Friday, 15 August 2008

Whose Law Is It Anyway?

Anyone who followed the recent Camp for Climate Action at Kingsnorth could have a range of views of the policing of that event. It could be anything from: “The police successfully prevented an extreme element from injuring protesters, police and horses” to “a legitimate and necessary protest went ahead despite an extreme element within the police force, who were committed to suppress it”.

For me, my experience of the policing of the camp is something I'm having some difficulty accepting. As a councillor in Cambridge, I work closely with the police and know the intentions of officers are overwhelmingly genuine.

My experience at the camp was therefore rather unexpected. In many areas, the police stopped even bothering to obey the law or justify their actions. They resorted to psychological measures, on most mornings at 5 a.m., assembling van loads of riot police at the gate as if ready to invade the camp. The most bizarre of these actions was to send a number of police vans down the road at 3 a.m. on Wednesday morning, sirens blazing. When the got to the gate, they stopped and played “The Ride of the Valkyries” (theme from Apocalypse Now) over their loudspeaker before silently disappearing back to their temporary tent city (complete with stables and a swimming pool).

Have I been asleep while law after law has given the police so much power and so little responsibility? Are our police so conditioned to obey from above that they'll willfully break the law themselves to carry out an order? I'm dumbstruck!

There is something that now seems more fate than mere coincidence. I went to the camp was to run a workshop. Titled “You call this democracy!”, it looked at how party funding, the voting system, and centralised government give so few people any real voice or influence over climate and social issues.

Looking back now, I didn't realise just how important a topic this is.

We Liberal Democrats, it seems, have a very big fight on our hands. That fight is to wrestle back real accountability and influence for the voters. If we fail, the likely prognosis is that we continue to slide into a scary police state. A state serving, not the interests of the citizens, but instead those of a self-serving few.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Not in my name...

I hope you'll take a few minutes to declare that this isn't in your name either.

Let's all unsubscribe.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Economic suicide: How to sink into the bog

Economists, like Vince Cable, and their imitators (think Mr G Brown and Mr A Darling ;), sometimes talk about "economic drag", or the economy getting "bogged down" and Tories have for years fought for low taxes on the basis of economic efficiency, but what is this "drag" they speak of?

Well, coming up, I'll talk about:

  • What it's not
  • What it is, and it's impact on our lives, our finances and our environment
  • Why lower taxes are what we should aim for, but not the starting point
  • Where we can start: Swapping the TV license to being either an income tax or a fixed component of local taxes (like the police); replacing council tax with something efficient to collect and administer
  • The stupidity factor: The 'drag' of thousands of tonnes of letters that cost more to send than the amount of money they relate to

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Liberal benefits? What!

Perhaps this is a bizarre subject to attempt the liberty test on, but it really is one worth putting the 'angry tax payer' hat on for.

Depending on the state of what we rather inaccurately call our 'economy', there will typically be a number of people earning, and paying taxes, and other people who are not earning, or earning less, and are receiving benefits.

This is one of those great sources of resentment, and a bit of a political hot potato. Those that are working and giving up some of their income in taxes, do so begrudgingly and usually with the complaint that it is too much. Those taxes get justified on the grounds of social welfare, compassion and ultimately, need.

If we consider unemployment, our welfare system aims, to a greater or lesser degree, to cover for the needs of the unemployed person and their dependents - needs such as: food; clothing; shelter and assistance in finding new work such as travel and training.

As Mr Angry Taxpayer, I'd want to ensure that my money is not being wasted - that my money is being spent on needs, and not on luxuries and excesses.

"No!", I hear the protesters shout, "You can't control how someone spends their money. They are free, not criminals" (criminals, ooh... there's another topic for another day).

Well let's look at this. Can I as a tax payer dictate that someone cannot buy, say beer, or cigarettes, if they are unemployed, and receiving benefits? Of course not. Our liberal society protects people's freedom of choice. They can do as they please within the law. They can spend their money how they please.

But wait! Their money? Who's money is it? The conventional story would be that originally, it's mine, the tax payer, and then, it's the government's, and then it belongs to our unemployed beneficiary.

Another way of looking at it is that it is never the government's (it remains the property of the tax-payer and they are being entrusted with using it for the purpose for which it was taken), and arguably, they should ensure that it is used for the prescribed purpose and nothing else.