately for Greece the election of a higher spending government coincides with the need to repay debts and to recognise that a low deficit was reached only after the most massive build up of debt which is now difficult to afford.
In the Eurozone France, Portugal and Spain are unable to get their state deficits down to the 3% maximum permitted, though they are more hawkish over what to do about Greece. Germany has eliminated her deficit, just as many wish she would spend and borrow more to reduce her surplus and provide some stimulus to other parts of the zone.
The so called negotiations are bizarre. Greece says she does not want any more debt and wishes to make her own decisions about social and economic policy. The troika, renamed the “institutions”, remind Greece that she is borrowing more and needs permission to do that under the Euro scheme. The price of more borrowing, to repay old debts and pay local bills, must be that Greece accepts the reform agenda of the Eurozone. Greece responds that she will not follow Euro austerity policies, labour market reforms and the rest which Syriza sees as damaging to the Greek chances of growing again.
The European Central Bank wishes to stop Greek commercial banks buying Greek government bonds and demanding financing from the ECB to help them do so and to pay for the deposits that are being withdrawn. The institutions want the ECB to go on financing Greece – or allowing Greece to finance herself by selling more Treasury bills – whilst they see if they can broker an agreement.
The troika briefs that they can live with Greece leaving the Euro if she will not accept the old medicine of the zone and the loan agreements. Few believe them. The Greek government briefs that they do not need new loans and are planning to do only what they want to do, which is mainly to spend more. Few believe them.
The truth is the two sides are locked in an acrimonious marriage where neither seem to believe in divorce. Both think they need each other, whilst disliking each other and telling the outside world they are just fine leading their own lives and having separate bedrooms.
How much longer can this go on? How much more damage will this scheme do? All the time the two sides bicker, half of all Greek young people remain out of work. None of it is a great advert for people to take a holiday in Athens this summer.