Sunday 5 May 2024

Conservatives whistling in the dark

All but one mayoralty taken except Tees Valley, where the victor did not identify as a Conservative; all council targets taken by Labour except Harlow; the Lib Dems winning more council seats than the Conservatives; a clear win for Sadiq Khan in London despite attempts by Laura 'Tory' Kussenberg to call it for the Conservatives.  Yet Andrew Mitchell was describing it as a 'mixed' set of results.

I have met Andy Street and he was an energetic focused individual who did a lot for the West Midlands.  He disassociated himself from Sunak and he is quite right to warn that going hard right is not a winning formula for the Conservatives.

A nine per cent Labour lead over Conservatives does not mean a hung Parliament as there will not be a 24 per cent other vote in a general election, but clearly Labour has some work to do with former Muslim supporters.

The Lib Dems are threatening the blue wall and won Dorset but a breakdown of the Devon and Cornwall PCC results suggests that they are not making headway in their former strongholds there, indeed Labour is doing better.

Congratulations to Count Binface on getting more votes than a fascist in London.   And why did the Conservatives run a head banger as a candidate when better alternatives were available?

On Thursday I kept an eye on the polling station opposite my partner's flat and the North Leamington elite were storming to the polls - although most voters seemed to be under 35 and over 60.   Labour held the Clarendon ward in the by-electiion with 52 votes and failed by 216 to win the Warwickshire PCC.

This is a government on its last legs.

Wednesday 17 April 2024

The Royal Mail crisis

I have been running an online campaign locally about the deterioration of Royal Mail services which has attracted a lot of support from others.   I would often go ten days without a delivery and then fifteen to twenty items would arrive, some of them time sensitive.

I eventually managed to contact the office of the chairman/CEO's office at Royal Mail and to be fair they contacted me by phone and by email and I suspect that they gave local management a bit of a kick up the backside.   Deliveries have improved.

In response they said: 'I have contacted the Manager at Leamington Spa Delivery Office who has advised they have had issues with deliveries due to high sick absence running at 20% as well as twelve vacancies they have at present.  Your delivery round is not getting fully delivered daily and they are working on ensuring there is a rotation on the delivery round to ensure mail is delivered every other or third day.'  [Clearly this was not happening].

Royal Mail is actively recruiting for these vacancies and once these vacancies are filled and staff return to work there will be an improvement in deliveries.   [One person locally alleged that these vacancies were not advertised and they had tried to obtain a position without success].

On the phone I was told that 'no one wants to be a postman any more', but perhaps the pay and conditions need to be better for a job that takes you out in all weathers and can involve meeting unfrienly dogs.

Ofcom is currently running a consultation on the future of the universal delivery obligation.   Royal Mail points out that we are posting fewer letters (of course, they keep putting the cost up).   They would like to remove the Saturday delivery and deliver second class mail every other day.

Some argue that Royal Mail should never have been privatised, although the example of the Post Office and some local authorities suggests that public sector managers are not necessarily better.   My hunch would be us that it is not a sector that attracts the best managers.

I think thare are a number of solutions rathe than a further deterioration in service, although cynically it could be argued that poor service plays into Royal Mail's hands as an every other day service would be better than what I have been getting.

One solution would be to recognise that there is a social element to the service and pay a subsidy for it as happens in France.

Another would be to allow customers to pay for a better service.   I don't want to read my news magazines digitally and buying them from the newsagent would mean a loss of discount (for newspapers I get vouchers).  So I would not lose out much if I had to pay for a six day a week service.

Thursday 15 February 2024

More tax cuts will endanger public services

The Financial Times this morning has a story that Jeremy Hunt is considering further cuts in public expenditure to make room for tax giveaways to boost Tory election hopes.   As the Pink 'Un notes, Hunt's current plans to increase public expenditure by just 1 per cent would imply real cuts.

We are surrounded by examples of deteriorating public services in 'broken Britain'.  Many people cannot access NHS dental services and have had to extract their own teeth.  There is a huge backlog in the courts and buildings are in such a poor state that trials have been delayed.  Even well-run local authorities don't have enough cash to meet their statutory duties. 

Of course, Hunt is setting a trap for Labour who, apart from some modest increases, have pledged not to increase taxes.   The tax burden is at its highest for a very long time, but it is very difficult to see how needed improvements in public services can be funded.

Unfortunately, voters can't have it both ways: lower taxes and better public services.  With the economy in a technical recession and generally flat lining there is no medium-term path out through growth.  As a report from Goldman Sachs make clear, Brexit has hit GDP.

It is possible that interest rates will start to fall and this will reduce the very high cost of servicing the public debt.  About a quarter is index linked and new gilts are being used at higher rates than previously.

Kicking the can down the road doesn't help with the the PFI contracts favoured by New Labour coming home to roost with schools having to over pay for maintenance.

Who would be a decision-maker?

Friday 9 February 2024

What are the lessons of 1992?

A young relative told me yesterday that after Keir Starmer reduced Labour's planned funding for green investment he will vote Green rather than Labour.  There were similar responses from Radio 5 listeners.

Last week The Spectator had an interesting article on the Green threat to Labour,  Apparently, local polling shows that the Greens are just four points behind in Bristol West, the seat of the shadow culture secretary.

In many ways I think that Labour could also lose some votes to Reform in red wall seats for rather different reasons.   Other Labour voters may stay at home and I think that turnout will be down despite the importance of the election.

Keir Starmer was caught between a rock and a hard place.   He was open to charges of fiscal irresponsibility.   The public finances are in a shocking state.   Conservative plans for public spending allow for only very small real increases when the problem of 'broken Britain' is all too evident.

Reference is quite often made to the surprise Conservative victory in 1992.  Circumstances were different and it is easy to draw the wrong lessons.

I have contributed a chapter to a forthcoming book on John Smith and my concluding paragraphs are relevant:

'One lesson that has lodged itself in the Labour Party’s collective memory has been the myth of the shadow budget.   It is thought to demonstrate that the party must be very cautious about any proposal to increase taxation.  However, the Smith legacy is more complex than that.   Reassuring the international financial community, the City of London that Labour offered a safe pair of hands ‘tended To squeeze out anything too radical or distinctive, diminishing any positive sense of what the Labour Party stood for … Labour risked being portrayed as a pale imitation of the Conservatives.’ 

Labour runs that same risk today under Keir Starmer.  Of course, any new Labour government would have a difficult economic inheritance: low growth, poor productivity and historically high levels of taxation.   It is not unreasonable to reassure business that there would be a more constructive relationship and less erratic policy-making than under Boris Johnson or Liz Truss.  However, Labour has to offer something beyond a more competent version of the Conservatives.  Policy commitments are continually being diluted.   A policy that has become emblematic of this tendency is the refusal to contemplate removing the Conservative Government’s two child benefit cap.   Potential Labour voters faced with an offer of prudence and business as usual may decide to vote for the Greens or not vote at all.'


[ii] Stuart, John Smith, p.194.

Monday 5 February 2024

No silver bullet for UK economy

UK in a Changing Europe has brought out an important report on the state of the UK Economy in 2024 edited by Anan Menon and Jonathan Portes.   It shows that there is no silver bullet for the UK economy and many of the problems are very familiar.   However, it is thorough, authoritative and comprehensive:

Monday 9 October 2023

Brexit regrets, but little appetite for change

A report on the attitude of voters to Brexit shows that they feel negatively about the course it has taken so far and are pessimistic about future prospects.  However, relatively few would change their vote (albeit more Leavers) and there is little appetite for a new referendum and a real sense of fatugue wth the whole debate:

Tuesday 26 September 2023

Familiar challenges, new solutions?

This is a good summary of the economic performance and institutional challenges facing the UK:

As someone who has been following the economic performance debate since the mid 1960s, it doesn't tell me much that is new, but that in a sense just reinforces the size of the challenge, particularly given the fiscal constraints.

Whilst the UK clearly needs a systematic industrial strategy rather than the ad hoc one we have at present, we need to learn from the policy mistakes of the past.