The Great Debate UK
from The Great Debate:
It was the Welsh sage Alan Watkins who remarked that a budget that looked good the day it was delivered to the British Parliament was sure to look terrible a week later, and vice versa. The avalanche of new information dumped by the Treasury is simply too much to grasp at a single sitting, and governments tend to bury bad news in a welter of statistics. And so it proved with finance minister George Osborne’s budget served up last week.
The immediate headlines stressed that rich Brits would pay less income tax – down from 50 percent to 45 percent – but it only took a day before even traditional Conservative cheerleaders like the Daily Mail were condemning Osborne for funding tax breaks for bankers and billionaires by stealing from those living in retirement. The paper’s cover screamed: “Osborne picks the pockets of pensioners.”
Osborne insists he is sticking to his “Plan A” to reduce the public deficit by sharply cutting state spending by 25 percent over the five-year parliament and imposing severe austerity. Because he believes his “Plan A” is on target, all he needed was a touch on the tiller. He therefore designed his budget to be fiscally neutral – that is, for every tax cut there was a corresponding tax increase. He put up tobacco and alcohol duties and sliced a little off corporation tax.
Osborne’s broader economic experiment, however, is fast faltering. If it were a drug trial, doctors would be urgently taking patients off the snake oil and feeding them the placebo. In 2010, he inherited from Gordon Brown’s Labour government a fast-rising recovery in economic growth, but now, after two years, GDP is headed south, and Britain is teetering on the edge of a government-inspired double-dip recession. In the last quarter of last year, GDP shrank by 0.3 percent.
An E.U. protest vote by members of his own party has knocked the UK prime minister. For the moment, the Conservative party rebellion is largely symbolic.
The news that China is engaged in talks over the building of a rival to the Panama Canal ought to set alarm bells ringing in Washington – and not just because of its obvious geopolitical implications. It is yet another sign that the Chinese have finally woken up to the fact that relending their hoard of dollars straight back to the USA is not a very smart policy, at least not as long as the Federal Government carries on spraying out greenbacks like a tipsy GI on furlough, and without Chinese support, the outlook for the Treasury bond market looks threatening.
Those who argue that it is a bad time for imposing austerity should be ignored – in the good times there was no sense of urgency, and in any case deficit reduction has to be a multiyear project. The Federal deficit is running at over 10 percent of GDP and the projections for the coming decade on unchanged policies are too frightening to contemplate.
-Clive Stafford Smith is the founder and director of Reprieve. The opinions expressed are his own.-
It may be the most mean-spirited thing that David Cameron has yet said since he assumed the mantle of Prime Minister: “It makes me physically ill even to contemplate having to give the vote to anyone who is in prison.” It makes me physically ill to hear an elected official say such a thing.
- Mark Kobayashi-Hillary is the author of several books, including ‘Who Moved my Job?’ and ‘Global Services: Moving to a Level Playing Field’. The opinions expressed are his own. –
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is on a mission to shore up support within his own party for the tripling of university tuition fees. The Liberal Democrats campaigned with a manifesto pledge claiming they would axe fees if they ever got into power. They got the power, but only via a coalition with the Conservative party, and though they claim that some Lib Dem pledges survived the coalition talks, the policy on tuition fees actually went the other way.
It was billed as a bloodbath, and it is. By slashing public spending by 81 billion pounds over five years, Britain's coalition government is reversing the big increases of previous years. The plan is billed as necessary pain to secure the country's financial future, but it is also ideological. The aim is to move from unaffordable levels of public employment and welfare to private employment and a balanced budget. The danger, however, is that the economy stalls.
The cuts to the civil service are drastic and will cause distress, even though most departments' budgets over the life of the parliament have been reduced by a fifth, not the threatened quarter. The BBC, the foreign office, the police, even the royal family: none have been spared. The government wants services to be delivered more cheaply -- which means by fewer people.
- Mark Kobayashi-Hillary is the author of several books, including ‘Who Moved my Job?’ and ‘Global Services: Moving to a Level Playing Field’. The opinions expressed are his own. -
Prime Minister David Cameron has loaded a 747 full of British business leaders and government ministers, all on a charm offensive aimed at securing deeper trade ties between the two nations. But what is he offering the Indians?
With his admission last week that Britain plays second fiddle to America, David Cameron has an opportunity to get one over Barack Obama during his much trumpeted first Prime Ministerial visit to India.
Last week, on his first Prime Ministerial visit to the United States, David Cameron conceded that Britain was the “junior partner” in the special relationship. Next week, I fear that at the end of the much anticipated visit to India, he may yet again, have to concede that Britain is the junior partner in this ever increasing important relationship.
By Ian Campbell
– The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are their own –
Just in government and David Cameron’s relationships are in question. Eyebrows have been raised about the prime minister’s friendship with an Old Lady, sometimes known as the Bank of England. The affection appears reciprocated by Mervyn King, the Bank’s governor. But to think the Old Lady’s independence is compromised is probably to take things too far. The bank’s current low interest rate policy looks more than just a political favour.