Friday, 31 August 2012

The diffusion of wealth-and the taxes to achieve it-letter in The Times

National newspapers are usually owned by wealthy men who, not surprisingly, don't like wealth taxes. This has been obvious in the response to Clegg's (belated) outburst of egalitarianism-well maybe that is putting it a bit strongly.

Nevertheless the wealth tax proposals have been attacked on all sides (most diverting was Labour's sham moral outrage at Clegg's support for the 45p upper tax band-forgetting that it is higher now than it was during almost all Labour's period in office) . My issue with them is that they are presented as short term measures designed to get us out of a hole rather than as part of a long term strategy to 'diffuse wealth' Central to the Liberal Party's view of these matters has been the contention that wealth/property/ownership is held in too few hands and that a Liberal commonwealth 'in which every citizen shall possess liberty, property and security, and none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity' cannot be build unless we have ownership for all. This is why death Duties, employee ownership, citizen's asset funds etc have been part of the Liberal platform and why fundamentally we are a party of the left.

I even put pen to paper and wrote to The Times who published my letter this morning:
Sir,Many Liberal Democrats will welcome the re-emergence of a long standing policy to reform death duties("LibDems renew attack on rich, Aug 30")

The policy was first advocated in the 1938 Ownership for All Inquiry Report which advocated a 'new principle' that Death Duties be 'graduated according to the size of the individual bequest rather than the size of the state. This would tend to split up large estates, and would in general conduce to a more direct and rapid diffusion of wealth....'

It is entirely proper that such measures should, in the short term, be applied to removing the structural deficit but we should not loose sight of the long term objective namely 'the diffusion of wealth'

The resolution which established the inquiry stated:

This Assembly of the Liberal Party, indignantly aware of the grossly unequal distribution of property in this country, believes that the greatest possible measure of personal ownership, with the independence and security it brings, should be enjoyed by all. It also believes that the opportunities of a full life hitherto open only to the rich should be placed before all.

Birkdale Councillor's surgery this Saturday

We are please to announce that the regular surgery held at Birkdale Library at 2pm on the first Saturday of the month will have the added assistance of Dukes Ward Lib Dem Councillor Tony Dawson tomorrow.

Tony's Dukes Ward includes large parts of Birkdale and we regularly get folk turning up to our surgery who come from Dukes Ward.

It is a bit like one of those Venn diagrams you did at school. All of Birkdale ward is in Birkdale, a significant part of Dukes ward is as well as houses in Ainsdale and Kew Wards. So, at the risk of sounding like a Serbian Nationalist, this weekend will see the first 'Greater Birkdale' surgery.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

tax the wealthy, but do it to redistribute wealth

Wednesday 29th August is the day the church 'celebrates' the beheading of John the Baptist, granted it is a 'lesser festival' nevertheless it is good day to turn our minds to those who abuse power and wealth. No doubt this is the reason Clegg picked today to launch his proposal for wealth taxes. Liberals have for generations challenged the mal distribution of wealth in Britain and put forward schemes to remedy this state of affairs. Most famously of all Elliot Dodds chaired an inquiry into the distribution of property set up by the Liberal Assembly meeting in Buxton in 1937. The resolution, which was adopted unanamously, read:

This Assembly of the Liberal Party, indignantly aware of the grossly unequal distribution of property in this country, believes that the greatest possible measure of personal ownership, with the independence and security it brings, should be enjoyed by all. It also believes that the opportunities of a full life hitherto open only to the rich should be placed before all.

It recognises these twin ends as the inspiration of its domestic policy and pledges its whole strength in urging on the nation far-reaching reforms to achieve them.

The scene from Struass's opera based on Oscar Wilde's Salome where John the Baptist is beheaded

It is interesting that the report explicitly refers to Mr Belloc-one time Liberal MP for Salford and author of the Servile State and clearly echos some of his distributist views.. ‘in order to provide the upmost scope for the development of personality, it is necessary to bring about the widest possible diffusion of ownership and opportunity’ (It is not Belloc’s fault that his flame is kept alive by strangeAmerica right wing libertarians or that Orwell misinterpreted him) This tradition remains important to Liberals in the UK, Grimond praised it and the Unservile State was the tittle of the collection of essays edited by George Watson that launched the Grimond Liberal revival and did much to restore the view that the party was the home of original thinking.

In many ways it underpins the Liberal belief in employee ownership as a way of spreading wealth and power and the ideas championed by Professor Alan Meade and taken up by David Steel for distributing assets. Meade also influenced the early SDP who adopted some of his redistributionist proposals. Meade was a doughty fighter against Thatcher’s Hayekian liberalism. We could do with his presence today. Interestingly Meade wrote in his 1948 book -sub titled the Liberal Socialist solution- that some of the actions proposed by the Labour Party had ‘the hallmark of the Servile State’ Central to Meade’s thinking was the belief that the government should act to ensure a ‘tolerably equitable distribution of income and property’

In this context a Liberal Leader proposing wealth taxes is not out of place. The difference is that Clegg is proposing the tax as a way of filling the government’s financial black whole not as a way of re-distributing wealth.

We should welcome Clegg's endorsement of a short term fix for the deficit -not as a way to accept more welfare cuts-but as a good end of itself and turn our attention to the more important aim of asset redistribution.

Politicians of all stripes have nodded in this direction. There was Labour's short lived rhetoric about a 'stakeholder economy', some Tories spoke of 're-capitalising the poor-but it didn't last and one felt that it was just a rouse to reduce the state. Of course there are some who genuinely have signed up to bits of the agenda. Tristan Hunt talks about mutualism -although my hunch is that for most Labour folk it is a very poor alternative to state ownership and control. Some Tories like the MP for Leominster have talked about workers' co-ops .

COMPASS published a paper about redistributing assets and rehearsed many of the arguments familiar to past generations of Liberals. The author Stuart White who has written about the radical Ownership for All policy of the Liberal party wrote the COMPASS document and in it said of the reasons for linking freedom to ownership :

These reasons are centrally to do with the relationship between wealth and freedom. Someone who earns a high income but who has little or no wealth is constrained to keep working to maintain their income, whereas someone who has wealth is more able to take time out of work because their wealth can cushion the financial loss. Such a person does not have to put up with a bullying boss (or spouse) but has the financial independence to exit such relationships. Someone who has wealth in their early adulthood can afford to think more creatively about what they wish to do with their life than someone who has no wealth and who must get into work as quickly as they can to put bread on the table.They have much greater capacity for self-direction.

Given this greater freedom, people may feel generally more self-confident and willing to act creatively in economic and other contexts. This is not only good in itself, but may have desirable knock-on effects in terms of, for example, reduced income poverty. A financial buffer can help prevent the trigger events, such as divorce or losing a job, that cause falls into poverty. It can also help prevent short spells in poverty from becoming longer ones. If individuals have a financial buffer, financial shocks, such as a drop in income or the need for a one-off purchase such as a fridge, do not have to result in unsustainable debt spirals.

While there is a lively academic debate about the exact nature and extent of the so-called ‘asset-effect’, there is a large body of empirical research which is consistent with these claims about the impact of wealth on personal freedom.

A range of policies flow from this analysis -many of which were known to Liberals but need to be revived. I shall return to those later. In the meantime we should welcome a tax on the wealthy but our objective should be to redistribute that wealth not just lodge it with the state.

When I was checking out that today was the day the church remembers the beheading of John the Baptist the  C of E website linked me to the the service of Compline. Lord Bonkers was retweeting bits of it after his visit to Ripon Cathedral but they missed out my favourite bit:

The Lord almighty grant us a quiet night and a perfect end.
Amen. sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil,
as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
whom resist, steadfast in the faith.

MP's reading matter.....

When I first left home and became a student there were no mobile phones, skype or email only letters and pay phones where you had to press button B to be put through. In those days my Mother used to send me press cutting of book reviews she thought I ought to read  and thus it was I discovered the novels of Neil Gunn, the living doric of Charles Murray's poems -not to mention news items with neat notes in the margin expressing extreme anger at the shallowness of Mrs Thatcher.

This came back to me this morning when  I got the modern equivalent from John Pugh-two emails with recommended reading

I will return to the 'annotations' in a later postings but suffice to say that in Southport we have turned our minds a clear strategy which includes vigorous local campaigning but has added political ingredients!

Wardle canal appeal

I was the county councillor for Middlewich in the 1990's and as everyone in the town knows the Wardle Canal in Middlewich is the shortest canal in the UK at 154 feet (47 m).

As wikipedia records: The canal lies in Middlewich, Cheshire, UK, and connects the Trent and Mersey Canal to the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal, terminating with a single lock known as Wardle Lock. It was built in 1829 so that the navigation authority of the Trent and Mersey Canal could maintain control over the junction.
The canal is in the news because Maureen Shaw has died. Maureen lived in the lock keepers house and was always around the tow path talking to boaters and others who went by. Maureen was born on a working boat and with her husband earned her living on the canals   She was not alone. One of our councillors from Sandbach Les Morris was also born and worked on the canals. In Les's case the nationalisation of the canals and their subsequent neglect was a story he often told with passion. To be fair Barbara Castle can be credited with taking an important policy shift in relationship to canals and their revival as a leisure industry.
There were several families in and around Middlewich who had worked on the canals. When I became councillor I received a briefing from a social worker about the impact it had on family life . It was bizarre and has stuck in my memory, it was a bit like the chapter in E Nesbit's Railway Children. Personally I didn't come across any issues relating to canal folk!
At this years Folk and Boat Festival in Middlewich an appeal was launched to commemorate Maureen Shaw. The intention is to install an 'interpretation panel' by the Wardle lock to tell the remarkable story of Maureen and all those who worked on the canals.  

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Flooding in Birkdale

Posted by PicasaWhen it rains heavily in Birkdale the same streets have problems. I am not here referring to an overflowing drain that clears by itself but significant flooding and the fear that the rain water is mixing with the foul drain. Essex Rd has been badly hit as has Guildford Rd. Southport MP John Pugh has been out and about meeting residents and has working hard to get United Utilities and the Council to act .

I am informed that the problem in Essex Road has been responsible for flooding on at least five occasions during the past decade.  Enquiries made by by John, has provided information that there is, apparently, a substantial 'bid' in place with the Environment Agency to allow Sefton MBC to obtain a grant to divert the street water away from the present watercourse between in Essex Road, and to connect the street drains entirely to a street drain network along neighbouring roads. 

The problem with this 'solution' is that this bid has been in existence for a number of years, yet has not been approved for a date for action with the earliest likelihood of action appearing to currently be in 2014.  This is far too long to wait residents' fears that there is every likelihood that they will be flooded again one or more times before such action might be taken.  There does not even seem any certainty that this work will be given priority.

John has written to the Environment Agency urging them strongly to consider providing the funding to permit work to commence at the earliest possible date. We believe  that these families, who can no longer get home insurance cover against flooding, have experienced much more than 'enough' misery due to this problem in recent years.

Ainsdale Bus route 49-residents concerns

Councillor Haydn Preece has received a number of concerned enquiries from Ainsdale residents relating to changes this summer in the 49 bus service timings and route. In partnership with Councillor John Dodd he has received this summary of the changes from Merseytravel. The good news for residents is that the service will revert to a ten minute timetable in September but the route does, as it stands cause problems for residents in Gleneagles requiring a direct route for Woodvale. Therefore Councillor Preece is asking for feedback as he has been assured the route will be reviewed if demand indicates the need.
Councillor Preece can be contacted on 07768000818 or
Merseytravels feedback to Cllrs Preece and Dodd.

Summary of 49 changes briefly, a summer time table was introduced from Monday 22.07.12 and will operate until Saturday 01.09.12. This revision reduces the daytime Monday to Friday frequency from 10 to 12 minutes Sat/Sunday/Evening frequencies remain unchanged. Also and importantly we have changed the route to operate a single clockwise loop on journeys from Crossens to Woodvale the service now operates via existing route to Kenilworth Rd then Liverpool Rd, Orchard Ln, Sandbrook Rd, Meadow Ln, Cherry Rd to Woodvale. Returning via, Liverpool Rd, Pinfold Ln, Gleneagles Drive then Kenilworth Rd then via existing route to Southport/Crossens.The contentious issue will be people who previously boarded the bus on Gleneagles Drive for a couple of stops on journeys to Woodvale they now have no direct link to Woodvale for these couple of bus stops.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

under selling the Liberal USP

For generations in the wilderness Liberals held firm to the belief that British businesses would be transformed for the better if they were owned and controlled by their employees. From the Yellow Book , to Ownership for All and on to Jo Grimond this was the USP of our economic policy. After Paddy stepped down as Leader the policy fell from view but has been taken up again by Norman Lamb (although maybe not in the in such a radical distributionist fashion)

Today the BBC carries two reports on the  biggest group of worker owned business is Europe and asks why they the bucked the trend of economic decline/disaster in Spain. These are the worker owned co-operatives in the Basque region that inspired Grimond . Is it not time we reclaimed this policy as a central theme to sustain the economy and redistribute assets and income in our society.

Economic success stories are rare in recession-hit Spain these days but one can be found in the small northern Basque town of Arrasate, nestling in rolling green hills.

Here lies the headquarters of Mondragon, reckoned to be the world's largest worker co-operative. The name is the same as the town's, when translated from Basque into Spanish.