Sunday, 28 April 2013

UKIP could do so much good, but needs to professionalise properly

There is a good reason for UKIP existing in UK politics.  Its original raison d'etre, to support UK withdrawal from the EU, is a position that was ridiculed for so long by the three major parties.  Indeed, it was long thought that the Conservative Party was denying itself electoral victory by opposing the Euro and having a strong Eurosceptic wing to it.

Those days are long gone, and given EU attempts to expand regulation across business, spending on rent-seeking industries and its persistently unaudited accounts, there are sound reasons to promote leaving the EU on economic liberal grounds, and retention of sovereignty. 

So there is a space for a party that seeks to leave the EU.

UKIP's views on immigration, which are decidedly not libertarian, are still views that no major party has been good at taking on.  Support for a points based immigration system, that means migrants are clearly net contributors, is not racist or nationalistic, but likely to be acceptable to many who reject immigration for more unsavoury reasons (i.e.  don't like foreigners, especially ones who work harder than me or for less money).  Similarly, opposition to an absolute open door for migration from across the EU does have a sound basis in terms of managing the obvious claims to the welfare state, and being able to exclude convicted serious criminals.

Beyond that, the real potential for UKIP is to be the party to keep the Conservatives honest to certain key principles.  Like less regulation rather than more.  Like believing in not only fiscal responsibility, but in reducing public debt and the size of the state.   Like promoting a simpler tax system, with lower rates.  Like encouraging competition and choice in public services, and confining the welfare state to relieving poverty as a safety net, not providing support to people on middle incomes.  

However, to do that UKIP needs three major internal steps to transform itself.  These have become apparent in recent weeks with the dramatic growth in candidate numbers, and the symptoms of a party that has grown from a small bunch of enthusiasts to a large bunch of amateurs.

It has parallels to what happened to the BNP, which has had very brief bursts of popularity, but has long been so toxic, rightfully so, that is only attracted people who either wanted to join but retain a low profile, or those for whom BNP participation wouldn't ruin their employment or business prospects.  That's because they weren't that good in the first place.

UKIP can be different.  It does explicitly ban BNP, NF and EDL members from joining, but does so on an honour basis.   However, it has a lot of people who have joined with little experience of politics and has developed an ad hoc approach to policy.  It has a window of opportunity to change this.  Criticism leading up to the county council elections will do little harm, but UKIP ought to be aiming to come first next year in the European elections, and do well in the larger scale local elections.  To do this, it needs to ensure it harnesses what is good and negates what is bad:

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Scrap planning laws and urban growth boundaries, and go back to property rights

Give some credit to Nick Boles, he's actually making an effort to confront part of the problem with housing - the socialist central planning focused planning laws that make just about any alteration to a property a matter, not for the property owner, but for "society".

That means the immediate neighbours, the near neighbours, the people down the road, the local residents' association, the local environmental group, maybe a competing business, a charity and of course, the council itself.  

Your property isn't yours, and it isn't about protecting the property rights of others, it is simply about gaining the consent of those whose property it isn't.  In other words, it is communitarianism.

So I applaud the attempts to simplify planning laws, to make it easier for property owners to build on their own land, and to change the use of properties from commercial to residential purposes.

However, it isn't enough.  The fundamental philosophy behind the planning system is rooted in 1940s style socialism - the belief that property is communal, not private.

This needs to be scrapped and replaced with a new approach, based entirely on private property rights.

My recent backbencher articles

Recently I've been penning short pieces for the website The Backbencher, here are the last two:

The NHS is no envy of the world

Voluntaryism: We need to talk about welfare

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

What's wrong with much of the UK after Thatcher's legacy?

Few can be surprised at the sight of handfuls of people cheering Thatcher's death, although the ones seen in Glasgow yesterday must have been remarkably political active in their nappies, as virtually all were in their 20s.   Just goes to show how education is so powerful in transmitting not just knowledge, but ideology.

Journalists have been seeking out Thatcher haters, in Liverpool (where half of those broadcast by the BBC liked her), Durham, Glasgow and other towns where Thatcher's government finally pulled the plug of taxpayer subsidies and protectionism on the sunset heavy industries of coal, steel, shipbuilding, car assembly and the like.  Industries where the militant Marxist-Leninist trade union movement had fought any redundancies, any liberalisation of labour practices (consider industries where multiple unions protected individual parts of the production line, none letting any workers combine processes even if technology made it possible) and stubbornly refused to allow any form of industrial democracy, in the form of secret ballots.  Preferring the rule of the mob and the bullying of any dissenters, their ever increasing demands for higher pay without higher productivity gutted these industries.  They could no longer sell their products competitively, when faced with more efficiently produced imports from Europe and elsewhere, and so needed other taxpayers to prop up their sunset industries.  It was 30% more expensive to buy British coal than import coal

For whilst Labour politicians talked of the tripartite union-business-government cozy deals that they witnessed in some countries in western Europe, the unions were more interested in the philosophy being applied in eastern Europe.

So the subsidies ended, businesses that could never be internationally competitive, and couldn't even compete on domestic markets, closed, and whole towns lost their major employer.  

It's easy to argue that maybe more could have been done for these towns and cities, indeed there have been more than a couple of attempts at "regeneration" for some.  "Regeneration" meaning taking taxpayers money to tidy up public spaces, refurbish old buildings, maybe put in some new road or other transport facility, and hoping some new businesses arrive.  However, more often than not they didn't.  The legacy has been a generation or two of towns with declining populations, as those with aspiration leave, and others remain - their children raised on legends and teachers spreading their bile that Thatcher "destroyed" their communities.

What did they do to rebuild them?

Monday, 8 April 2013

Thatcher stopped the rot

She was no libertarian.

Yet she did much to open up the economy.

She took on the Marxist trade unions, and the Soviet bloc.

She made a few mistakes, but on balance she turned Britain around and pointed it in the right direction.

Labour's attack on payday loan companies ignores the underlying culture of irresponsibility

As the Labour Party strives to become popular, and be seen as new, dynamic and able to "think differently", it shows itself to be anything but that.

The announcement that it wants to increase the power of local authorities to ban a type of business that it doesn't like just shows Labour has really only got one answer to everything - more statism.  It discourages individual responsibility, and I don't just mean by those whose behaviour is self-destructive, but by those wanting to change their behaviour.  Passing laws to stop people harming themselves or selling goods and services to a few people who do so, does not promote better behaviour.  It's the uncivilised tool of the big brother bully saying "do as I say or else" rather than convincing people to change on the merits of your argument. 

The BBC reports that Ed Miliband wants councils to be able to ban bookmakers, payday loan shops and pawnbrokers, motivated no doubt by the desire to want to reduce gambling, borrowing and sales of assets by the poor.

Yet there is little doubt that plenty of people on low incomes waste their money gambling and foolishly take out payday loans (although I am far from convinced that pawnbrokers are necessarily thriving on poor decisions, except of course offering thieves a chance to cash in their gains).  Given the increasingly prevalence of online gambling and online and mobile phone based payday loan companies, shutting down the retail fronts is hardly going to do much to limit access, but it will cost jobs.

It thinks that by reducing the supply and availability of such businesses, it will reduce demand and save people, but it will do little to do any of that.  Indeed it smacks of middle class champagne socialist distaste for such shops in the local high street, and the people who go into them.  You can't really imagine anyone on the Labour front bench going to any of them.

Which is what Labour means when it says when "people" say "no, enough is enough", he actually means middle class do-gooders.  Because if people, generally, didn't want those businesses, they wouldn't exist, they wouldn't be viable.   It's the flipside to HS2, because people aren't actually willing to pay for it, but politicians say people want it.

People go to bookmakers for recreation, and yes often with a misguided sense of hope that it might change their fortunes (albeit in most cases relatively modestly).  The do-gooders who want to shut down those businesses could take responsibility for promoting their point of view, by buying advertising time explaining the poor odds of winning and the alternative of saving (although the QE mainstream means that saving in a bank account is a losing battle with inflation).  They could actually take the initiative instead of using force to shut down shops that people evidently want to patronise (which also employ people).  Taking responsibility for promoting responsibility would be a positive move, but not one that Labour even recognises.  It is addicted to using force.

Payday loan companies exist for a reason.  Banks wont loan to the people who take out these loans, because they are a bad risk (and there is a broad consensus that the state backed banking system should be highly risk averse).  This is something endorsed by the Labour Party.  It doesn't want banks lending to people who can't pay the loans back.  So now it wants to stop those who risk their own money lending to such people, for potentially high returns.   The implication is that nobody should take out payday loans.  However, people with few alternatives do so for a range of reasons.  Of course those who do so to fund whimsical consumption (like a night out, or a holiday) are just plain stupid.  They eventually will reap the consequences of their behaviour, and learn from that.  However, some take up such loans for other purposes, such as paying for emergencies like car repairs (which in some cases means being able to get to work or not), or to replace an appliance or pay the excess on an insurance claim. Restricting such loans would harm those people, and drive some into the real loan shark industry of informal loans from gangsters willing to use violence to extract their repayment.  That's the real risk of limiting pay day loans.

However, once again, the responsible approach would be to counter-advertise.  Why don't those who oppose pay day loans produce ads that explain the consequences of borrowing for consumption?  If you care so much for those who get harmed from such loans, then reach them directly.  In fact, why not set up your own pay day loan company offering loans at far lower interest rates, to help out people.  Of course the latter wont happen because anyone doing that would be flooded with applications and it would cost a lot to work through them to find the cases that were thought to be "justified".   So most people would simply revert to the high interest pay day loan companies.

The bigger problem across all of this is the culture of irresponsibility.  This is promoted by a state, and a political culture that implies that it will "save you from yourself" and ban things that tempt you to doing the "wrong thing".  The only way to change that is to promote the opposite, and for the state to stop saving people from themselves.  

I think, on balance, that most people would be better off not taking pay day loans, or gambling or pawning goods for far less than their value.  I also know that I actually don't know any better about anyone's individual circumstances, and so I shouldn't be forcing others around, including those doing business with them legitimately, without fraud.

Moreover, if you really do want to help the poor, the first steps ought to be reducing the tax burden upon them (raising the income tax free threshold to the minimum wage, resisting increases in retail taxation) and getting rid of measures that increase the cost of living and reduce employment (e.g. green levies on energy, restrictions on shop trading hours and other measures that reduce employment, opposing further QE and supporting freer trade).  

The next step is far more pervasive, and that is to change the culture of entitlement and short term whim worshipping that has been prevalent for several decades.  That means transforming the welfare state into a system of personal catastrophe insurance, scrapping benefits that encourage irresponsibility and opening up the education system beyond those who teach the culture of statism.

It's about returning to the poor and needy a sense of esteem, of belief that they can transform their lives, and that the answer is not to expect the faceless, amoral state to give it to them, but for it to get out of the way.   

All Labour is selling the poor is a patronising nanny state, that shuts down the things they like, keeps paying them to do nothing and rewarding them for breeding more, and telling them the reason they are poor is because they are big bad businesses out there ready to exploit them, and are not hiring them or paying them enough.  It's a malignant attack on personal responsibility and aspiration that keeps people addicted to the state, and it nobody any good except the politicians whose careers are built on pandering to it.