The Budget: it’ll take more than deregulation to stimulate growth

March 24, 2011

George Osborne made it clear very early on in his Budget speech that it would be “fiscally neutral”. This meant there were no large-scale tax cuts or any rises in public spending.

You see the key points here. I don’t really want to concentrate on the details: wading through the nitty-gritty can be left to the professionals, thank you very much. Instead, I’d rather focus on the tone of this budget.

As you’d expect from this coalition government, it’s dedicated to a free-market, neo-liberal economic model. Following up from Cameron’s “Enemies of Enterprise” speech, which talked of wanting to cut red tape, plans were laid out to cut taxes and regulation for businesses. Sadly, such an approach is misguided.

Labour keep on saying that the Tories are taking us “back to the 1980s”. One way in which they are doing this is in creating 21 new “Enterprise Zones”. This announcement was no big shock – such a plan was leaked to the Evening Standard as far back as January, and Osborne talked about creating these zones in a speech made only a few weeks ago.

Essentially, Enterprise Zones are specific areas which “will include tax breaks, deregulation and relaxing of planning rules to ten areas across the UK, costing the government £100m over four years”. Margaret Thatcher and John Major created 38 of these areas in the 1980s and early 1990s. Cutting red tape to stimulate growth sounds very sensible, but these schemes have not been very successful in practice.

Last month The Work Foundation planning published a report on Enterprise Zones. It found that their success across various countries had been “ambiguous at best”, and often had a “resoundingly negative” impact. (p6)

In Britain, Enterprise Zones had created 63, 300 jobs by 1987, but only 13, 000 were “new jobs”. The other 80% of these jobs were merely displaced from other areas. A government report put the cost at £45, 000 per new job created in the Enterprise Zone.

All this deregulation also didn’t seem to attract companies to the Enterprise Zone. Surveys suggested that only one-quarter of new jobs could be seen to have arisen from this deregulation, with site characteristics and market access seen as being more important reasons for them to invest. (pp5-6)

The one main success story of the Enterprise Zones was the emergence of Canary Wharf as a thriving employment hub. However, that can be attributed to the government investment in the Dockland Light Railway, rather than the deregulation present in the Enterprise Zone. Most jobs were created in the area after the area lost its “Enterprise Zone” status. (p7)

The whole ethos behind this budget and the creation of the Enterprise Zones is to create a “flexible labour market”. David Cameron has been banging on about this since the start of this year: in January he talked about plans to make it easier to sack workers who had worked for a company for less than two years.

That implies that it’s good to have a lightly-regulated, flexible labour market. However, such a market can have just as much inefficiencies as a labour market which has buckets of regulation. Ha-Joon Chang writes about one illuminating example in 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.

South Korea has one of the most lightly-regulated labour markets in the world, with the result that many South Koreans end up in very insecure, temporary jobs. Around 60% of workers are on a temporary contract. Workers in their 40s and 50s are often “shunted out” to make way for younger workers: a chilling prospect given Korea’s meagre welfare state. Because of this, most young South Koreans are trying to become doctors if they have a science degree, or lawyers if they are humanities-inclined, because there is (slightly) more job security in these areas than in engineering, say.

80% of top-performing graduates say they want to study medicine. It is harder to get into South Korea’s 27th-best medical school than the country’s top engineering department. All this is despite the fact that now doctors’ wages are falling, in relative terms, because of the over-supply in doctors in South Korea. Summing up, Chang concludes that “one of the freest labour markets in the rich world…is spectacularly failing to allocate talent in the most efficient manner. The reason? Heightened job insecurity.” (pp222-224, at p224)

There are a couple of elephants in the room with the Coalition’s attack on regulations on business. The first is that some regulation is necessary. Very lightly-regulated economies that sought to encourage business (especially financial businesses) such as Iceland, Ireland and Britain are amongst those who were hit hardest by the crash: an unsustainable boom caused a long and gloomy period of economic insecurity afterwards.

Regulations might impinge on short-term growth, but they can then lay the foundations for longer-term, stable growth. Back to 23 Things again (p197):

(R)egulating the intensity of fish farming may reduce the profits of individual fish farms but help the fish-farming industry as a whole by preserving the quality of water that all the fish farms have to use.

It’s not as if regulation is incompatible with economic growth. Per capita income growth in the developing world was 3% per annum in the 1960s and 1970s. From 1980-2009, after the free-market reforms were introduced, the rate of growth fell to 2.6%. That figure is inflated by the fact that it includes the performance of India and China, neither of whom embraced neo-liberal policies. (23 Things, p73)

Going back to South Korea again, businessmen in the early 1990s needed to collect 299 different permits from a number of different government agencies in order to set up a factory. Despite this, its economy had grown at 6% in per capita terms since 1960. (p196)

The important thing is not to have no regulation, but the right regulation.

That’s what Osborne’s budget misses. Instead, we have indiscriminate deregulation and lowering of corporation tax. This benefits wealthy businessmen whilst stripping workers of basic rights, such as maternity leave and health and safety laws which could protect them. It’s only going to perpetuate inequality.

Also, and oddly for a budget meant to deliver growth by stripping red tape, the rate of growth was downgraded. The Office for Budget Responsibility revised its growth forecasts for 2011 and 2012 (1.7% and 2.5%, down from 2.1% and 2.6% in November). What’s more, these figures seem optimistic compared to other forecasts (see the Blanchflower article I linked to for these).

That’s not the only forecast that’s more grim than was predicted:

The deficit increase of £11.8bn in February was almost double the £6.9bn expected by the market. Also unexpected was the increase in the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rate of inflation to 4.4 per cent, with core inflation jumping to 3.4 per cent. This has increased the pressure on the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) to raise rates, which would be disastrous for growth.

I can think of no better way to round off this blog than to paraphrase Paul Krugman from a few months ago: George Osborne’s plan is bold, but he’s boldly going in the wrong direction.


Mehdi Hasan: If I was Ed Miliband…

February 27, 2011

Mehdi Hasan of the New Statesman is, without doubt, my favourite political journalist at the moment. He was great on Question Time a few weeks ago, and I quoted him in my blog on multiculturalism.

He also proved why with a barnstorming speech at London’s Progressive Conference.

I meant to post this yesterday, to coincide with the day of UK Uncut action planned, but illness and Yes to Fairer Votes campaigning got in the way.

I’ve taken the liberty of transcribing some of it below, with fuller versions of the articles he quoted.

If I was Ed Miliband, on Monday morning I would hold a Press Conference in Church House in Westminster. I would invite all of the press: broadcasters, TV cameras, lobby journalists. I would flank myself with three men: Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman and Christopher Pissarides.

And I would then invite Joseph Stiglitz, the 2001 Nobel Prize Winner in Economics, to stop forward and address the press. And he would say, as he said to me in an interview in February last year:

I say you’re crazy – economically you clearly have the capacity to pay. The debt situation has been worse in other countries at other times. This is all scaremongering, perhaps linked to politics, perhaps rigged to an economic agenda, but it’s out of touch with reality. One of the advantages that you have is that you have your own central bank that can buy some of these bonds to stabilise their price…[These cuts] would almost certainly lead to higher unemployment.

Then I would invite Paul Krugman, the 2008 Nobel Prize Winner for economics, to step forward and he would say, as he said last September:

The British government’s plan is bold, say the pundits – and so it is.

But it boldly goes in exactly the wrong direction.

It would cut government employment by 490,000 workers – the equivalent of almost three million layoffs in the United States – at a time when the private sector is in no position to provide alternative employment.

It would slash spending at a time when private demand isn’t at all ready to take up the slack.

Why is the British government doing this? The real reason has a lot to do with ideology: the Tories are using the deficit as an excuse to downsize the welfare state.

Never mind that British debt as a percentage of national income is actually below its historical average; never mind that British interest rates stayed low even as the nation’s budget deficit soared, reflecting the belief of investors that the country can and will get its finances under control.

Britain, declared Osborne, was on the “brink of bankruptcy”.

What happens now?

Maybe Britain will get lucky, and something will come along to rescue the economy. But the best guess is that Britain in 2011 will look like Britain in 1931.

Then I would invite Christopher Pissarides, 2010 Nobel Prize Winner for Economics, and he would say at this podium, as he said in the Mirror last October:

But no one doubts that the Chancellor is taking risks with the recovery.

These risks were not necessary at this point. He could have outlined a clear deficit-reduction plan over the next five years, postponing more of the cuts, until recovery became less fragile…

And his unwillingness to further tax the well off is inevitably necessitating more cuts to benefits just when the jobless will need them the most.

And once these three men had spoken, I, as Ed Miliband, would then stare down the barrel of the nearest camera and I would say, “Which of these three men, Mr Cameron, are you calling a deficit denier?”

The rest of the speech is worth watching, too. It’s brilliant. Medhi is such a brilliant speaker, and says some great stuff on the coalition’s muddled economic policies.

He also gives three ways that we can resist the cuts:

1) Intellectually
2) Judicially
3) Politically

There is a March for the Alternative on March 26th. I expect to see you all there.


Child benefit, sofa government and the principle of universalism

October 28, 2010

Philip Hammond defended the decision to remove universal child benefit as showing that the Conservatives are the natural party of government. The basis for this questionable logic was that the Tories were happy to take tough, correct but unpopular decisions “in the national interest”. If Philip Hammond really does believe this, Paperback Rioter would like some of what he has been smoking.

All through the election Tories stressed that universality of benefit was an important principle that needed keeping. It was, er, Philip Hammond who said as much on Newsnight back in April. The principle reason given is the need to reduce the budget deficit, and we have said plenty on the government’s policies on that regard.

The decision to remove universal child benefit now, and the process by which it was announced, has many disturbing aspects.

The first is that the policy is obviously a back-of-an-envelope job. When one family where one person earns £44,000 does not receive child benefit, but a family where two people earning £43,000 does is blatently absurd. All this does not inspire confidence in the coalition’s other economic plans.

Second, it seems that the cabinet was not consulted about the decision. Theresa May was asked nine (!) times by Paxman, by my count, on what date she was told about these plans. She would only reply that changes to benefits were a matter for the DWP and the Treasury, and that she didn’t first hear about the plans on breakfast TV.

One must therefore concur with Peter Oborne’s inference that cabinet was not consulted about the plans on the Thursday before they were announced by the Chancellor at the Tory party conference.

This is the most disturbing revelation from the awful mess that the government made of this announcement. Much was made in opposition of David Cameron’s “sofa government” and the fact that he made decisions based on talking to a small group of key advisers. It would be hoped that coalition government would necessitate an end to such methods of making policy, but apparently not. The fact that cabinet is not being told of plans that are this important before announcing them is very depressing news indeed.

What is also depressing is that the left is finding it difficult to articulate a proper response in opposition to the policy. The line from Cameron and Osborne runs something like: “Why should those on lower incomes pay taxes to subsidise children of those far wealthier?” Which is a specious argument anyway, because that’s not how tax works. It’s called “general taxation” for a reason. Anyone would think that the tax money from those earning under £15,000 per year was being earmarked specifically to be given to the rich.

To properly understand why universalism is such a cornerstone of the welfare state, we must look to recent history. This is what Tony Judt’s Ill Fares The Land has to say about universalism. (I’ll be quoting from this book in future too, because it’s now my favourite book of all time. You must buy it and read it):

Moreover, it was with social democracy and the welfare state that bound the professional and commercial middle classes to liberal institutions in the wake of World War II. This was a matter of some consequence: it was the fear and disaffection of the middle class which had given rise to fascism. Bonding the middle classes back to the democracies was by far the most important task facing postwar politicians – and by no means an easy one.

In most cases it was achieved by the magic of “universalism”. Instead of having their benefits keyed to income – in which case well-paid professionals or thriving shopkeepers might have complained bitterly at being taxed for social services from which they did not derive much advantage – the educated “middling sort” were offered the same social assistance and public services as the working population and the poor: free education, cheap or free medical treatment, public pensions and unemployment insurance. As a consequence, now that so many of life’s necessities were covered by their taxes, the European middle class found itself by the 1960s with far greater disposable incomes than at any time since 1914.

This is why universalism was such a key principle of the welfare state, and it must remain a key principle of any welfare state. For the coalition to attack it, in such a bungled way, and meet so little resistance, is very worrying indeed.


Why Ginsters pasties prove that the spending cuts won’t work

October 26, 2010

Two seemingly trivial stories that appeared in the newspapers a few weeks ago actually could be of profound significance given the CSR (Comprehensive Spending Review) last week. The first involves clotted cream taking a 340-mile round trip to end up in a supermarket 2 miles away from where it was originally made. The second is a similar story involving Ginsters Pasties: despite being made in a factory that is walking distance from a Tesco supermarket, it takes a 240 mile round trip, via Bristol, to end up back in the supermarket in Cornwall.

The main point here is to highlight that there can be as many different anomalies, diseconomies of scale, and good old-fashioned “waste” in the private sector as well as in the public sector. Over the past thirty years, governments of all stripes have been arguing that “private sector = good, public sector = bad”. This dichotomy is inherently misleading. There are some things that the state is better at providing; others are best left to the free market. Government provision of health, education, street lighting and even transport is the most just way of providing essential services for all, regardless of location or ability to pay. On the other hand, government provision of tomatoes, for instance, would be ludicrous, and this is best left to private companies.

To simply have a Manichean divide between “private” and “public” sector is intellectually dishonest. Yet this is what the coalition has been attempting to do with its spending cuts. The cuts are founded on this logic, and this logic is misguided, as I hope to show below.

Ideology and cuts

One cannot criticise the cuts simply because they are ideological. This would mirror smears that New Labour drones like Hazel Blears would make of the Labour left, who dismissed any complaints they had of academies, ID cards or killing foreigners as “ideological” complaints that were not of any concern. I would welcome politicians using “ideology” more. Of course the cuts are motivated by a certain ideology, and you could equally argue that those arguing against the cuts are also motivated by a different ideology. The key point is not that the cuts are “ideological” per se, but that the ideology that motivates them has been tried before, and did not work. Johann Hari, in his excellent article on the CSR, had this to say:

When was the last time Britain’s public spending was slashed by more than 20 per cent? Not in my mother’s lifetime. Not even in my grandmother’s lifetime. No, it was in 1918, when a Conservative-Liberal coalition said the best response to a global economic crisis was to rapidly pay off this country’s debts. The result? Unemployment soared from 6 per cent to 19 per cent, and the country’s economy collapsed so severely that they lost all ability to pay their bills and the debt actually rose from 114 per cent to 180 per cent.

George Monbiot wrote another excellent article that is worthy of your attention, comparing the spending cuts to the “disaster capitalism” written about by Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine. This is what he has to say about Chile, where Pinochet implemented a rather, um, radical free market economy after his coup:

By 1982, Friedman’s prescriptions had caused a spectacular economic crash. Unemployment hit 30%; debt exploded. Pinochet sacked the Chicago economists and started re-nationalising stricken companies, whereupon the economy began to recover. Chile’s so-called economic miracle began only after Friedman’s doctrines were abandoned. The Chicago School’s catastrophic programme pushed almost half the population below the poverty line and left Chile with one of the world’s highest rates of inequality.

Hari summed it up best: “George Osborne has just gambled your future on an extreme economic theory that has failed whenever and wherever it has been tried.”

The alternative ideology

It is also fundamentally dishonest of the right to label those opposing the cuts as “deficit deniers”. Our problem is not that the deficity does not exist, but that the deficit is not such a drastic problem to justify cutting spending in some government departments by as much as 25%. From http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk, here is a graph showing Britain’s deficit as a percentage of GDP since records were kept in the late seventeenth century. The deficit doesn’t look like such a massive problem in this context, does it?

As Hannah has pointed out, our economy depends on debt to some extent. If you don’t like it, then you have a problem with capitalism generally. Don’t we all? Thankfully there’s something called social democracy. You should give it a try.

And before anyone mentions the G-word, here’s Larry Elliott:

Britain is not Greece. Ministers have not been cooking the books to disguise the true state of the budget deficit. At 14 years, the average maturity of Britain’s debt is one of the longest in the developed world. And the fact that the UK has its own currency provides policy freedom in London not enjoyed in Athens. 

The cuts are an over-reaction, pure and simple. Gary Younge put it as not letting a broken leg heal, but amputating it instead. I prefer to use the analogy of Monty Python’s “restaurant sketch”. The deficit is the dirty fork, and the coalition are the kitchen staff. You’ll get the picture:

Also, the deficit was not caused by a crisis in the public sector, but by a crisis of the private sector, which led to the banking bail out. This happened because of inadequate state intervention, not because of excessive state interference! As Paul Krugman has noted, in the US the deficit has increased because of tax revenues dropping, not because of exhorbitant government spending. Instead, in Britain we are cutting the welfare budget whilst making 500,000 more people unemployed. To quote Johann Hari again, surely it is obvious that:

When an economy falters, ordinary people – perfectly sensibly – cut back their spending and try to pay down their debts. This causes a further fall in demand, and makes the economy worse. If the government cuts back at the same time, then there is no demand at all, and the economy goes into freefall.

This is just basic Keynesian economics. Caroline Lucas was making the point very well on QT last week. You make people unemployed, you lose their tax revenues and have to pay them benefits, the deficit goes up. Straightforward really, isn’t it?

Job creation

The coalition, of course, claim that these cuts will create jobs. Rolling back the state will allow the “good” private sector to invest, new businesses will start, and umemployment will fall. The CSR estimated that although 500,000 public sector jobs will be lost, 1.5m jobs in the private sector will be generated. The obvious question is from where? Here’s Flying Rodent‘s typically irreverent take on it:

Still, the news isn’t all bad.  As George Osborne himself has said, cutting government expenditure will create space for several million jobs to be created by the Magical Ponies of Fuckadoodle.  I paraphrase, but the meaning is the same.

The problem that has to be emphasised again and again is that private companies also rely on government expenditure. Cutting government jobs will have a knock-on effect on private businesses. The axing of the Building Schools for the Future programme is an obvious case in point. On QT last week an audience member said that she was trying to start up a small business, but could not get any money lent to her from the banks to get started. The whole situation is baffling.

I hope I am wrong, but I am not sure that I will be. The cuts won’t work, they’ll just make it worse. Those who don’t want cuts are not “deficit deniers”, but are unconvinced that making 500,000 people unemployed will make our economic situation any better.


Your indispensable tool for coping with the spending cuts

October 20, 2010

If you think today was a tough, depressing day, just think how gruelling the next few years will be when these hypothetical cuts become reality. I therefore propose that whenever you get too stressed, angry or upset about the spending cuts, you visit this page and look at the puppy.

Look at it sleeping there, very, very peacefully. How could any harm possible befall the world when there are extremely cute, sleeping puppies?

Not even George Osborne can ruin life for this puppy. Although you know he’d try.


What the Tea Party and the British Left could learn from Tony Blair

September 16, 2010

I haven’t read A Journey yet - I will probably wait until it comes out in paperback. At the moment all I know of the book is derived from virtualstoa’s lengthly – and undoubtedly masochistic – tweet-by-tweet of it, as well as blogs on its clunkiness and bad sex. One passage that struck me from the New Yorker review of the book was this one that they quoted:

With each successive Tory leader, I would develop a line of attack, but I only did so after a lot of thought. So I defined Major as weak; Hague as better at jokes than judgment; Howard as an opportunist; Cameron as a flip-flop, not knowing where he wanted to go. . . . Expressed like that, these attacks seem flat, rather mundane almost, and not exactly inspiring—but that’s their appeal. Any one of those charges, if it comes to be believed, is actually fatal. Yes, it’s not like calling your opponent a liar, or a fraud, or a villain or a hypocrite, but the middle-ground floating voter kind of shrugs their shoulders at those claims. They don’t chime. They’re too over the top, too heavy, and they represent an insult, not an argument. Whereas the lesser charge, because it’s more accurate and precisely because it’s more low-key, can stick. And if it does, that’s that. Because in each case, it means they’re not a good leader. So game over.

Passages like that remind you of just how astute a politician Blair could be. He is absolutely right to say that milder rhetoric generally beats some more fierce invective.

A case in point is the Tea Party movement in the US. Obama and the Democrats are weak politically, but the main line of attack on Obama comprises of a series of insults: that he’s a Muslim, Communist, or that he’s not even American – that fall far short of the mark because they’re too angry and ignorant to have much of an impact.

Blair’s words should also be borne in mind by those wanting to build resistance to the impending spending cuts by the coalition. Merely winning the economic argument will not be enough. As well as challenging the economic consensus, the coalition of groups contesting the wisdom and severity of these cuts needs to also develop a political narrative.

How, then, should David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the coalition be portrayed? One that paints them as “evil” or “same old Tories” will not be sufficient to win over popular support. David Cameron does not come across as “evil” or as a divisive figure like, say, Thatcher. Following Blair’s maxim, we must find something more silent, yet more deadly in the long run.

In my view, this line of attack would be to portray David Cameron, George Osborne and the rest as “out of touch” and unaware of the catastrophic consequences these cuts would cause. The privileged background of the vast majority of Cameron’s cabinet is common knowledge. It’s very unlikely that Cameron would have used a Sure Start Centre, a neighbourhood Post Office, or the number 27 bus, and so would be completely ignorant of how people can come to rely on these sorts of services. The background of George Osborne: Eton, Oxford, Modern History Degree, Career Politician – is hardly filled with economics experience, and it would be a relatively straightforward task to paint him as inexperienced and out of touch with the needs of ordinary people.

Those challenging the cuts need to emphasise that they are unnecessary, often counter-productive, and not our only option. If we can couple it with an accompanying political narrative, we can seriously begin to challenge the coalition of cutters.


The Government has taken leave of its census (guest post)

July 14, 2010

by Hannah

The coalition Government is determined to enact the Conservative’s plans to wipe-out the Government deficit within its term of office. 

According to Chancellor George Osbourne, this will entail 25% budget cuts across the Government, with some departments, potentially, facing cuts as great as 40%, with only a handful of favoured departments, such as health and international development, being spared.  Even in these chosen few, funding will not keep up with the increasing demands made of them.  Such brutal cuts in spending at a time when the country is barely out of recession, unemployment is rising and Government spending is the main thing keeping the economy moving is widely regarded as reckless in the extreme.  Arguably, large amounts of debt, both government and private, are both an inevitable product of the financial system and essential to its continued functioning.  Despite this the Conservatives, in particular, see reducing Government debt as a matter of the greatest urgency and have announced budget-balancing measures including regressive changes to the tax and benefits system, redundancies and new impositions on those claiming disability benefits that can only pay for themselves by denying access to those with genuine claims.  With so much damage being done, particularly to those who are already the worst off in society, it’s strange that the announcement that has enraged me the most is Francis Maude’s plan to scrap the national census. 

 Let’s be clear, with the next census already set to take place in 2011 and at least two elections before the 2021 census, it’s incredibly unlikely that this will happen.  However, this announcement seems to epitomise the stupidity of the recent bout of Government cost-cutting.  Firstly the amount of money saved will be miniscule compared to the size of the deficit, and in ten years time, will be entirely irrelevant to the Government’s present budgetry woes.  Even if the time delay didn’t render it moot, this proposal is perhaps the perfect illustration of the foolishness of the Government’s wider economic strategy.  The U.S. found that the workforce required to execute their census had a measurable effect on their employment statistics.  Truly, this was the vindication of Keynsian economics in microcosm!

Secondly, there is the complete ignorance it demonstrates of the subject in hand.  Maude appears to believe that the functions of the census can be replaced by cobbling together data from other public and private databases, such as credit ratings agencies.  Leaving aside the reduced security, and greater threat to privacy from the informal mining of these databases, the data collected in this way will be, by its nature, less comprehensive than the census – by its very definition a survey of an entire population.  The Government will never be able to get an accurate picture of the entire population from existing databases, which, crucially, will be more likely to overlook people with fewer ties to the formal economy, and will lose its ability to tailor its questions to the information it really wants to know.

 Lastly, and most gallingly to me, it displays a complete lack of respect for the historic institutions of government.  England has had a regular national census every ten years, since 1801, with only one suspension, in 1941, due to the Second World War.  I’ve looked into my own family history and have had experience of searching census data going back to 1841, so I know how valuable it is to anyone studying the social history of this country.  The Government would throw away this valuable legacy of information to future generations as well as one of its own most comprehensive sources of data for strategic planning – all for very minor and temporary financial gain.  This just showcases, the utter, utter short-termism of the Conservatives’ ideology in all its, horrible, glory.

 This is not the first time the Conservatives have played politics with the national census.  Last year they attempted to score party-political points with a puerile interpretation of some new questions to be added to the 2011 census.  Conservative MP, Nick Hurd, described those responsible as “bedroom snoopers” and claimed it that it was “yet another sign of how the Labour Government has no respect [for] the privacy of law-abiding citizens.”  And what were the questions that drew such ire?  The 2011 census was to include a question asking the number of bedrooms in each person’s house – information anyone would happily hand out to their estate agents to be published, and is potentially crucial to understand where there may be areas of housing need.  Also, people returning their census forms are to be instructed to include the details of any overnight guests (something I had thought that they always had been, previously) so that people do not get overlooked in official population counts by being away from home when the census it taking.  Naturally, the Rt. Hon. Hurd took the most prurient interpretation possible!  In doing so he even drew criticism from the head of the UK Statistics Authority – himself a former Private Secretary under a Conservative Government – who, rightly, pointed out that the planning and execution of the census is completely separate from the Government of the day.

This raises an interesting question.  Perhaps the Conservatives aren’t as stupid as they sometimes appear.  Perhaps this all comes back to the same old suspicion of any government, that arises from the privilege of having no need of its services, and it being the only source of restriction on your activities and opportunities.  Hence, what is not so much a bonfire of government, but outright arson.  Either way do we really want to be governed by those who, like Esau, would sell their birthrights, and ours, for the thin soup of short-term personal or political gain?


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