Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Politicians, go on holiday. Please.

Enough of this macho politics which assumes party leaders need to throw off their summer shorts and put on their suits whenever the word crisis is in the air. Judging from Messrs Cameron and Miliband’s performance in the last few days, the best thing these politicians could do is stay on holiday.

The scenes of random violence that have come to be dubbed ‘riots’ were depressing but the spectacle of politicians scrambling to make capital from the human tragedies has been even more unedifying. In their attempts at creating an explanation for the recent events, all politicians have been guilty of over-interpreting. The original riot – and riot it was – had a clear cause in disgruntlement at the police handling of a specific incident. The copycat events that followed were most often acts of mimickry where there is little sense in rationalising them. The potential for small-scale disorder was apparent and the opportunity seemed to present itself. Most incidents needed little more justification, though a very few might have been aroused by malicious individuals.

And in response Mr Cameron seems intent on re-gaining the nasty label for his party. If society is broken, it needs careful mending, not smashing against the wall until it mends itself. The reaction of the justice system, egged on by Conservative ministers, has been disproportionate and often misdirected. It is an ironic display of the impotence of the state – an attempt to reassert the strong arm of the law when its ability to act at the right moment has been shown to be a myth. Yet, the Tory over-reaction, supported by the gutter press of the Daily Mail and Express (who needs Murdoch?), will only be given further specious justification by ill-advised comments by liberals. I think, in particular, of the Howard League for Penal Reform – a worthy organisation but responsible today for saying that the jailing for four years of those who incited looting on social media is ‘excessive’. Of all the sentences, these are perhaps the least over-the-top: the inciter, in this context, is like the drug-dealer. It is the drug-taker for whom we should have more concern and the equivalent are those teenagers now being criminalised by our courts. ‘They should have thought of that before rioting’, the dark Lord Howard says – missing the point that looting was most often precisely thoughtless. The concomitant thoughtlessness of Howard – and others – is the failure now to consider the consequences of the actions they demand: why this insistent desire to embed dysfunction within our social fabric?

Lord, save us from our politicians.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Master Osborne does it again

Post-war Britian has not been blessed with many talented cabinet ministers. There are some, it is true, who have shown early potential that disappeared when they came to sit around the table at No. 10; there are others whose lack of ability has been no bar to later holding the keys to the front door of that house. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer is certainly not in the first category -- let us pray he is not in the second.

While the flames of summer madness subside, Master Osborne has been cooking up his latest ruse: to end the 50% rate of income tax for those whose income is over £150,000. His argument is that it is 'uncompetitive internationally' - those who 'earn' that amount can pay to avoid tax or go to live elsewhere.

If someone does prefer to pay an accountant to avoid tax rather than hand it back to the government for the upkeep of the welfare state, it might be best if they did leave the country. There will be a few who do that but there will be more who judge that the advantages of living in Britain outweigh the disadvantage of becoming very rich just a bit more slowly. Advantages like having a functioning national health service -- which, if they don't intend to use it directly, they know at least that the private hospitals they plan to visit live off its resources.

Master Osborne's pronouncement is so ill-timed -- so out of step with his Prime Minister's platitudes -- that you wonder how he can get away with it. Isn't it time he was sacked? But, then, Cameron showed his weakness at the very beginning: any in-coming premier wanting to demonstrate his control and please the City (who, remember, considered Osborne a buffoon) would have ditched his university chum straightaway. But he did not and, in the months since, it has seemed at times that Osborne has spoken for the Conservative Party -- a Tory Party so enamoured with the inanities of market libertarians that it has forgotten its own One Nation roots -- rather than his master. The tragedy is not Osborne's lack of talent; it is his grip on power.