PROUD SCOT – BETTER TOGETHER

I’m a proud Scot and a proud Briton.

Like many – perhaps most – Scots I am denied the vote in the referendum because of the naked fiddling of the franchise by the First Minister to stack the odds in his favour.

The question for me is not whether Scotland could be a success as a separate nation. I’m sure it could. Scots have made a success of the United Kingdom.

What success as a separate nation would be like is another question.

No one outside the First Minister’s inner circle can believe his fantasy visions of a utopian Scotland trouble-free in a daily more troubled world.

The question is whether it is a good idea to destroy a political union created by Scots that has brought peace, freedom and prosperity to the nations of Great Britain. In an increasingly interdependent world would it be wise or foolish to dissolve such a longstanding political and economic union. Who would benefit? Only the enemies of Scots and Britons.

On 18 September I hope Scots will vote resoundingly for unity, peace, freedom and prosperity throughout these islands and say no thanks to the “Yes” to chaos campaign.

We are Better Together.

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Justin Trudeau

Congratulations to Justin Trudeau of his election as Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada/Parti Libéral du Canada. I look forward to him becoming Prime Minister in place of Stephen Harper.

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Di awn Cymru!

Di awn Cymru! Well done Wales! Six Nations’ Champions 2013!

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Time for something different

It is surely time for something other than austerity to solve the United Kingdom’s economic woes and the Budget in a few days’ time should not impose any more cuts on the circumstances of ordinary people.

Whatever politicians say when they find themselves in opposition, there has been consensus among the main political parties in this country and around the world that austerity is the answer to the recession and the debt crisis. Those who disagreed, like poor President Hollande in France, have been forced to make deep cuts by the realities of office. Some who agreed, like Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, have been freed to disown their former policy by the lack of responsibility of Opposition.

It is a truism that austerity bears down most on ordinary working families, the weakest and poorest, because they make most use of the public services austerity measures cut. The rich do not use public services, or not as much as the rest of us and probably do not rely on them.

The recession and debt crisis was not caused by those of use who use and rely on public services. It was caused by those who do not.

This does not mean that public spending can never be cut. That would be nonsense. It means that care has to be taken to protect those most vulnerable, to cut only where necessary and find alternatives for those most affected. It means schemes should not be set up in the first place without proper funding. The coalition has put in place protections and been right to cut or remedy schemes Labour set up without adequate funding – as with paying for NHS growth by increasing National Insurance.

Some of the government’s cuts, like ending Sure Start and regional development agencies in England, look like naked Conservative ideology or spite, rather than part of the solution to the nation’s problems. Some, like the cuts in the armed forces, police and education are downright irresponsible and dangerous.

Despite what the Prime Minister says , it looks obvious to most people that the burden of fixing the nation’s economy is being carried more by the poor and working people than by the rich. Middle earners in the public sector have had their pay frozen, but top earners’ bonuses have not been frozen and, despite his own failure, the Prime Minister opposed the European Union’s cap on bonuses .

This might be excused, if austerity was working. It plainly is not. Yesterday (9 March 2013), Robert Chote the chairman of the independent Office of Budgetary Responsibility wrote to the Prime Minister to say that austerity – “consolidation” – measures by the coalition and the Labour government have reduced GDP in 2011-12 by 1.4%. Economic growth has been weaker since 2010 than the Office of Budgetary Responsibility and most other forecasters expected.

It is time for a genuine one nation approach to solving the United Kingdom’s problems, one not driven by Tory ideology, albeit moderated by the Liberal Democrats. Liberal Democrat ideas, albeit moderated by the Conservatives, might just do the trick, starting in the Budget in a few days’ time with the capital investment in housing and infrastructure called for by Business Secretary Vince Cable.

At the very least, the Budget should do no further harm to the lives of working families, the poor and the vulnerable.

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Pay-day loans

It is good news today (6 March 2013) that the Office of Fair Trading has told the top fifty pay-day loan companies to change their practices or risk losing their licences – see http://www.oft.gov.uk/news-and-updates/press/2013/20-13.

But, it is bad news today that the Government is not going to cap the price – interest and costs – of borrowing from pay-day loan companies – see hidden near the bottom of this news release from Consumer Minister Jo Swinson and Economic Secretary to the Treasury Sajid Javid: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/136548/13-702-the-impact-on-business-and-consumers-of-a-cap-on-the-total-cost-of-credit.pdf.

Pay-day loan companies are shameless about their extortionate costs, which assault the poorest, whose circumstances deny or limit their access to cheaper credit. Adverts on television and the companies websites show APRs – annual percentage rates, which include interest and others costs – exceeding 1,000%. At the low end, Quick Quid’s representative APR on its website is 1,734%, while Wonga.Com’s 4,212%. The companies say that comparing APRs is unfair because loans are designed to be repaid in days or weeks, but those pay-day loan companies that show interest separately, that is without other charges, on their websites show rates of 300% and more.

This is naked exploitation of economically vulnerable people. The market does not protect them and so the government should.

By contrast, Leeds City Credit Union’s website says its APR is 26.8%.

Ministers’ justification for not acting is research commissioned by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills from the Personal Finance Research Centre at the University of Bristol, also published today, “The impact on business and consumers of a cap on the total cost of credit” (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-impact-on-business-and-consumers-of-a-cap-on-the-total-cost-of-credit).

The researchers were not commissioned to make recommendations, “but to provide an up-to-date evidence base” to help ministers’ policy decision making. The research finds some evidence of the pay-day loan market shrinking where price caps have been imposed, but not that these loans would disappear. Borrowers surveyed said they would find alternatives. The researchers suggest expanding and modernising credit unions could help. In one place costs had risen to the level of the price cap, so that borrowers paid more, but it appeared that in that place the price cap was not used to reduce costs. The Office of Fair Trading had said previously that price caps would be expensive and difficult to administer, but the research found little evidence about this except in Australia where a price cap was considered to be straightforward and so likely to be cheaper.

The research seems to me to support a price cap more than it makes the case against.

Labour and Co-Operative MP Stella Creasy, shadow minister for crime prevention, is leading calls for pay-day loan price caps and other reforms, although Labour failed to act when it was in government.

This issue should be close to the hearts of Liberal Democrat ministers. Taking low earners out of tax is only the start. Removing the oppression of pay-day loan companies’ ravenous loan costs is an urgent next step. Liberal Democrat ministers should ensure that capping these loan costs no higher than the level of high street banks or credit unions is in the Budget in a few days’ time.

Posted in Debt crisis, Liberal Democrat ministers, Pay-day loans, Politics, Poverty, UK Government | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congratulations Liberal Democrat Mike Thornton MP

Congratulations to Eastleigh by-election victor Liberal Democrat Mike Thornton MP.

Prime Minister David Cameron is struggling to find a positive spin on his Conservative Party’s relegation to third place, but he could follow the example of Bob Servant, Independent, after the Broughty Ferry by-election (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01qyvnm/Bob_Servant_Independent_Election_Day/).

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Come back Sarah Lund!

A brilliant conclusion to Forbrydlesen/The Killing III. Come back Sarah Lund.  DR please make Forbrydlesen IV, so that we can find out what happens to her. There is little or nothing to compare with the Forbrydelsen series. The American version was vacuous.

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Deputy Prime Minister’s response to Leveson

10 out of 10 to the Deputy Prime Minister.  He supports Lord Justice Leveson’s report and understands public concern.  He gave a bravura performance in answering MPs’ questions, dealing with each question that was put and not dodging, as most politicians do.  Let’s hope the cross-party talks go well and the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition can find a way for the Prime Minister to support the Leveson proposals in full.

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PM missing the point

A generous 7½ out of 10 for the Prime Minister, when he could so easily have got 10.

Lord Justice has not proposed removing press freedom by legislation. He is not pointing the way across a Rubicon or advocation a return to to Licensing Act that was abandoned in 1695 to give us the free press we have now.

Lord Justice Leveson has propsed a statutory framework to underpin independent self-regulation. Professions regulate themselves under statute. No one says they are not independent and free of political control. Our democracy and constitutional monarchy operates under the rule of law? Does the Prime Minister not know this? Why shouldn’t the new independence press regulation proposed by Lord Justice Leveson also operate under the rule of law?

Posted in government, Hacking, Leveson, Leveson Report, Politics, Press, Press regulation, UK coalition, UK Government, UK press regulation, UK Prime Minister, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leveson

I like what I heard in Lord Justice Leveson’s impressive statement. Like most people commenting I have yet to read the report (it will take a while), but the proposals he summarised in his statement seem right. Will the vested interests in the press now shut up and get behind the report, or is that too much to expect and will the rotten apples in our otherwise responsible press continue to work to destroy this chance for change and – if they had the wit to see it – destroy themselves? More importantly, will Prime Minister David Cameron stand up for the public interest and throw his weight behind the recommendations? Or, will he shrink and support the proprietors over the public? We’ll know in about a quarter of an hour.

Posted in government, Hacking, Leveson, Leveson Report, Press, Press regulation, UK coalition, UK Government, UK press regulation, Uncategorized, Whitehall | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment