Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Evil English

Peter Hain’s attack on the BBC for allowing Nick Griffin on Question Time effectively sticks two fingers up at the hundreds of thousands of people driven to vote BNP by Labour disillusionment. Indeed, it’s a damning indictment of Labour’s democratic record; when democracy’s hard to work, ignore the people. Yet there is a less obvious culprit for the BNP’s success than Labour’s obnoxious decision making process.

Nigel Farage talked about UKIP’s ‘progressive’ agenda that marks it out from every other anti-European party, and threw the BNP out of UKIP’s party conference when they stormed in demanding a ‘pact’ in November 2008. Yet in the local council elections 80% of the seats the BNP contested were free from UKIP challenge and 85% of the seats UKIP contested were free from BNP challenge. It was, however, a north-south divide, and might be explained firstly by the middle-class policies of UKIP – bring back grammar schools, scrap inheritance tax, scrap progressive tax, and ‘reform’ welfare benefits – that appeal more to the Home Counties, and secondly a scarcity of resources best spent in these places.

But the inquest can’t stop there because UKIP voters, despite the differences between the parties, share a common trait with most BNP voters – an English identity. UKIP compete with the BNP for the same sort of voters so could contest them all over the country, but crucially they are the only party that could. No other party can take BNP votes without concessions on Europe or immigration. Both parties are protest parties at the same thing – an institutional rejection of English importance. For good or bad ‘Englishness’ is demonised as much as a concession to Europe and multi-cultural cohesion as its association with the far-right. But now UKIP are the second largest British party in Europe, and have the associated funding benefits, shouldn’t they shoulder more of the burden to fight extremism, and go face-to-face with the BNP in places like Manchester, and Leeds?

I like to think they would, if it wasn’t that they would have to play up their ‘English’ credentials, and the years Farage and UKIP have spent escaping from bizarre accusations of racism, fuelled by the stigma attached to the ‘drunken English chavs’ and any party who supports ‘Englishness’, will probably stop them. So the irony is if degrading the English partially led to the rise of the BNP who exploit damaged patriotic egos, it has also meant the best chance of stopping them is too scared to do so.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Old Labour's Curse of the Economy

Ben Storrs, Press and Publicity Officer

At the beginning of the credit crunch questions focused on how responsible Gordon Brown was for building a financial economy dependant on the competitively minimal regulation that partially led to the crunch. The answer is Brown led the way to deregulation. Now the question is how well Britain is placed to deal with the problems.

A lot has been said about how “the cupboard is bare”, our “record debts” and the “largest expenditure since records began” but this conceals a few important facts. Firstly Gordon Brown lowered debt as a proportion of GDP from 45 to 30% by 2002. To put that into more perspective it was the lowest GDP debt of any G8 country by some margin. Unfortunately the next year Brown claimed to have abolished “boom and bust”, so ‘risk-free’ spending and debt shot up. But even now GDP debt is only about 50% (it’s difficult to tell precisely, but it will rise massively in the next 3 years) and in real terms (i.e. taking the effects of inflation into account) GDP debt was much higher post war.

So Labour have a good case when defending the national debt. Yet the problem is the budget deficit which is much more than the 3% that should incur an EU fine. There is no obvious way we can balance the budget in the next parliament because Britain is already saturated with taxes, and this is why we're in a very bad position to cope with the recession. The 50% income tax rate next year will be one of the highest in the world; our 24% national insurance tax rate is lower only than the equivalent rate in countries such as Romania, Belarus and Latvia. And many economists have argued we are already past the apex of the Laffer curve – so increasing taxes further will lead to less revenue. So although Japan and the US are up to their necks in debt, both countries tax revenue is less than 30% of GDP so both countries have the scope to recover – our taxes annually yield over 40% of GDP.

If courting bankers was the mark of a new Labour, the excessive spending is pure Old Labour. They have drained the country with high tax during periods of economic growth and in this sense the cupboard is bare, and we have been living beyond our means for the last twelve years. The criticism that Labour’s only policy is to throw money at the problem seems particularly apt. The fire sale of assets that has recently been announced may fly in the face of nationalisation and suggest New Labour is still here, but it may also be a desperate attempt of a party out of ideas to keep the economy from sinking.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Statesman of the Year or American Stooge?

Ben Storrs, Press & Publicity Officer

Gordon Brown may have won the statesman of the year award in New York last month but opinion polls still record all time lows in his domestic popularity. On an international level he is much more popular after leading the G20 to deliver a global plan for recovery at the London summit. But he is especially liked in America for his decisive action after congress rejected the trillion dollar Federal Reserve plan to buy up toxic assets in US banks. Gordon Brown swept in to use British money to buy hefty stakes in banks. Barack Obama has said Brown’s actions were unprecedented and bold. He “saved the world” – and this was the reason the G20 summit was held in the UK.

When presenting the award Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of state, praised Gordon Brown’s “dedication to handling the world economic crisis”. Yet this is the problem. The credit crunch may have had global implications but it wasn’t a crisis for the whole world; it was an Anglo-Saxon crisis; it originated in America and Britain and it affected us more than anyone else. Yet it was left to the junior partner to bail out the financial system first. Brown mortgaged Britain to pay for America.

We are spending the equivalent of 45 to 50% of our GDP to bail out the economy because America didn’t, and in return Brown has been fobbed off with this award. Yet he doesn’t see a problem with this. On receiving the award he said “After 1945, the world summoned its energies to build a new international order. Now we are being tested again...something bigger and even more lasting than the great reconstruction of the post-war era is possible: the creation of the first truly global society.” A global society? Was that really in his job description?