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Rene Kinzett

Clarke v Howard (and no prizes for guessing who I’m cheering on!)

June 30th, 2010 by René Kinzett

Clarke v Howard on the issue of crime and punishment has pretty much dominated the political news today.

Sitting back and enjoying the sounds of two big beasts slamming into each other is what politics should be all about. Clarke, the fearless champion of the cause of One Nation Toryism and the patron saint of the sartorially-challenged, up against Howard, the sharper, more elegant voice of the hard-right. No prizes for guessing who I’d be holding the bucket and sponge for in this fight. And its not just because I am an unashamed Tory Reform Group nut, but its also has a lot to do with the fact that Clarke is just so right on this issue.

On just so many counts Clarke had the better of Howard. Clarke made the obvious point that, despite the doubling of the prison population since he was Home Secretary some 17 years ago (April 1992 – May 1993), the fear of crime has not lessened and can still be a debilitating factor for vulnerable people, particularly the elderly and it continues to lead to isolation. Others have followed up Ken’s line of thought and have given some great statistical analysis of the efficacy of prison versus other sanctions in the criminal justice toolkit for dealing with offenders in the hope of reducing reoffending rates.

But it really comes down, in the end, to what one wishes to measure. If by the “efficacy” of offender management programmes you, like me, understand it to mean  the reduction in offending, the rehabilitation of the offender and the gradual process of lessening the fear of crime, then you will no doubt be cheered by the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary’s words. If, however, you were to take the Howard view on life and believe that “prison works” on the basis that it is a “punishment”, then you will also probably also believe that the Daily Mail ought to replace the Sentencing Guidelines Council.

I was rather pleased with the quick but effective demolition job done on Howard’s time as Home Secretary by MaryRiddell over at the Daily Telegraph. The rapid gallop through the poor political judgement shown by Howard and the gaffes which occured during his time at the helm of the Home Office (the Department then in charge of prisons) is nearly as fun as when Ann Widdecombe quipped that her former boss had “something of the night” about him…a Google search about which led me to this rather amusing video!

Essentially, Ken Clarke has to take the lead in addressing the burgeoning prison population and the “value for money” question hanging over our criminal justice system. If sending a heroin-addicted offender off to a residential treatment centre makes him 43% less likely to reoffend and saves the taxpayer somewhere near to £200,000 in cost of the programme and the knock-on savings from dealing with far fewer victims, then surely Ken is right to turn Howard’s “prison works” ethos on its head.

The first cuts….

June 22nd, 2010 by René Kinzett

The short period of time between the General Election and now has been littered with “watersheds” and “political landmarks and today’s Budget has given us yet another “historic moment”. However, the now almost familiar sight of the LibDem Leader sharing the Front Bench with Cameron and Osborne makes one wonder when the Labour Party will themselves grow bored of screaming “but you are sitting with the TOOOORIES” at the Liberal Democrats.

Sadly, about the only consistent theme of opposition from the Opposition to today’s Budget has been just that – a tired and rather tiresome attack that seems to rely on the fact that the LibDems MPs don’t actually know that they are in coalition with the Conservatives and that if only Labour MPs can shout loudly enough and go on about it enough then the poor hapless dears will wake up, see a Tory and run for the hills.

Another tactic employed by Labour MPs today was the “but we’re nicer than them” argument, a wheeze designed to get under the skin of the leftist elements of the LibDems. This involved a parade of Labourites slamming the Conservatives’ record in govenrment (ummmm….I’m trying to remember back then, too….) and then rather unconvincingly painting a picture of the Utopian landscape of the toppled Labour Government. The vetran LibDem MP Malcolm Bruce did try telling Labour MPs that they had 13 years to put through progressive and radical budgets but instead chose, in 1997, to give the rich the largest single Capital Gains cut than any previous government.

Now that everyone knows that Brown and Darling cooked the books prior to the election in terms of fiddling the growth figures, the arguments against making public spending cuts and adjusting taxation now seem even more hollow and knee-jerk than before. A public sector pay freeze, an end to middle-class benefits and a war on waste in government spending are all welcome developments, as is the rise in Capital Gains Tax (something which I called for before the Budget), a banking levy (again something I supported and was much derided for by some fellow Conservatives) and the gradual increases in the income threshold for the lower-rate tax band.

The VAT increase from 17.5% to 20% has, of course, been seized upon by the ghosts of the old regime as an outrageous attack on the poor and destitute. VAT has always caused political rows and, of course, a tax on goods and services paid by everyone at the same flat rate regardless of income does not strike one immediately as a “good thing”. David Cameron himself, before the election, attacked VAT as a regressive tax and the LibDems said that they would not be looking to raise the current rate of 17.5%, but stealthily avoided making that a policy commitment. Given the state of public finances and the other options for income tax changes and other fiscal measures, the VAT rise of 2.5% seems like the lesser of several evils to me.

What strikes me about the Budget process as a whole is the collegiate and rather consensual way that the Coalition Government is working, not just internally but also in its outward-facing relations. Businesses, trades unions, local government, charities and other groups have been engaged with and will continue to be engaged with by a Government that not only commanded the majority of the support of the electorate at the last election, but which, by its very nature, must govern in the wider national interest as opposed to narrow sectional interests.

Unavoidably, there has been much talk and “analysis” (made up round the table at lunchtime by lazy journos) of splits and “challenges” for the Coalition at the time of its first Budget, but the LibDems and Conservatives are serious political parties, both want to be able to offer the nation a better future and to improve the prospects for our economy, jobs and society. This project, unlike others built on the shifting sands of focus groups and media headlines, will stay the course.

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Wales, Power and Clegg’s blindspot

June 9th, 2010 by René Kinzett

This week has thrown up some interesting events in the continuing row over when the people of Wales will be able to decide for themselves whether or not their National Assembly should have more powers.

The Labour/Plaid Cymru Coalition Government Agreement (these coalitions are all the rage, you know) pledged to hold a referendum on the proposals of the All Wales Convention to seek more powers to be transferred from Westminster to Cardiff Bay this autumn.

However, on coming into office, the new Secretary of State for Wales Cheryl Gillan found that the cupboard was somewhat bare in terms of any serious preparations to hold the poll any time before next spring.

Despite Peter Hain’s huffing and puffing that he, as Welsh Secretary, did everything to ensure that an autumn referendum could be held, this week the National Assembly’s Chief Legal Advisor Keith Bush told the Welsh Assembly Government in a report seen by the BBC said that there was “not enough time for the constitutional process to be completed”.

The Wales powers story has also witnessed the first “clarification” to be issued from Downing Street on behalf of the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg. On Monday the Deputy PM told the Commons that the Government did “support a yes vote” in the referendum. Later on in the day, Downing Street officials had to admit that Mr Clegg’s remarks were a “slip of the tongue” and that what he meant to indicate was the Government’s support for the referendum going ahead in the spring of next year. Hmmmm.

As though matters couldn’t get worse for Clegg as far as Wales is concerned, an Assembly Member from his own party has accused the Deputy Prime Minister of having a “blind spot when it comes to Wales”. Peter Black AM wrote in his blog that this blind spot needed to be “corrected soon before it is misinterpreted and used to undermine the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ longstanding commitment to a full law-making Welsh parliament and reform of the Barnett formula”. Nothing like washing dirty laundry in public, is there Peter?

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A question of taxation and fairness

June 7th, 2010 by René Kinzett

The continued speculation as to whether David Cameron will see through to the end the proposals to move the rates of Capital Gains Tax closer into line with Income Tax thresholds is proving to be the most controversial episode yet in the life of the Coalition Government.

Whilst the move to push CGT rates up to 40% or above has unsurprisingly pressed the Daily Mail to plead the case for the “hardworking families who have made long-standing investments for their future”, a more authoritative analysis and call for a rethink has come from the Chartered Institute of Taxation, who have warned of “unintended consequences” of rushing through CGT reforms, including “a fire sale” of shares and buy-to-let properties.

The row between right-wing Conservative MPs, the Liberal Democrats and Conservative Cabinet Ministers will rumble on until this matter is settled. What cannot be denied is that the deficit inherited from Labour needs to be tackled and tackled now. The opening shots in the spending cuts programme have been made, but represent a tiny fraction of the overall spending deficit. Now we need some serious, sober and courageous reforms to taxation aimed at increasing revenue and reducing our deficit yet further.

The main arguments about the CGT debate, to my mind, centre on “fairness” and the way in which “middle income” earners perceive the changes. The vast majority of UK taxpayers will never be troubled by concerns over paying CGT, yet it is middle earners who are being used as pawns in the argument between the Government and its critics. The desire of the middle-classes to one day, in the hoped for not-too-distant-future to be one of those who are in the CGT-liable category of taxpayers, drives their feeling of the “unfairness” of proposals to bring CGT into line with Income Tax.

As Patrick Collinson points out in the Guardian, the CGT proposals are not likely to cause the “nest egg” investors a great deal of trouble, rather the property speculators who have borrowed money to fund buy-to-let properties and other “unproductive” short-term investments. He also wonders whether the shift from these investments into other vehicle such as Venture Capital Trusts and Enterprise Investment Schemes in order to avoid any new CGT liabilities (as being advised by many Financial Advisers)  might not be such a bad idea.

In any case, surely the system of Tapering Relief could be brought back into play, ensuring that it is the shorter-term speculators who are hit hardest, leaving the longer-term savers and investors paying a great deal less?

For my money, the overriding  issue of fairness in this debate is about what the expected revenue take from this change in CGT rates will be used for. The Coalition Government has pledged to increase the rate of personal tax allowances to £10,000 and the CGT changes will go a long way to fund this move. If I was to chose between taxed on unearned profit into line with rates of income tax and the prospect of helping millions of low and middle income groups, I know which one I would chose.

I trust that Cameron, Osborne, Alexander and Cable will find a way through the current debate and do the right thing for the economy and the vast majority of ordinary taxpayers.