Archive for the 'Cuts' Category


Labour is paying a price for its elongated leadership contest

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

The welfare vote abstention looks like a mistake

I was recovering from an operation last night and am only now catching up on the big welfare vote in the commons.

Labour’s abstention move does look like a mistake and was the product of the party not having a confident leader in place to steer the party through the mine-field that had been carefully set by Osborne.

As it is the party looks as though it has connived in helping the controversial changes go forward as others, like the much slimmed down LD contingent, are rushing to point out. These things get remembered.

The real problem is the time-scale taken to choose the new leader. This could all have been wrapped up in less than two months. Instead there’s another month and a half to go before one of JC/LK/AB/YC is in place.

Mike Smithson


The big problem with free TV licences for those 75+ is that a staggering one in six of all UK households qualify

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015


Gordon Brown’s 2001 exemption rule has a huge loophole which should never have been agreed

From 1980-84 a big part my then job at the BBC was to deal with the PR and political issues relating to the corporation’s prime income source, the TV licence. None of the challenges that was as sensitive or as problematic as what should be done about the oldies who were required to pay the same fee as everybody else.

There had been a long-standing campaign for oldies to get free licences which at one point in the early 80s saw some pensioners deliberately trying to get themselves sent to prison for non-payment of fines over their refusal to get a licence. The idea was that their incarcerations would be the focus of marches and other demonstrations.

This was dealt with by secretly paying the outstanding fines and licence fees of the would be TV licence martyrs who were then released from jail much to their annoyance.

On its return to power in 1997 LAB took up the cause of free TV licences for pensioners and in the 2001 general election year the current scheme was introduced by the then chancellor, Gordon Brown in a move to offer something to help win the pensioners vote.

His plan was simple – all those aged 75 or more would get free licences irrespective of their financial circumstances. The massive problem was that the rules were drawn up far too widely so that any household with someone of that age living there qualified for the benefit even if everybody else there was younger.

    The result is that we now have the nonsensical situation in which one in six of all TV licences are now paid for out of central taxation irrespective of the incomes of everybody at the address.

Clearly that has to change and the only households which would qualify are those where everybody is 75+.

My reckoning is that Osborne has made his move to make the BBC fund this knowing that there’ll be less political damage to the Tories if the BBC is seen to be be trying to close down the Gordon Brown loophole and not the government.

This is pure politics. Let the Beeb and not the Tories take the flak.

Mike Smithson


Marf on Osborne’s plan for the civil service

Thursday, May 21st, 2015


PB Update – welcome to Don Brind

Tomorrow the political journalist, Don Brind, is joining our small team of regular guest slot contributors. He is somebody I’ve known a very long time since we both worked at the BBC in the 1970s. In recent times Don has been a regular contributor on The Week

Back in 2007 Don gave me a well argued steer on the then LAB deputy leadership contest to the effect that Harriet Harman, then 10/1, was going to get it. She won.

He’s got very close contacts with LAB and will act as a balance to David Herdson and TSE who are both active Tories. His first column will be tomorrow.

Mike Smithson


David Herdson on why it suits all that a debate on the economy is effectively closed down

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

Contradictory nuances make it hard for both CON or LAB

You might think that the extremely positive employment figures released yesterday would be cause for a great deal of campaigning from the Conservatives, both positively on their record and negatively against Labour. After all, the repeated criticisms and past predictions of doom from the Eds Balls and Miliband can now be set against the facts of the UK having one of the fastest-growing economies in the developed world, record employment, rising real wages (finally), unemployment at a seven-year low and the timely endorsement from the head of the IMF.

To an extent, you’d be right to so think, but while both Tories and Lib Dems played up the figures as evidence of their policy success, the game is too complicated to allow them to simply run on that record. For a start, there are still flies in the ointment: the deficit remains too high, productivity improvement too low, and while overall wages may be growing, that’s only started recently and is a long way from being a universally shared experience. But the reticence to trumpet the numbers is about more than that; it’s not necessarily in the interests of the Conservatives for the economy to be seen to be doing too well.

The relevant history here is 1992 and 1997. In the earlier election, the Conservatives not only had the better rating on the economy but that subject was foremost in the election debate; which the Tories duly won. Five years later, not only had their relative ratings slipped but other subjects mattered more – in the Mori issues index, unemployment was ranked fourth and the economy sixth, behind the NHS, education, Europe and crime. Once things are going well enough, the question turns from how to make enough money to what you spend it on. And Labour traditionally has the edge on spending money.

On that note, what is perhaps surprising is that more hasn’t been made of the record of two of Gordon Brown’s closest advisors while in office. Yes, plenty of people blame this government for the cuts but plenty don’t, or blame both roughly equally, and elections are won at the margins. You don’t need to persuade all the people, just enough make the difference. Furthermore, in this election, the Tories don’t even need to persuade some of those supporting Labour (though obviously it helps if they can), when plenty of supporters from last time have drifted to UKIP. Again, while there are lots of UKIP supporters who were previously non-voters or non-Blue, that doesn’t matter; the primary target audience is those who did back the Tories in 2010.

The problem of course with the message that Labour can’t be trusted or that the job isn’t yet done is that they both have the negative subtext that austerity is still needed. Both parties have paid lip-service to closing the deficit but both have also engaged in a spending auction on the NHS and elsewhere. The public mood is not one for more austerity. Or perhaps not even one for responsibility. The most recent Mori issues index poll had more people saying that how the respective parties handle the NHS would determine their vote than the question of economic competence. In comparison, whereas in 2010 fully 55% rated the economy as an important issue, this time only half as many say so, with the issue dropping to third, behind immigration and the NHS (which was only fifth-most important in 2010).

The result has been to minimise policy differences and close down debate, giving the public very little to go on than the (almost certainly accurate) perceptions that the Tories would cut more and Labour would spend and borrow more – but that won’t shift votes. It is, however, why Labour is also keen not to downplay the economy too much: it would reinvigorate a dangerous subject as well as undermining their own spending plans.

So we have a situation where the Tories don’t want claim too much credit for fear the electorate will wrongly confirm a growing belief that the ‘job is done’ and a Labour party which has gone quiet on the government’s record because of the mixed messages it sends about its own policies. And we wonder why the polls are static.

David Herdson

p.s. One man who may be happy for the debate to move on from the employment figures is Mark Carney. Back in August 2013, he said that interest rates wouldn’t begin to rise until unemployment fell below 7%, which could take three years. At the time, the rate was 7.8%; yesterday, it stood at 5.6% – triple the fall in half the time – prompting the question as to when rates will start to rise and QE be wound back. With the economy expanding firmly, the stock market at record highs and lending seemingly more relaxed than it was, one does wonder whether the Bank’s crisis-state monetary policy is still appropriate, even when accompanied by the current low inflation. Though you can bet that electioneering politicians will steer clear of answering that question too.


Labour moves to its best ever position in YouGov’s “blame for cuts” tracker – now just 3% behind

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

In October 2010 LAB was 30% behind.

In the very early days of the coalition and the austerity programme in 2010 I singled out the YouGov “who’s to blame for the cuts” tracker as a good monitor – because placing the blame on the “past lot” has been such a key part of coalition rhetoric. It is one that I have gone back to regularly especially when milestones are reached.

Back in October 2010 just 18% blamed “the coalition” and 48% “the last Labour government”. Today’s figures have the gap down to just 3 points – the best ever for Team Ed.

Given that “the cuts” are going to be one of the key battleground in the next 12 weeks the Tories and LDs can perhaps be relieved that still LAB is blamed more than they are. But a 3% gap is very narrow.

Mike Smithson

For 11 years viewing politics from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


People in receipt of state pensions have paid for it over the years – they are not on benefits

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

It’s time the terminology was changed

Eighteen months ago I started to receive my state pension after I’d deferred it for a year. Before this was granted there were checks that I had made the contributions during the 45 years that I was in paid employment. It was only after that check that the money stated to come every four weeks.

Yet according to many politicians I am now on benefits. This I resent.

It is ridiculous that this is presented as part of the benefits budget. The state pension needs to be separated. By lumping it in everybody is getting a wrong impression resulting in the debate on the welfare budget not taking place in a proper context.

Over to you George.

Mike Smithson

Blogging from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble 2004-2014


Tim Montgomerie agrees with Nick Clegg on where cuts should fall

Monday, January 6th, 2014

First day back after the hols & more GE2015 battlegrounds emerge

Meanwhile UKIP leap ahead of LAB & CON amongst poorest pensioners


If this Ipsos-MORI polling is right then the Westminster village, and me, got the Autumn Statement wrong

Friday, December 6th, 2013

Mike Smithson

Blogging from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble since 2004