Been a floating voter most of my life, so I am monitoring my own reactions to the beginnings of the next general election campaign with interest.
George Osborne’s sudden conversion to the idea of a decent minimum wage does him no good. I’ve always objected to Labour’s support for it, on the grounds that you cannot just write a minimum wage; you have to create the circumstances for it. The fact that Osborne knows this very well makes his new piety for the idea even harder to take.
As for Ed Miliband, his latest pitch is also a disappointment. Out here, we are certainly in a mood for a bit of banker-bashing, but we know he knows that and we suspect he is more concerned with being seen to Do Something than he is with doing something which might do some good.
Michael Deacon said it well in his sketch on Miliband’s presentation in the Telegraph of 18.11.14: “The ideas may not be new but the theme was familiar. Ed is the little guy daring to stand up to the bullies. The question, I suppose, is whether the public wants the country to be run by a little guy.”
* The government has recently been embarrassed to discover it is paying child allowances for children who have a parent working in this country, even if the children are still in Poland or wherever. It seems reasonable to wonder if this factor has been included in all the studies which show that immigrants contribute more than they cost – and, if not, what other oblique costs might have been missed.
Meanwhile, my Institute of Alternomics has previously proposed that Child Allowance should become School Attendance Allowance, paid through schools to one agreed guardian per child. It would be a simple way to cut both social security fraud and truancy with no additional bureaucracy. And, the Institute suggests, it would be a way of restricting entitlement to the allowance without contravening European agreements on equal treatment for all workers?
* I have not yet watched Benefit Street but I have been there, in various places, and I am once again amazed at the amazement a glimpse of it can cause.
It was the same when the faked kidnapping of Shannon Matthews drew attention to her estate in Dewbury. Where were all these open-mouthed commentators, you had to wonder, during the 30 or 40 years it took to build places like it?
The same applies to the complaints about journalistic trickery. If the participants do not like what they now see, it is the Rage of Caliban. They have all seen enough tv to know how it works, surely. They simply couldn’t resist the lure of fame.
As usual, the argument should be about economics, not morality.
Fraser Nelson, in Spectator 18.1.14,pointed out: “The biggest scandal of Benefits Street, which Channel 4 is unlikely to reveal, is that White Dee is behaving rationally in deciding not to work. This is not something ministers like to divulge, but Policy in Practice, a welfare and employment consultancy, has run the figures for The Spectator. Dee is a single mother with two young children. Were she to earn, say, £90 a week as a cleaner, then the system would reduce her benefits by £70 — an effective tax rate of 78 per cent on that £90 she’s earned. She’d thus be slaving away all week for £20 — far less than the minimum wage. It doesn’t get too much better higher up the scale. If she landed a £23,000-a-year job, her effective tax rate would still be 74 per cent – so she’d end up just £5,975 a year better off than if she’d spent the year sitting on the sofa watching daytime TV and chatting to her pals on the street. If she then worked extra hours, or earned a pay rise, she’d keep a pitiful 9p in every extra pound paid. This is nothing to do with indolence. Which of us would work at a 91 per cent tax rate?”
I was also interested to note, in a Telegraph report by Neil Tweedie, that the dilapidated terrace houses of James Turner Street, where Benefit Street was filmed, fetch £600 a month in rent – far more than any of the tenants would be likely to afford if they had to come up with the money themselves, and another example of the gross market distortions created by housing benefit.
Labour spends too much time trying to write rules to make the poor richer. It is hard to do. It might do more good to concentrate on making it easier to be poor – cutting the costs of housing and child-care, for example, rather than raising the standards, and reducing energy consumption rather than closing perfectly good coal furnaces in order to hit carbon targets.
* Enjoyed Charles Moore of the Spectator putting in a much-needed word in the Telegraph of 18.1.14 for Lord Rennard, the podgy peer accused of trying it on with young female Lib Dems; cleared by a lawyer’s report which said it would be hard to make a case against him; but now under pressure to apologise for being “inappropriate”.
Moore said: “If he were now to follow Mr Clegg’s call and ‘do the decent thing” by admitting he had done some indecent things, he would be saying sorry without exactly knowing what he was saying sorry for. He would be contradicting his own witnesses. He would also lay himself open to civil damages in actions brought by all the women. He would be ruined, morally and financially.
“Lord Rennard has done a great many things for the Liberal Democrats in his career. Essentially, the party is asking him to do one last, supreme thing. It wants him to get it off the hook by making a stammering confession of a guilt which it has not established. It is the wet pinko version of a Stalinist show trial. Lord Rennard is quite right to refuse.
“But my purpose is not to say how awful the Liberal Democrats are. It is rather to ask why so many Clegg-like people whose main preoccupation in life is to be seen to do the right thing (as opposed to actually doing it) get in such a mess over such cases.
“It starts with a good change, which is that the public is much more aware than it used to be that some authority figures abuse their power for their sexual advantage.
“From this awareness comes the realisation that the abusers exploit their power not only to commit the wrong in the first place, but also to make sure that the system crushes the abused. Hence the long, terrified silence of many who suffered. Hence, nowadays, the protests of many who did complain and got nowhere or complained and were punished for it.
“From this, in turn, comes a key, dangerous sentence: ‘The victims complained – but they were not believed.’ It is, indeed, a very awful thing to be the victim of a crime or wrong, and to find that people do not believe you. But that key sentence is producing a new, large-scale wrong. It assumes that everyone who says she or he is a victim, is.”
We will probably return later in this series to the witch-hunt now in progress over the sexual behaviour of another era, although we can reasonably doubt that any professional politician will dare to do anything about it.
Meanwhile, because it has some oblique relevance and it should not be missed, I must give a mention, in case I pick up a reader, to rather a good report in the Observer Magazine of 19.1.14 by the actor Rupert Everett, arguing that a crackdown on “people trafficking” in Soho is mainly just making life hard for honest prostitutes. He followed some of them from a raid through to a court hearing and tells a persuasive story of justice misdirected at http://tinyurl.com/nebk9r4/