Tag Archives: David Cameron

Cameron’s Confused Conservatism: The Marriage Tax Break

During the 2010 election campaign, David Cameron made a big deal out of bashing nanny statism. He proudly stood in front of posters emblazoned with statements such “Big Society, Not Big Government” and proclaimed how “there is such a thing as society, it’s just not the same as the state.” At the same time he also reassured the electorate he was bringing back compassionate Conservatism – he would no longer be a prisoner of an ideological past and would instead promote a more socially tolerant and inclusive governing party. As well as defining himself whilst in opposition, Cameron also made it his moral duty to bully Gordon Brown over his incompetence in governance and promised a plug on the constant stream off legislation that said much, but achieved little.

Three years in to his time as Prime Minister on these three areas Cameron has had a mixed bag of policy successes and failures, his report card reads – overall he must try a lot harder. This week’s commitment to give married couples a tax break is the latest policy that highlights Dave’s shortcomings in these areas which he has pinned his colours to – it’s nanny state moralising, it’s not inclusive and it is not going to achieve a lot.

Whilst on the surface, a tax cut looks like Cameron rolling back the state, starving the beast or whichever Ayn Rand metaphor you prefer – but in reality, the measly saving for couples of £3 a week is not worth the moral statism and social paternalism that comes with it. Implementing this policy is going to come with layers of legislation to work out who is and isn’t eligible and will make individual’s marital status the business of the tax office. As well it is hardly a policy to be championed by someone who is sceptical of the state setting society’s values – remember it is supposed to be Big Society not Big Government.

The principles behind the marriage tax allowance make it exclusive and discriminatory, hardly compassionate. It discriminates against couples that don’t register their relationships with the state and it also distinguishes relationships that do not fit in to the traditional pigeonhole as undesirable. It is a slap in the face to all single parents that went through a divorce for their child’s benefit and it is ignorant to the complexity of modern relationships. It also assumes that a married family unit will produce the best outcomes for a child when in reality a child needs stability and support, not a blueprinted perfect family model.

The stated eventual goal of the marriage tax allowance is to stop the decline in the proportion of married families in the UK and to improve child outcomes. It is hard to see how the policy could incentivise marriage or halt divorce; the saving on offer is so pathetically small. The justification that it would improve child outcomes is shaky as well, Dr Patrick Nolan the Chief Economist at Reform states “The strongest evidence shows that the most important things in ensuring children get the best start in life are having a parent in work and family income. Proposals to recognise marriage in the tax system would not help reduce the number of jobless households or child poverty.”

So whilst he has stated he is an opponent of big state bureaucracy and a promoter of compassionate government, the married tax allowance is the latest in a long string of policies that conflicts with Cameron’s supposed values that he espouses.

It’s not all doom and gloom however, the saving could come in handy but not for its intended reasons. The average marriage in the UK lasts for about 12 years and the marriage tax break over that time would save a couple around £2400. This should get both parties a decent solicitor and also cover the court costs and other miscellaneous fees involved with getting a divorce – perfect.

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Syria – Considering the Basics

After David Cameron’s historic slap down from the House of Commons last week, the wheels seem to be coming off the intervention in Syria bandwagon altogether. Whilst some policy makers in the West are still adamant intervention is necessary in order to stop the use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, the case for military action is fundamentally flawed. Going back to the basics of information gathering – who, what, where, when and why? – the shortcomings of the interventionist argument become clear.

Map of Syria, showing its adjacent location we...

First of all – it is yet to be confirmed who is responsible for the attacks? The current evidence is shaky and reports from the ground are contradictory – conflicts such as this aren’t a simple case of good vs. evil. Whilst the Assad Regime is deplorable, the Rebels are no knights in shining armour. As well it should not be forgotten that the justification for the Iraq war was based upon ‘unimpeachable’ evidence that Iraq possessed WMD’s, which of course turned out to be a lie. David Cameron’s initial gung-ho attitude risked history repeating itself.

Secondly, what will an intervention look like and where will it target? It’s been stated that an intervention would be made up of ‘strategic military strikes’ and its been promised there will be ‘no boots on the ground’ – however many analysts have doubted the effectiveness and coherence of this strategy. It’s never been articulated how the desired outcome of ‘ending the slaughter’ will be achieved through the proposed military action.

Thirdly, when would said intervention be deemed a success? What if the proposed strategy fails in its goal? Do we just keep rolling the dice until we get the result we want? UN estimates over 100000 Syrians have died in the conflict; will it be deemed acceptable for this bloodshed to continue just because chemical weapons are no longer being used.

Finally and perhaps the most important question, why is military intervention the first go to option? There is little appetite from the public for an intervention based on current evidence and its effectiveness is highly doubtful for a number of reasons. Its goal has never been clearly articulated nor has conclusive evidence been used to back up its justification. Going to war is a course of action that requires a detailed plan scrutinised at every level, not a decision made on a whim that ‘something must be done.’ David Cameron has since announced he envisions the UK to lead the world in getting humanitarian aid to Syrian Refugees – it’s unfortunate that this has been considered the lesser option to an escalation of violence.

Perhaps a military intervention in Syria should not be ruled out entirely, but as things stand – where there are more questions than answers – it would be wrong for the UK to commit to a military intervention in a volatile region that would lead to more bloodshed.

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Borrowing slogans from the far-right, what could go wrong!?

When the leader of UKIP – a party that feels the need to define itself as ‘non-racist’ on its official website – describes your immigration policy as ‘nasty and unpleasant,’ chances are that there’s something wrong with it.

This week the Home Office launched a billboard campaign aiming to increase the number of illegal immigrants voluntarily handing themselves in. The large billboards placed on the back of vans feature the slogan “Go home or face arrest” and are currently on a trial tour around 6 London boroughs with high immigrant populations.

Illegal immigrants are told to text “HOME” to a number for free advice and help with travel documents. Immigration Minister Mark Harper describes the initiative as “an alternative to being led away in handcuffs.”

Recently David Cameron appears to be taking more and more leaves out of the handbook of right wing populism,  and is increasingly more keen to shadow the behaviour of the party he once dismissed as a collection of ‘fruitcakes’ and ‘closet racists’. With the prospect of UKIP repeating their recent electoral success in next year’s European elections, Cameron is trying to out-populist the champions of populism.

Irony died when Nigel Farage condemned this hard-line approach to immigration as nasty but whilst his criticisms are ironic, there is truth in what he is saying. This campaign simply is nasty, divisive and pointless. Sure it hammers home the message that the ‘Conservatives are tough on immigration’ but is it the right sort of tactic a responsible government should humour, and the costs are sure to outweigh the short term electoral benefits.

Firstly, the ad campaign is easily lamentable as ‘nasty’ racist propaganda. Sunny Hundal draws obvious similarities between the Home Office’s ‘Go Home’ slogan and the rhetoric of the National Front and BNP. Whilst the adverts are not racist themselves, should the government be so brazen about promoting and pandering to the voices of the fringe right?

Secondly, why is a subject as delicate as immigration being handled so coldly and with such brashness? Instead of approaching with some tactfulness the government has made a habit recently of trying to look tough on immigration, and coming across divisive. Earlier this month the Home Office controversially tweeted ‘there will be no hiding place for illegal immigrants with the new immigration bill’ alongside a picture of a dark skinned man being led in to the back of a van by some armoured policemen. Are whistle-dog tactics such as this wise at a time when British institutions are still accused of being racist? 

In response to the launch of the billboard campaign, the Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London held an ’emergency tension-monitoring’ meeting with Home Office officials and warned that the initiative had created ‘a sense of apprehension, tension and confusion’ amongst its clients. For a ‘compassionate conservative’, Cameron has acted consistently callously in regards to immigration

As well as being nasty and divisive, the effectiveness of such a campaign is doubtful. As Bishop Patrick Lynch identifies, the demographics of undocumented migration have changed in recent years. The vast majority of illegal immigrants are people who overstay the terms of their visas, especially students. So instead of parading around fascist slogans in ethnically diverse boroughs of London to pick up the odd dissatisfied voter, the government should focus on working with institutions dealing with immigrants and our own border control to solve this issue.

In face of all this, prominent Conservatives Boris Johnson and Nadhim Zahawi back a one-off amnesty policy that would provide a boost to the economy coinciding with tougher border policies.  There are ways to solve the illegal immigration puzzle without resorting to the language and the tactics of the far right, unfortunately this suggestion was rejected by the party hierarchy, who’ll have next years European elections in mind and irrationally fear a repeat of UKIP’s 2013 summer surge.

Finally, the absurdness of the government’s approach has led to ridicule. On twitter, the #racistvan hashtag displays what little authority the campaign holds and is a testament to the government’s incompetence.  The UK’s online wind-up merchants have been trolling the government’s campaign by flooding the billboard’s text number with prank requests for taxis home, free holidays and lifts across the country. The idea that illegal immigrants aren’t aware what they are doing is illegal and will be punished with a prison sentence as well is laughable. All this campaign does is play on the fears of disgruntled right wing voters and spark tensions in ethnically diverse areas.

So whilst trying to appear strong and tough on illegal immigrants the government in reality has come across nasty, divisive and incompetent. Theresa May once bemoaned that some people called The Conservative Party, ‘the nasty party.’ One way of rectifying this would be to avoid decrepit political stunts such as this.

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Cameron’s modernisation of the Conservative Party needs completing, not retrenching

David Cameron should remember the principles that got him in to Number 10 in response to the growing discontent from the Right.

In 2005 shortly after becoming party leader, he declared that he would not be a ‘prisoner of an ideological past’, and in the run up to the 2010 election defined himself as a ‘one nation, relatively liberal Conservative’. To stand the best chance of achieving a Conservative majority at the next general election, Mr. Cameron must reaffirm these testimonies and broaden his appeal further rather than turn his back on modernisation.

Recently there has been a marked growth in discontent towards the Prime Minister, and most notable is the grievances from the Right rather than the Left. The rise of UKIP and their populist message has frustrated the established political parties and has prompted calls for the Conservatives to assert more ‘traditional’ conservative values and reflect this with policies of that nature. A debate regarding the Party’s future is becoming more evident, a battle between ‘Swivel Eyed Loons and The Cameroons’, if you will.

In response to the growth of electoral support for UKIP the Tories’ right-wing, anti-Cameron sentiment has currently culminated with the ‘Alternative Queen’s Speech’, a number of proposals from various backbench MPs that they describe as a “genuine attempt” to show what policies a future Conservative government could deliver. Most notable of the 42 bills proposed were calls for a referendum on the Same Sex Marriage bill, abolishing the Department of Energy and Climate Change, renaming the late August Bank Holiday Margaret Thatcher Day and reintroducing National Service. All of these policies you wouldn’t be surprised to find between the covers of a would-be UKIP manifesto.

Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin identify that UKIP’s recent converts are much more likely to be low-income, financially insecure, and working class. The party is widely seen as to the right of the Conservatives – but that is not how UKIP voters view themselves. Whereas 60% of Tory voters place themselves to the right-of-centre, the figure for UKIP supporters is only 46%. Also interestingly 25% of Tories say they are in the centre, or even left-of-centre, the figure for UKIP voters is higher at 36%. (See here). This suggests it is more a protest thought process behind voting for UKIP rather than being ideologically drawn to the party.

Whilst it has enjoyed some gains recently this appears to be more of a blip than what is set to be a long-term trend. UKIP’s time in the limelight has led to just as much ridicule as acclaim and their support has already begun to dwindle.

Come 2015 the electorate will not be voting in protest as many did so in the May local elections, they will be voting for the party they believe is most competent at running the country. UKIP’s populist pick n’ mix manifesto will come under greater scrutiny between now and then, and Farage’s party have a long way to go before mounting any serious challenge of the political establishment.

That does not mean the reasons why people turned to UKIP should be ignored, however; nor should the fact that UKIP have a higher proportion of supporters from lower incomes than the other two parties. Cameron appears to be in a Catch-22 situation: He cannot afford to turn to the socially conservative right, which left his party in the wilderness for 13 years, yet he also can’t ignore the fact that increasingly he is seen as out of touch with the views of everyday people. When the public were asked, ‘Do you think that David Cameron understands people like yourself?’, the overwhelming response was a resounding ‘no’.

There is thus a belief that to restore Conservative fortunes and appeal to those that have jilted us for UKIP means reverting to more socially conservative, right-wing policies evident within the ‘Alternative Queen’s Speech’. The zealous ideological pursuit of social conservatism conflicts with the notion that the Party is the party of pragmatism. Cameron’s modernisation of the Party has been more beneficial than damaging; we have seen a 100% rise in support from younger people since he became leader and it would be wise not to stifle trends such as these. Instead of pandering to divisive politics of the past, Cameron should stand firm by his One Nation principles that he committed himself to pre-2010 in order to offer real benefits to working people.

“One Nation Conservatism” is the idea that the country is strongest and most stable when united and when social antagonisms are kept under control with relatively centrist, pragmatic politics. The debates of the 2015 election will be centred on the economy and facing the realities of government has meant that the pursuit of Thatcherite economics has replaced the compassionate conservatism Cameron promoted before 2010.

The electorate are not screaming en-masse for more Thatcherite economics in light of hard economic times. In 2009 when launching The Big Society, Cameron warned of the dangers regarding a “simplistic retrenchment of the state which assumes that better alternatives to state action will just spring to life.” As the economy shows signs of recovery Cameron should spend the next two years reassuring the public the Conservatives are not ‘enemies of the state’ but are the real One Nation Party that can represent all.

Our problem is not that the Conservatives aren’t ‘right-wing’ enough, it’s that people still don’t believe they care. David Skelton provides a useful conclusion. He notes how Cameron has rescued his party from the scrapheap once, but his modernisation is still a job half done. The move away from divisive social policies of the past is half of Conservative modernisation, but until the party does more to connect with ordinary working people, Cameron’s mission will remain unfinished business.

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Welfare Reform; a political minefield the Conservatives should tread more carefully.

Tackling the ‘welfare reform’ debate.

Anyone with the most minimal of interests in current affairs will have been subjected to all levels of delirium regarding welfare reform this past week. Whether it was drawing the connection between receiving benefits with the repulsive actions of the Philpotts, or   misty-eyed romanticism of the day dear old Blighty changed. Welfare reform can only be defined as a political minefield, one in which policy makers should tread carefully.

The reality of the welfare debate situation, like most things politically, lies somewhere in the middle. Dan Hodges of The Daily Telegraph compared the welfare “debate” to the immigration debates of the past. On the one hand there was hysteria about Britain being “swamped” by immigrants. On the other were accusations of “racism” leveled at anyone who dared suggest immigration was now presenting problems that needed to be addressed.

The Conservative Party treads clumsily and dangerously close to the hyperbole of the Daily Mail and its ilk with rhetoric of ‘shirkers versus workers’. The Labour party are just as guilty: shadow work and pensions spokesman, Liam Byrne, drew the same analogy when the times suited him.

The reality is this exaggeration doesn’t help anyone except to fill the pockets of tabloid newspaper owners. The battle between ‘shirkers and workers’ does not exist; well at least not to the levels implied. Unemployment only counts for 3% of the welfare bill as the vast majority of benefit recipients are in work.

There is a serious discussion to be had about welfare and pandering to the Daily Mail does not contribute to it. Neither does equally panicked ‘end of times’ scare mongering. Readers of the Mirror the past week might have assumed that the welfare system came to an abrupt halt on April 1st. The reality is the growth of welfare is being curbed, not the levels of it. The pre-coalition welfare system was not a perfect institution that should be left untouched: welfare spending rose each year, yet so did poverty levels and the complexity left thousands of pounds of benefits unclaimed.

It is reckless to assume that the current state of the welfare system is sustainable. However, there is a fundamental flaw with the current methodology of reform. It is a legitimate argument to enact reforms to ‘make-work pay’, but if there is no work, and little done to help workers, the idea is undermined.

The coalition promised a ‘private sector led recovery’ to economic prosperity and the idea is to compensate for jobs cut in the public sector. However employment figures are being bolstered by record growth in numbers of part-time jobs, this is neither sustainable nor desirable. Of course getting people into work is better then trapping them on welfare, but the government should not take these figures as evidence of success.

The government can do more to foster the conditions that will help small and medium businesses thrive and get people back into the job market and earning better incomes. The Adam Smith Institute has produced a report  that calls on the government to take radical steps to kick-start employment in small and medium-sized enterprises, by reducing regulation, taxation and freeing up the labour market.

David Cameron has defined his brand of Conservatism as compassionate, fitting with the One Nation Conservative tradition. The idea of One-Nationism is to prevent social class antagonisms and to prevent social unity but this is only achievable if the government do more to help those at the bottom.  They have taken steps towards helping those on low incomes by raising the personal allowance but there is more it could be doing – attacking those receiving welfare is not the right course of action.

The debate over welfare reform has politically been won. The public tend to agree that the system is in need of reform; the Labour Party are now in a testing position as to where to manoeuvre on the issue. However, just because the government has the backing of the nation, doesn’t connote what they are doing is the best course of action.

So before bashing those out of work, the coalition should focus more on creating the conditions to get people back into work. If the goal is to get people off welfare, this is only achievable if there is an alternative to welfare. The return to economic prosperity and issues regarding welfare reform are far more complex than the media have presented them in the past few days.

 @harry_fraser

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