Thursday, 5 December 2013
I couldn't stand New Labour. I hated what it signified. But it did signify something. People heard "New Labour" or "New Labour, New Britain" and took some sort of meaning from it, whether they liked it or not. I watched Labour's viral video about Osborne's pre-budget statement and thought that it was pretty good. The shoe-horning of "One Nation" into it added nothing, though. The worry is whether it subtracted something. There's a clear line of attack for Labour here. A recovery for who? Just for the rich! But it's not quite a "one nation" line of attack.
A party doesn't necessarily need a defining idea crystalized into a two-word slogan to win an election. But there's an argument to suggest that not having one is better than having an ineffective one; one that lacks clarity.
I don't think it needs any fanfare. Nobody need make a fuss. I just think between now and the election we should slowly hear "One Nation" less and less until we don't hear it any more. I'm not sure how many people would notice.
Monday, 2 December 2013
The irony can't be lost on many that Cameron - who always says that Labour's answer to everything is "spend more and borrow more" can come up with no other solution to the cost of living crisis in relation to the big 6 energy companies.
He's happy to intervene in markets in many ways - he's had to abandon his neo-liberal instincts in the face of the overwhelming evidence that free market politics have failed - but he just can't bring himself to stand up to wealthy and powerful people. Whether they're energy bosses or the Chinese or Saudi governments, he's attracted to them and in awe of them. He'd much rather we pay - through taxation - than for successful companies to have obligations, despite the huge profits they make at the expense of the British people.
The government has sold off £900 million worth of student debt to a private debt collection company for the sum of £160 million. Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of higher education being paid for through loans for a moment (but we will return to that very shortly) this exposes the accounting trick at the heart of student loans. Over-simplifying this somewhat (obviously there was interest on these loans, and they are all from before 1998) nearly £900 million pounds of government expenditure was labelled as loans, therefore not impacting on the Public Spending Borrowing Requirement or with the convergence criteria for joining that single currency with which we were once trying to converge. But in the end the government has got merely £160 million pounds of that back - less than 20%. David Willetts justified this sale by insisting that the private sector was best placed to collect the debt. If that is true of these early loans, why (in the ideologically-driven philosophy of this ConDem government) would it not also be true of loans since 1998, including those loans that people are taking out today?
People have repeatedly pointed out that most of the loans being taken out today will never be paid back in their entirety. This news shows the extent to which the current government is not interested in that. Paying for universities via student loans has never been about saving tax-payers' money, or about making students more responsible for the "privilege" of having a degree. It has always been about turning public debt into private debt in order to fiddle the books. If it can help a few private companies make some more profit, that's a bonus.
On a broader level, George Osborne's entire economic policy is one of turning public debt into private debt. Rather than the taxpayer being liable for the national debt, individuals should be made responsible by being driven into debt. This makes sense as a policy from a Tory perspective because private debt - unlike tax - costs the rich less and the poor more. Parents of children at Eton cannot wait for them to get to university, when fees will "only" be £9000 a year, while children from middle-income backgrounds, destined for middle-income graduate jobs, will end up paying far more.
It is time that a major political party came clean about student loans, though. University education is still being paid for out of general taxation. Students are being put in debt with all that means, and will one day be chased by private loans companies who have bought the loans for a fraction of their cost. Labour should take the risk of promising the abolition of tuition fees. It makes no real difference to the deficit or to the tax payer but every difference to a large number of students and their families. It would win votes too!