Thursday, 21 August 2008

A feel good factor?

Will Britain's success in the Olympics do anything to create a feel good factor that will offset the Government's recent misfortunes? Harold Wilson's campaign in the 1970 general election for a 'doctor's mandate' was arguably derailed when England exited from the World Cup.

It could be argued that government policy has assisted the successes achieved with the Department of Media, Culture and Sport ensuring that National Lottery money was made available for training facilities and coaching.

However, reasonably enough, the general public will give the credit to the sportsmen and women involved, although no doubt Gordon Brown will try to milk his appearance at the closing ceremony for favourable publicity.

Compared with inflation and a depressed housing market, Olympic success will probably only provide a short-lived glow in what has been a cool and wet summer.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Getting it wrong again

One rule in politics is that you should not arouse expectations that you cannot meet, particularly if they have damaging side effects. This is what the Government has managed to do by dangling the possibility of some kind of action on stamp duty on house purchases.

Of course, given the fiscal hole they are in, the most they could offer is a suspension, or more likely a deferral, of this lucrative tax and then only for first time buyers. However, their hints have frozen the housing market with purchasers delaying transactions in the hope of cutting their tax liability.

This is once again evidence of a government having lost its touch. Pressured to produce some good news, they manage to make a mess of things again.

Vince Cable, always a sound judge of economic matters, has raised the question of why the Government are intervening in the housing market at all. Credit crunch or no credit crunch, a big correction was long overdue. The ratio between average earnings and housing prices had risen to unsustainable levels.

Of course, as the wily Vince well knows, the reason the Goverment has tried to intervene is that the whole British economy is far too reliant on the state of the housing market and in turn this has a big influence on the electoral 'feel good' factor.

An even deeper problem is an under supply of housing in Britain. The Government has tried to do something about the planning system, but has run into fierce opposition from a coalition of highly influential conservationist organisations. The 'eco towns' initiative has run into fierce NIMBY opposition and in any case was badly conceived from the start. There's little point in having carbon neutral houses (which you can build anywhere) if you have to drive miles to work.

Monday, 4 August 2008

He Who Wields the Knife ...

David Miliband should remember that he who wields the knife rarely gains the crown. Remember the example of Michael Heseltine?

His friends have been out briefing the press about a series of speeches and articles they intend to give which will turn up the heat on Gordon Brown. Blairite Stephen Byers set the erudite and innovative tone yesterday when he said that Gordon Brown's policy prescriptions were more appropriate to a 'Sunday afternoon stroll' rather than an electoral mountain.

Expect more bon mots from the likes of Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Dave 2 Is Policy Lite

Despite the sight of David Miliband signing autographs, the 'Millibandwagon' does not seem to be gathering much pace. He lacks much support among the grass roots of the Labour Party - indeed his brother Ed is more popular as he comes across as less of a policy wonk who can talk with feeling about issues like growing inequality. Many see Dave 2 as a Blair clone with having him as a leader being a step back.

Moreover, the article he published last week is remarkably policy lite. The fashionable idea of localism is at the centre of his agenda, but it is unclear how he would resolve the clash between handing power to regions over health policy and the geographical inequalities in standards of care that would inevitably result.

Devolving power and tackling global warming are sound progressive goals, but they are hardly the issues that are concerning the voters. Miliband has no ideas on tackling the economic downturn which is not surprising given that he has never held a Treasury post in government.