Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Arundells and Edward Heath

Yesterday I visited Arundells, the home in Salisbury's Cathedral Close of Edward Heath. Coincidentally, I have just finished reading Dominic Sandbrook's history of the Heath Governnment, State of Emergency.

Thoroughly researched and well written as all of his books are, Sandbrook social conservatism is on display: perhaps even his big C Conservatism as he is now fulfilled the ambition that many academics dream of, giving up his post to write full time. And where has he moved? Chipping Norton.

Sandbrook's basic verdict on Heath is that he did not lack the vision thing, but tried to do too much too quickly against a difficult social and economic bacground (remind you of David Cameron?) Heath was a modernising technocrat who thought you could win through by rational argument but his communication skills were poor (perhaps because he was emotionally stunted).

Arundells is well worth visiting just for the garden (which you can go round if you can't get into the house which you have to book ahead for). It is beautifully designed and ends in a river and some water meadows while walking back to the house gives you a fine view of the spire of Salisbury Cathderal (which has an interesting contemporary sculpture exhibition on at the moment).

For a political enthusiast, the highlights include the collection of photos on the grand piano which includes one of Heath with Fidel Castro, an unlikely pairing. Bill Clinton was hidden in a draw for a while, apparently.

Another highlight is the 'cartoon corridor'. It's interesting how quickly political reputations fade as I had to explain to other visitors who John Davis (of 'lame ducks' fame) was. Indeed, I bumped into our Conservative MP at the station in the morning and he clearly regards Heath as prehistoric which in a way he is.

If you want to see Arundells, you might have to go quickly as the trustees are trying to sell it off as they can't afford the upkeep although they are encountering some resistance: Arundells

If this was the States, the house would be part of a presidential library and run as a national monument. Here there might be a case for the National Trust to take over. They would bring some commercial savvy to the operation such as asking visitors to add Gift Aid to the rather modest fee. It would be a shame if the unique collections in the house were dispersed.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Proceed with caution

Apparently some consideration is being given to replacing the 50 per cent tax rate by increasing the 40 per cent rate to 45 per cent. The 50 per cent rate (63 per cent if one takes account of national insurance) is, of course, loaded with political symbolism in terms of 'punishing the rich' but is totally ineffective in terms of generating any additional net revunue. It just complicates further an already complicated tax system.

However, in political terms one has to be very careful about increasing the 40 per cent rate. It brings within its net a considerable number of people who are potentially Conservative voters. One could, of course, increase the threshhold (which has fallen behind increasing salaries) to reduce the impact but this could minimise the revenue raising effect.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Scenarios for the UK economy

Blog from the IMF setting out possible scenarios for the UK economy. They think that a gradual recovery is most likely, but call for nimble policy responses if that doesn't happen: Economy

They anticipate a gradual acceleration of growth to 2.5 per cent which would be good if it happened, although I am less sanguine than them about productivity. It's also worth noting that two of their scenarios refer to high inflaton which is what is really squeezing incomes rather than austerity.