Archive for July 20th, 2009

Lord’s reform, public spending cuts and ‘various locals’.

July 20, 2009

Reform of the House of Lords has been endlessly looked at, attempted, fiddled with and deferred by both parties. Various combinations of elected and appointed peers have been suggested. ‘People’s peers’ have been suggested. Even now, as we approach the second decade of the 21st century there are still 92 hereditary peers.
Reform of the Lords will not do, it must be abolished in its entirety. Our present system of government is a positive hindrance to a nation embarking on as much change and adaptation as we are going to face this century.
We need a clean sheet redesign to permit agile, dynamic, responsive, innovative and clean government.
My preferred option is a unicameral (one chamber-) triaxial (-composed of three elements) system in which all members are elected, the public has direct continuous involvement, the constructive collaborative engagement of all is required and rewarded and the composition of the chamber is changed by Single Transferable Vote elections for one of the axes every two years.
See:  for fuller details of my proposal.
The nation’s finances are in such a dire state that public spending is going to have to be cut and taxes raised – or maybe something more adventurous and forward looking should be done. The massive debts we now bear, £799 billion, are so great that the UK is in some danger of having its credit rating lowered, which would make the interest on the debt financing even more onerous.
Total departmental spending in 2007/8 was £586.35 billion, of which the two largest components are the Department for Work and Pensions (£137.7 billion) and the Department of Health (£105.7 billion). Debt interest was £29.9 billion.
What would I cut?
Replacing Trident would be very costly, even if firm figures are hard to come by. £100 billion up to 2050 has been quoted in The Telegraph in 2007. If we are to remain a nuclear armed country then cruise missiles would represent a much cheaper, more flexibly deployable and less easily pre-empted option. Let’s take a figure of £25 billion saved – to be on the conservative side.
ID cards are of uncertain value in their present form, either in terms of their resistance to counterfeiting or deterrence of crime. We should await the development of more resilient technologies. The ability to determine a person’s identity on demand has obvious benefits in many situations but it will be much better to get the project right first time. The savings from abandoning or deferring the scheme vary according to who you ask – let’s take a middle range figure of £2 billion. The savings I would hope to gain are not only monetary.
The NHS ‘market’ is a ruinously expensive method of providing healthcare and also is in absolute conflict with the inherently collaborative, coherent and constructive nature of the processes of care. Taking the transaction costs of the USA system as a guide, approximately 15-25%, we discover an immediate bonus for the NHS of, say, £20 billion. This could be taken either as reducing the need for future increased health spending whilst maintaining current service levels or as a smaller overall spend now. It is worth noting that the largest single element in those USA transaction costs is used to fund ways and means of refusing payments to claimants.
The Private Finance Initiative has been one of the most audacious frauds on the British public in recent times. Buying out the existing health related PFI schemes alone would save £2.4 billion.
The personal and corporate tax regimes are notoriously complicated and evasion prone. A £16+ billion annual transaction cost of the present system is at the low end of the range of estimates. If we take £500 billion as a ballpark figure of current or recent past annual tax receipts then the potential scale of the savings available from radical simplification of the entire tax regime becomes apparent. In addition to which, the savings on accountancy charges for individuals and companies would be a welcome bonus.
See: for a fuller discussion of my tax plans.
If implemented, I believe my plans would give scope for a reduction in personal and corporate taxes soon, if not immediately. All the usual parties are grudgingly starting to outline tax raising options; they should take another look at radical reform instead. When additional tax raising powers are required I would prefer to start with ‘double dividend’ arrangements, such as increased ‘sin’ taxes – the most obvious of which in our present environmental difficulties would be carbon taxation. This is, in effect, voluntary taxation – no one has to pay it, unless they indulge in whatever is targeted by the tax.
In an earlier blog I mentioned the recent Tynedale FM question time. Opperman, I subsequently discover, is experimenting with an interesting approach to the eternal dilemma of how to win friends and influence people in a far off land. In his blog account of the recent local radio question time, to which all candidates were invited, I found myself described as ‘various locals’. Saucy pup!

I shall wear the moniker with pride – it says so much about his view of all of us – constituents and candidates alike.  We shall know when this Tory strategy has really hit pay dirt because the Grands Fromages of the Conservative party will appear in Hexham loudly declaring an undying and previously wholly unsuspected concern for all things pertaining to Hexham.


Political reform, assisted suicide and local markets

July 20, 2009

The broadcast and published media and the blogosphere are alive with ideas for reforming politics. The expenses scandal, the policy vacuum from both major parties, the recession, the AfPak debacle and so much more are all pointers toward an urgent need for root and branch reform. The existing political class cannot and will not take the necessary action, whether from an instinctive self-preservation or inability to grapple with the issue.
Amongst the better contributions is this:
Which in turn refers to this:
The continuing problems in Westminster are a challenge to the electorate and an invitation to reform. Will we take this opportunity or will we vote for more of the same? At least in Hexham there will be a true choice – an Independent.
The assisted suicide or Sir Edward and Lady Downes at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland has occupied many column inches in the press in recent days. Coming, as it does, so close to the recent Lords debate that resulted in a measure intended to liberalise the law in the UK being defeated, the news lends urgency to the need for reform.
I am completely confident that a law can be framed that permits the proper exercise of individual autonomy. Both those who choose maximum medical effort to preserve life at all costs and those who wish to choose the time, place and manner of their passing must be accommodated – surely this cannot be impossible?
Doctors too are divided on the issue. The legislation will need to be framed to accommodate their wishes. The question must also be asked; does it have to be a doctor who provides the assistance?
Who should be involved in such a decision? The individual, obviously, but whom else? A doctor who knows the person’s history, a doctor who is independent, a lawyer, a judge, an impartial third party, a committee of some sort…? This and many other questions remain to be debated and decided.
Contemplating one’s own death is a potentially unsettling experience but better to have given it some thought and informed appropriate family and friends than to leave it to them to sort things out when you can no longer contribute to the discussion. Even your closest relative or friend may get the answer wrong and that, presumably, would be the last thing that you would want – literally.
In the Hexham constituency we are blessed with many local produce markets. Not only are these prize-winning but they are the way of the future. Local produce for local people! The food is excellent. The food miles are minimal. The local economy benefits. People have the opportunity to take an interest in what they are eating.
Support local growers and producers – shop in your local market.