Doom and dust

Well – with the measures Alistair announced in the Budget – it is the country’s doom and Gordon will be dust! OK – so I’m never going to get employment as a sun headline writer – never mind.

This was an opportunity for the Government to have rebalanced the tax system – not by the 50p rate of tax (which is not going to bring in enough income) but by raising the threshold and taking £700 of the vast majority of people’s tax bills. And this would be paid for by really closing the tax loopholes and clamping down on exemptions that benefit the very rich and leave that majority of low or middle income earners paying proportionally more tax than the the top earners. That would help people who are struggling.

In the future, as we climb out of this mess, we will need a national debate about what the state can or cannot afford in the future. That way we will all have a stake in the pain that is to come and we can choose where that pain is best born to make the burden lighter.

I was, however, very interested in the Chancellor’s promise that every young person between 18 and 24 would be offered a job, training or education if out of work for 12 months. I want to know what jobs, what training etc and in Tuesday’s budget debate hope to catch Mr Speaker’s eye and get called. As youth spokesperson, I am very worried about the lost generation who will emerge from tertiary education in particular to nothing. The loss of confidence and the loss of talent from that cohort must be avoided. But there was no flesh on the bones of the announcement – so my mission is to find out exactly what the Chancellor means.

Haringey's Icelandic money

So it seems that Haringey Council has invested £37 million in Icelandic banks – and the Chancellor (in his statement earlier this week) made it pretty clear that councils – who he called ‘informed corporate investors’ – could go swing.

I immediately contacted Alistair Darling to ask that he not let Haringey residents suffer as a result.

I am concerned that no information as to details of what is included in the investments is being allowed to me or Robert Gorrie (Liberal Democrat Council Group leader). All the Chief Exec will say that the problem is ‘manageable’ and that the Local Government Association is acting for all involved councils.

Haringey Council is not alone. A hundred councils, police authorities and charities are in similar positions – although Haringey’s exposure is the largest in London.

The Prime Minister appears to have gone to war with Iceland – freezing its assets here by using a law from the 2001 terrorist act. Iceland is not best pleased.

Finance and ballet

Monday was first day back at Parliament – and outside of the Chancellor’s statement on the economic mess – not much else happening.

Darling’s ‘statement’ did nothing to calm nerves as far as I could see. He didn’t move to secure all savings. He didn’t move to encourage interest rates to drop and he didn’t move to re-capitalise the banks. So – no wonder the next morning the stock market plummeted. All he could muster was – we will do whatever it takes. Well Alistair – better to be pro-active than re-active. Has he not seen what damage dither causes? As the 60% of savings in this country held by 2% of the population begins to seek safer havens – Ireland, Greece, Denmark, Germany and Spain is on the way – talking about the need for a cohesive policy for Europe is bit horse and stable door.

Given there was no vote last night – I actually managed to go to something I was invited to – the launch of the new season at the Royal Opera House: four ‘tasters’ from the coming season danced and sang for us – up close and personal. First were a couple dancing from a newly choreographed ballet – absolutely stunning; followed by a virtuoso violinist; followed by the two principals of the Royal Ballet doing the pas de deux from the Swan Lake and concluding with a magnificent tenor singing two arias. Right in front of my nose. It was magic.

Tony Hall – the Chief Executive, then spoke to us briefly about the work the Royal Opera House is doing to bring people in who have never been there before and who might believe that the barriers that prevent them are immovable. But with their clever partnership with the Sun newspaper, their new training, their lower prices – they are doing a good job at changing the mindset – that opera and ballet are not for the likes of us!

They are – and they are uplifting and wonderful. How lucky am I?

The Budget

Budget Day. I really don’t know why we, the media and all, get in the slightest bit excited. It was even more turgid than usual and relatively little is changing. There are no miracles – and indeed in this Darling budget there is absolutely no attempt to really tackle the big issues such as the widening equality gap.

We have one of the biggest equality gaps in the Western world – but the countries that do best have the least gap between their richest and their poorest (for more on why this is the case, read my previous speech on the subject).

So I had hoped that if the Labour under Brown’s administration had any real sense of purpose or vision for improving our country they might have looked at that problem and addressed it in the budget – but no. A few headlines to make up for failing on their child poverty promises – a few taxes dressed up in skimpy green clothing (whilst still saying yes to Heathrow expansion) – and Bob’s your uncle!

Tax and spending news

Hideous rain, rain, rain! Matched Gordon’s mood I expect. I don’t know how he sat there whilst Alistair Darling regurgitated Lib Dem policies – taxing airplane flights not passengers; going after non-doms, etc etc. Sooooo embarrassing. But the Tories, who needless to say were jeering their heads off, accusing Darling of stealing their polices – have short memories. Tories stole them from us! And then had the cheek to complain when they were in turn nicked by Labour!

It’s a hideous reality these days. I know Lib Dems have always provided a think tank for the other two – but rarely is it so immediate and so blatant. Vince Cable (Lib Dem Shadow Chancellor) – gave a heavyweight and bravura response, whereas George Osborne (Tory equivalent) was incredibly content-free and frothy.

Vince passed along the front bench the copy of the Chancellor’s Statement – which is customarily given to the opposition spokespeople about an hour before the statement is made in the house. Some of the pages were blanked out! So much for open government. Tackled on this – Darling feigned surprise. ‘Really? They shouldn’t have been’. Bastards!

Problems with Royal Mail

I managed to attract Mr Speaker’s eye on at question time in the Commons – and came in on a question from another MP on lost and stolen post. Having done a survey a little while back in Hornsey & Wood Green and received an enormous response, it is clear to me that the Royal Mail is unable to deal with the issue properly. Part of the problem seems to be the lack of accountability short of the very top – when something goes wrong there is pretty much always someone else, higher up, to whom the issue can be passed rather than real local organisation and accountability.

I raised the result of my survey with the Minister Alistair Darling who said he would see that the Royal Mail addressed any specific issues and that 99% of the mail is delivered just fine and dandy. Gee thanks Alistair – I have already passed all the individual complaints to the Royal Mail having already got their agreement that they would deal with them. The point I was making to Mr Darling was that it wasn’t some tiny little individual problem – but that if I get around 1,000-2,000 complaints from just one survey in one constituency – something ain’t right! More on this in next week’s Ham & High column.