Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing

Last weekend I took my two year old Daughter to the Jungle Experience at Manor Heath in Halifax.

It's an amazing place, where you can see tropical plants, butterflies and Quails running around your feet. It is entirely funded by what people choose to put in the donation boxes.

It was a quiet, rainy day and we found ourselves the only visitors. The place was being looked after by a lovely Senior Gentlemen who was tending to the Quail chicks. He let my Daughter go to look at the tiny birds. 

After passing a few moments in casual chat I asked him about the future of the place. He informed me that it was under threat. It has over 80,000 visitors per year, but I was informed that despite having over 300 visitors the previous Sunday only £4 was donated.

The plan is introduce a mandatory charge for year, and if it isn't financial viable after that then closure beckons.

What was moving was the fact that he loved the place, and tended the animals and flora with love and care. He knew the different Quail, despite their number, by plumage alone. He explained that what really made him sad was that so many poor families living locally were known to him. He knew them from being babes in arm to eight year old children. He knew the difference such a lovely, peaceful oasis made to some very disadvantaged families.

While this was conveyed to me, he didn't even mention the fact if it closed it would almost certainly mean he wouldn't work again. That wasn't his concern.

No one would argue that butterflies should trump care for the elderly. However, are we to leave local services to entirely utilitarian functions? What about the aspects of life that add quality and open our eyes to the rich planet we share?

It would be a tragic loss to lose a wonderful place that brightens up the lives of people whose access to such environments would otherwise be non existent.

More importantly, it would even more tragic for Calderdale Council to lose such wonderful, inspirational people such as the lovely gentleman who is so devoted to his service to the community.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Why Labour Needs an Economic Plan

So, here we are 8 months after a General Election defeat. Things don't look too shabby - Labour has a new Leader, and under his Leadership the party are polling at around 13-14 points above the General Election result. Labour's lead is probably around 5% at the moment. The Coalition already has an embattled hue about it, and serious tensions are present. The economy is looking patchy, and the green shoots of recovery from  2010 are clinging on to life. So things are good for Labour, right?

On closer inspection, Labour are doing okay, but any thought of winning the next election looks fanciful indeed, as things stand. Labour has one major weakness - it has no decent economic plan.

In the commons the Coalition provides Labour with what appears to be open goals - tuition fees, the VAT rise and cuts to public services. The trouble, when challenged, all Labour can currently do is look embarrassed, stare at their feet and mumble something about halving the deficit in four years.

The truth is out there - 'The Darling Plan' from 2010 - Labour would probably have done something similar.

There is also another truth - The acceleration public spending from 2007 was counter to what should have happened, according to Keynesian principles. Look at Germany, for example, increasing taxes when the economy was doing well gave them room for manoeuvre in the downturn. The German Economy is expected to grow at 2.3% in 2011, much better than the UK will manage. Labour acted as if the economic cycle didn't exist and that the economy would continually grow. Sorry Gordon, you can't end boom and bust.

Of course, the bank bailout was costly, as was the subsequent loss of tax receipts over the whole economy that Labour's spending plans relied upon. Labour's reaction to the crisis was excellent. However, pretending that it was all the bank's fault is taking it too far.

Why does this matter? It is very clear that the party regarded as the best for the economy will win the election.

In the 29/03/2005 YouGov released a poll. It placed the Conservatives on 34%, Labour on 35%. Labour's approval rating was -22%, similar to the Coalition's now. Crucially, the public thought Labour was best to handle the economy over the Conservatives by 38% against 25%. On other economic questions, Labour led the Conservatives by at least 11%, except taxation.

Labour went on to win a third consecutive GE weeks later.

Another poll was released on the 27/01/11. It asked people who they thought would run the economy well - the Conservative polled 38%, Labour 28%.

Other evidence shows that people do apportion a large part of the blame for the Deficit on Labour. In essence, the Coalition cuts are seen as tough, but also part of the necessary medicine. It is also clear that Labour hasn't offered what is seen as a remotely credible alternative.

Unless Labour can really demonstrate an understanding of the Deficit that people find credible and offer an alternative, any hope of a victory at the next General Election looks bleak.