Mr Miliband gets it wrong – and is locked in

Mr Miliband today has allowed himself to be used. He has argued a contradiction. He both tells Labour to start seeing things the way electors do, and told Labour MPs to knuckle down and support the abolition of the 10p band. They cannot do both successfully! Electors are fed up with paying so much tax for so little in return, and most electors think taxing those on lower incomes more is wrong.

Mr Milliband is an intelligent man, but he has allowed his own intelligence to be replaced by Labour stupidity. He retails the endless Labour lie that divided parties do not get elected. The Conservative party under Thatcher was deeply split between dries and wets, yet it won three General Elections in a row. The NULab party under Blair was deeply split between PM and Chancellor, between modernisers and Old Labour, between Blairites and Brownies, yet it too won three election victories in a row. The electorate will accept some public debate within the ruling party, some signs of democratic life within. In some ways it is a sign of health and thought. What they will not accept is poor performance or weak leadership. The Major government plunged in the polls thanks to the ERM and the impact this had on house prices and jobs.It did not plunge because some of us wanted to rule out the Euro and said so in public. This government is going down thanks to its chronic inability to deliver good public services at an affordable price. The public do not want ever higher taxes, charges, and public borrowing. They realise that the endless IOUs will have to be paid by us, as well as realising how much they are being mugged by the government every time they fill up at a petrol station or pay a Council Tax bill.

Mr Miliband’s remarks sum up all that is wrong with this cynical politics of spin which still disfigures the UK under its latest Prime Minister. The government’s own polls tell it both that it is unpopular, and that electors want it to feel the public’s pain. That is why we are now hearing from Ministers that they understand why people are upset about price rises and the financial squeeze. What they still do not grasp is the public not only wants a government to understand how it feels, but to make things better where they need fixing. In Labour’s rambling and costly public sector that is a huge task which this government shows no signs of grasping.

On Friday evening I attended a Thames Valley drinks party where I met a number of Chief Executives of parts of the public sector. They effectively implement Labour’s policies and retail the government’s opinions (guidance and advice) in our more Conservative area. It reminded me of what a dreadful system it is. CEOs from all round the country in Labour’s Britain usually display a “want more” rather than a “can do attitude”. I have written recently on the big differences between CEOs in successful private sector companies, and CEOs in the British public sector. The typical UK public sector CEO now thinks their job is to demand more resources from government to carry out any given task, and to protect their organisation from criticism by saying they do not have enough resource. Labour is reaping what it sowed. Throughout its long years in Opposition it had only one song – give us more money. It backed most lobby groups and public sector organisations who wanted more public cash, inventing the strange notion of “new money” (not money that has yet to be spent, but extra money that has not yet been announced for the future), and saying in most cases that the service was “underfunded”. They not only said that all would be well if more money was forthcoming, but actually believed it. It was just a question of turning on the money tap until enough cash had been flooded into any given area. Then everything would miraculously work well.

Gordon Brown continued this idea in government. Once he had divorced Prudence and cast off Conservative spending plans (borrowed to get them through the first election without frightening the voters) he went on an unparalleled spending binge. They had rows over whether to reform as well as spend, which Brown won in favour of little reform and maximum spend. They decided to push the spending well beyond what the country could afford, by massive off balance and on balance sheet borrowings. That is just deferred taxation which we will all have to pay. After all the spending there were still obvious problems with hospital infections, with access to care, with access to good state schools, with proper policing of our borders and much else. They had failed to concentrate on raising quality and efficiency, the two main drivers of success in business. The private sector has to do things better, faster, cheaper to survive. The public sector can do things slower, worse and dearer, and demands more money.

Now the money has run out. They are hoist by their own rhetorical petard. Their public sector will keep repeating the mantra that it can only get better and do more if they find massive extra amounts of cash. The so-called CEOs are already sharpening their biros to write the memos demanding more. They will be bombarding Opposition MPs to play the game, demanding more cash for good causes, just as Labour did in Opposition. They will dig in and claim they cannot do things better, faster, cheaper without more government cash, because Labour has created the CEO world in its own image.

Worse still for Labour, they have taught many of these quango boards and CEOs from local government how to play the media game. Some members of quangos and some Councillors have been told it is vital that CEOs themselves handle the media with their highly paid official PR staff. This gives these CEOs the opportunity to brief and lobby. The unscrupulous ones will use off the record briefings to report on the imperfections of their own services with a view to demanding more cash to put right the deficiencies. You do not hear the CEOs of major companies telling journalists off the record that their products are poor or their service needs substantial improvement.

So it’s back to the drawing board, Mr Miliband. Mr Brown has played a blinder getting Mr Mililband to do his dirty work for him by arguing for the 10p band removal. It is good internal politics, associating one of his alleged rivals with one of his most unpopular policies. What Mr Miliband and Mr Brown ought to be doing is spending some time together to discuss the crisis of tax, spend and waste that now engulfs the government. Both their futures are at stake, because the public now knows they are getting a rotten deal for all the tax they have to pay.

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10 Comments

  1. APL
    Posted April 20, 2008 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    JR: "The Conservative party under Thatcher was deeply split between dries and wets.."

    Yes, and the wets preferred to destroy the party than continue in power with a right of centre leader. Why is it that over the last ten years, no wets have been expelled from the Tory party?

    JR: "The electorate will accept some public debate .."

    The problem is Mr Redwood, debate in politics has been surpressed for so long, the public sees this monolithic edefice as the norm. They would accept public debate in politics if there was anyone in the political parties willing to make it a normal part of political life again!

    As soon as someone pops up to open a discussion on issues that are of real concern to the public, they are expelled from the party.

    JR: "within the ruling party…"

    Well, there you are, 'out of the mouths of babes and sucklings' – 'RULING PARTY' – not governing party mind you. When even someone like John Redwood speaks in such terms where now, is the difference between the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe? Other than the state of the economy – and Gordon Brown, our glorious leader and former finance supremo (he of no more boom and bust) has fixed that too.

  2. Stuart Fairney
    Posted April 20, 2008 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Can we have mandatory retrospective sunset clauses on all public bodies please? In two minutes looking at just one government department I was able to discover the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund, the Environmental Stewardship Scheme, the Energy Crops Scheme, well I could go on, check this link

    http://www.defra.gov.uk/funding/schemes/index.htm

    This system doesn't need a review it needs a complete abolition. As ever, does "Dave" have the stomach for it?

  3. Stuart Fairney
    Posted April 20, 2008 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    And JR, if I can be forgiven for a second post, where is Osborne? In the midst of the biggest financial disaster to befall the government for a quarter of a century he is invisible! I am sick of seeing Vince Cable as the voice of the opposition, why not be bold and say "No-one earning less than say £10,000 need pay any tax at all"

    Weasel words about 'looking at the books' when you get in to power are not what is required now. The electors need vision and poor old George looks like a man scared of his own shadow.

  4. Steven_L
    Posted April 20, 2008 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    I think it is a normal cycle of events in both public and private organisations that ineffective middle-management bureaucracies build up over time. I've seen it in the private sector where large social cliques of people who get all the perks but do very little work develop. They will be given guaranteed bonus's even though they do very little selling. They will sit around in offices having pointless meetings or learning new ways to sterotype the workforce into x's and y's or suchlike. They quickly become removed from reality, preferring to sing in harmony from the approved hymnsheet and label any objective criticism of their decisions as negative. The only way to get on and do your job is often to ignore their silly dictats and use your initiative. As long as all the stats are in the right place at the end of the day and they don't have to do any work they usually ignore the fact you are not following their latest bright idea.

    In the public sector, these middle-management bureaucracies have been building up for a long time now. Their allies, policy people, churn out reams of pointless documentation that hardly anyone one ever reads or cares about. Of course all of these policies contradict one another and everyone thinks their area is more important than everyone elses. As long as they are allowed to sit in their meetings and build their CV's up another level they don't really know or care if anyone is doing things they way they want or the same way they've been doing it for the last twenty years.

    The central control point is an issue for councillors to address, they have to have the initiative to find out what central influences there are upon the council and insist that they take a part in deciding what is prioritised. It is very difficult for senior managers to say no to an elected member with a remit over a particular area of local government. If councillors take the back seat central control and the personal opinions of non-elected senior officers will always win the day.

  5. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted April 20, 2008 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    What we need is to get the cash following the service user in schools & hospitals so that new providers are encouraged while good schools can expand while the NHS has to raise its game or face losing money to the private sector . Elected police chief’s would be good as they would have to focus on tackling crime rather than social engineering with waste on red tape being slashed as more police went on the beat . There should be companies raising private funds to build roads that they can charge tolls on to make a profit and fund repairs and private providers ought to compete with eachother over who can get the most jobless people back into work in exchange for public money . Job Seekers Allowance & Incapacity Benefit can be merged so that economic inactivity is slashed and money saved . A Citizenship Pension can replace the various payments for OAP’s thus slashing admin costs and poverty while a bigger personal allowance can replace complex tax credits with the same objectives in mind . More defence contracts can go onto the open market to improve hardware & save money while extra defence spending is conditional on MOD civil service numbers being cut year on year . QUANGO’s need cutting – univeristies are for education not social engineering . For the sake of democratic accountability local councils need the power to improve things – meaning no QUANGO’s or Communities Department . After Devolution in Wales , Scotland and Ulster and with a sovereign Parliament do we really need Welsh , Scottish , Northern Irish or Constitutional Affairs Secretaries of State ? The money spent on regulating private business could be given as a fixed item of expenditure to each department of state to be slashed year on year – thus saving money and giving a real incentive to government ministers to cut red tape as there is less money to over regulate the economy . Housing Benefit is just a rip off on the taxpayer by crafty landlords and why not slash red tape & rail subisidies while re-uniting track & train while linking public funds to greater choice & competition ? LEA’s & health authorities should be just voucher issuers with the expenditure on those QUANGO’s cut by at least 80% as vouchers move money to the frontline as providers have to compete for funds ? Why waste money on agriculture in a way that causes poverty in The Third World and why spend overseas aid resources on China of all places ? A Citizenship Pension would cost extra money overall but reforms to JSA , IB & HB could help meet the cost and pledging to send less money to Brussels to fund wiping out pensioner poverty is hardly a vote loser is it ? If you want smaller government then these ideas might just get us there . The waste & lack of democracy in the EU prove that it deserves less public money . My plan would help produce vast savings – private business create jobs – the failed New Deal does not . Likewise tackling family breakdown will in time save money . This large batch of reforms could stop the public sector being so greedy for our money and in the longer term pave the way for lower taxes , a balanced budget and a smaller state i.e. the UK becoming an Eire style success story with less poverty & red tape and democracy being the stronger as power moves to the localities and public services improve .

  6. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted April 20, 2008 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    What we need is to get the cash following the service user in schools & hospitals so that new providers are encouraged while good schools can expand while the NHS has to raise its game or face losing money to the private sector . Elected police chief’s would be good as they would have to focus on tackling crime rather than social engineering with waste on red tape being slashed as more police went on the beat . There should be companies raising private funds to build roads that they can charge tolls on to make a profit and fund repairs and private providers ought to compete with eachother over who can get the most jobless people back into work in exchange for public money . Job Seekers Allowance & Incapacity Benefit can be merged so that economic inactivity is slashed and money saved . A Citizenship Pension can replace the various payments for OAP’s thus slashing admin costs and poverty while a bigger personal allowance can replace complex tax credits with the same objectives in mind . More defence contracts can go onto the open market to improve hardware & save money while extra defence spending is conditional on MOD civil service numbers being cut year on year . QUANGO’s need cutting – univeristies are for education not social engineering . For the sake of democratic accountability local councils need the power to improve things – meaning no QUANGO’s or Communities Department . After Devolution in Wales , Scotland and Ulster and with a sovereign Parliament do we really need Welsh , Scottish , Northern Irish or Constitutional Affairs Secretaries of State ? The money spent on regulating private business could be given as a fixed item of expenditure to each department of state to be slashed year on year – thus saving money and giving a real incentive to government ministers to cut red tape as there is less money to over regulate the economy . Housing Benefit is just a rip off on the taxpayer by crafty landlords and why not slash red tape & rail subisidies while re-uniting track & train while linking public funds to greater choice & competition ? LEA’s & health authorities should be just voucher issuers with the expenditure on those QUANGO’s cut by at least 80% as vouchers move money to the frontline as providers have to compete for funds ? Why waste money on agriculture in a way that causes poverty in The Third World and why spend overseas aid resources on China of all places ? A Citizenship Pension would cost extra money overall but reforms to JSA , IB & HB could help meet the cost and pledging to send less money to Brussels to fund wiping out pensioner poverty is hardly a vote loser is it ? If you want smaller government then these ideas might just get us there . The waste & lack of democracy in the EU prove that it deserves less public money . My plan would help produce vast savings – private business create jobs – the failed New Deal does not . Likewise tackling family breakdown will in time save money . This large batch of reforms could stop the public sector being so greedy for our money and in the longer term pave the way for lower taxes , a balanced budget and a smaller state i.e. the UK becoming an Eire style success story with less poverty & red tape and democracy being the stronger as power moves to the localities and public services improve .

  7. mikestallard
    Posted April 20, 2008 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    According to the Telegraph today, the Labour people on the back benches are realising, when they do the rounds, that people are angry about being unfairly taxed and angry about not getting the goods they think they were promised. And that is in Northern Constituencies too.
    They are, apparently, pressurizing the elite round Gordon Brown to do something fast so that they won't lose their jobs at the next election and become unemployable.
    Apparently they are talking to the hand. He neither listens nor does anything. Because he chose a team of yes men and women at the beginning of his ministry, and because he has silenced parliament and the cabinet, he has no means of testing his ideas or even of finding out if his administration is actually working at all.
    He is working blind.

    I do not expect any change therefore. I also expect that he will be gone in the very near future.

  8. APL
    Posted April 20, 2008 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Mikestallard: "They are, apparently, pressurizing the elite round Gordon Brown to do something fast so that they won’t lose their jobs at the next election and become unemployable."

    Don't worry, these people are the cream of the crop. They keep telling us they need to be paid commensurate with their abilities, and in line with a CEO of a large private company. Let them leave Parliament and walk into a private sector job in full expectation of a pay rise to boot.

    Stuart Fairney: “No-one earning less than say £10,000 need pay any tax at all”

    How sensible, this is not the 17th century, £10,000 is a pittance.

    Stuart Fairney: "Can we have mandatory retrospective sunset clauses.."

    This is exactly what the Tories used to do with their anti terrorism acts, it was (as I understand it) necessary to debate and renew each year. None of the ratcheting of ever more intrusive and ineffectual measures we see today.

    In terms of Quangos, just close them down, what on earth is the british council for? Other than a sinecure for a failed rather chippie leader of the opposition, as if he hasn't grown plump enough living off the fat of the Euro Land.

  9. michael dearden
    Posted April 21, 2008 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I don't suppose that Mathew Reynolds would consider mounting a coup? It is very unusual to read something from anyone in these replies that actually makes sense. But there's the rub, politicians are not renown for their sensibilities. I too caught the Redwood Freudian slip, "rulers" eh! Well at least we know where we stand if Mr Redwood comes to power.

  10. Alfred T Mahan
    Posted April 22, 2008 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    All organizations resemble organisms, and like living things require some external pressure or predator to change – to adapt for survival. The market provides this for commercial businesses, but government bureaucracies (and to a lesser extent charities) don't have any such mechanism. This is commonly demonstrated when a war starts – the absence of a predator for the armed forces in time of peace results in inappropriate policies and promotions, which have to be reversed when hostilities commence. The closest approach to such a predator for the general civil service is politicians acting under voter pressure. Unfortunately, statist parties, or those controlled by producer interests (step forward the Labour Party), don't understand this and are doomed to failure in their attempts to conjure greater efficiency out of a wheezing system. It will never work, just as the prolonged absence of a predator ultimately caused the extinction of the Dodo when it was unable to react to new circumstances. The only solution is reduce the role of any part of the state where some such predator is absent to the bare minimum. Obviously there are limits as not all essential state activity can be made subject to such pressures (so there is a job for politicians after all!), but even starting in that direction requires a massive effort to overturn entrenched interests. It would be encouraging if there were any evidence that Messrs Cameron and Osborne understand this, but I have yet to see it.

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