Sunday, October 24, 2010

The New Machiavelli

A little spot of moonlighting over at Liberal Democrat Voice where I have penned a review of Jonathan Powell's The New Machiavelli. It's creating some interesting discussion.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Spot the Difference

Browne Review of Higher Education, p. 14 (12th October 2010):
Higher education matters. It helps to create the knowledge, skills and values that underpin a civilised society. ... [It] helps to produce economic growth, which in turn contributes to national prosperity.

Master Osborne's Comprehensive Spending Review, p. 51 (20th October 2010):
[There will be] major reform of the higher education sector to shift a greater proportion of funding from the taxpayer to the individuals who benefit...

And who, pray, benefits? The economy, the nation, civilised society -- the taxpayer, then, according to the Review of Higher Education welcomed by the government only last week. But then, a week is a long time...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Labour's on your side, if you're rich

So, Labour have decided they are against taxing the rich -- sorry, 'middle income families'.

Miliband Junior's performance in his first Prime Minister Questions can at least reassure those who were worried that New Labour might have fallen off its perch and gone to meet its maker. Lord Mandelson can sleep soundly in his satin pjs.

Now, let's accept that there is a flaw in Master Osborne's plan to remove child benefit from higher earners. As has been pointed out ad infinitum (immo, ad nauseam), a household where two earn, say, £40k a year will continue to receive the weekly sum, while a household where one is getting an income over the higher tax threshold will not get it. This is certainly an anomaly: it would obviously be far better for the benefit to be withdrawn from both these examples. The reform does not go far enough but at least it is a start.

It used to be the Tories who insisted that state benefits should not be means tested, as that would penalise, they said, the better off. But, if we are going to protect the welfare state, which was damaged so much under Thatcher and Blair, resources do need to be targeted. And it can surely not be said that a high-earning family is at the sharp end of need, can it?

Clearly, Labour would now disagree. But the logic of their position is more insidious than a spat over child benefit. Young Mr Miliband describes those on the higher rate of income tax as 'middle income families'. If that is the case, then they should surely not be paying the higher rate -- the logic would be to raise the threshold to take those on 'middle incomes' out of the higher bracket. Is the new leader of New Labour really going to call for tax cuts for those who, on any reasonable measure, are rich?

But what is most disappointing is that the opposition has followed the media in concentrating on the minor issue. The more significant and the more worrying of Osborne's announcements was the cap on welfare benefits per 'family'. This begs so many questions, and they're the ones that need to be asked.

On that first performance, Miliband: non satis.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Better than a Graduate Tax

Mr Cable has announced that he has considered and is not in favour of a 'pure' graduate tax. There's nothing pure about penalising people for having gone into higher education. Even student loans, if they could be organised well, would be better than sending out the message that someone should be charged for life for having taken the opportunity of the education society has to offer.

There is, indeed, a better solution than graduate tax. And it is obvious. The average income of graduates is higher than the national average income. So, a truly progressive income tax system would introduce a rate intermediate between our standard and higher at the point, or just above, where that graduate average is. Yes, it would catch everybody who earns that income, not just graduates and that's precisely how it should be: a civilised society can't argue that it is a virtue not be educated. It's about time Britain realised that what society needs is not a graduate tax but a graduated tax.