Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Do the Tories care?

A little history first. In the 1990-1, we had a recession in the UK. It was pretty bad, and it was the first one to seriously affect white-collar workers and middle management rather than just the manual trades.

The John Major government, through the genius of Norman Lamont had the job of seeing us through this period, and it was from these two giants that the following phrases came:

"If it isn't hurting, it isn't working"

"Unemployment is a price worth paying" (for low inflation)

As a result of their careful stewardship, the 1990s recession took us years to recover from. You can see how compassionate they were about the effects of their policies.

So to today, and have the Conservatives changed? It appears not. While the government is taking action to reduce the threat of recession and to help those affected (rescuing banks, extending lines of credit so that they can lend, reducing VAT, increasing income tax allowances and tax credits, restricting repossessions, assisting small businesses with their tax bills, investing in public services etc etc etc...), all the Conservatives can do is to oppose.

Take our local Tory councillor-blogger Duncan Crow. He's quick to tell us that everything is the fault of Gordon Brown, but a little reticent to actually come up with any concrete proposals. It's easy to sit around pronouncing doom and gloom, and using the benefit of hindsight, but surely our 'natural rulers' have some actual ideas for how to best deal with the current economic situation.

What is it that the Tories would actually be doing now, if they were in power? Doing nothing didn't work very well last time, but I seen very little, other than to say whatever the government does is either bad or would have no effect.

For example, when the government announces a cut in VAT by 2.5%, the Tories tell us that it's insignificant. Yet when they think that VAT may have been going up by 1% it would have been a disaster. Surely it would have less of an effect, being a smaller change, but I don't suppose such logic comes into play when you are on a mission to oppose the government at all costs

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Social Services

Again, the UK seems to be falling under the spell of hysterical moral outrage. A few weeks ago it was Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand who had roused the ire of the public (not that they are in any way excused, but what on earth possessed thousands of people to add their complaints to the already lodged ones?)

Now it's Baby 'P'.

Some of my friends have joined the Facebook group " Campaign to get justice for Baby P". I'm not sure what the point of such a campaign is to be honest. The only reason we know about the case is that the mother and the two men involved have been tried in a court of law and found guilty. There are at the last rough count three enquiries into the situation, not to mention the whole media circus which has led to the calls for sackings and all-but lynching of anyone who was anywhere near the family.

There are some islands of sanity in this deluge - notably the eloquent Unity at Ministry of Truth, and Aaron at Tygerland - but I'm just glad that I'm working at home this week instead of having to put up with inane chatter about the whole thing from anyone I have to avoid shouting at.

I have never had to deal directly with Social Services myself, but I do know people who have. In one case that I know about (not in West Sussex), Social Services were overly cautious about taking a child into care. Two years after they backed the abusive parent in a custody hearing, they have removed her after incontrovertible evidence came to light. In another (also not in West Sussex), a child was taken into care and the parents spent a long hard battle to show that they were not guilty of abuse.

Social Workers are damned either way. If they are too cautious, then it only takes the odd case to make them look complacent. If they are too protective of children, then they are accused of 'stealing' kids in order to make up imaginary quotas for fostering or adoption. The main problem with their job is that it's rarely black-and-white. A child can be accident prone. A seemingly respectable parent can be a sadist behind closed doors. Children can lie, and they can also be unbelievable when telling the truth. It's all very subjective and there must be many marginal cases all of the time.

It's not a job that I could deal with, as most of my day-to-day work involved precision and clear yes/no decision-making. Even politics as a profession often comes down to a more objective view than a lot of the tough situations that Social Work involves.

What makes the job harder, of course, is that it is unpopular and difficult to recruit for. Areas with known problems have an even harder time, and those with unfilled vacancies are going to end up with backlogs and high stress. The pay is hardly fantastic, and if you make a mistake either way you could end up on the cover of half-a-dozen tabloids. Unfortunately, of course, we need social workers because there are a large number of children and vulnerable adults who are at real risk and who need some kind of intervention.

However, let's not get facts involved. Let's not try to understand how the real world works, or even consider for one moment that hindsight is a lot clearer than prediction. Let's just have a media-inspired national panic and collective howl. It'll make us feel better, even if it solves nothing (apart from declining circulation figures, of course).


Monday, November 17, 2008

It's the Economy, Stupid

Is George Osborne an idiot? Or does he just think that the voters are all fools?

Over the last few weeks, the Tories have been demanding tax cuts, saying that they are the best way to release cash into the hands of people and spur consumer spending and company investment to help take us out of recession.

Then at the weekend, Osborne was saying that we can't cut taxes because it would cause a run on the pound (which is is bit odd, because the currency rate is not directly related to the government's finances, it's to do with the value of the overall economy and predicted returns compared to other nations, and is more likely to be related to the interest rate).

It sounds to me like opposition for the sake of it. You can't credibly go around contradicting yourself in the space of a few days and expect people to think that you have a clue about how to run the economy. Of course, if your plan is to attack the government for political gain at a time of national uncertainty, it might just work - as long as people don't have those inconvenient memory things.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

So, why can't we....

We are going into recession. We have banks who are reluctant to lend. We have housebuilders stopping work all over the country. We have thousands of people (25,000 in West Sussex alone) on local authority housing lists. We have houses that are falling in value but people still can't afford to buy them.

So, how about a bit of actual socialism? Or, Keynesian economics anyway...

Let's start building public housing again. Let's use public money to buy out empty houses and half-finished building sites so that they can be worked on and rented out. It creates jobs, it makes housing more affordable and it could help spur activity in the wider economy.

If we can bail out banks for half a trillion quid, and reduce interest rates by a third at a stroke, can't the government allow and push local authorities into this?