Spending cuts, unions, and gay bishops


Ministers asked to come up with 40% 'cuts'

I’m getting a little frustrated with the way the government are presenting their plans to cut spending. The 40% cuts splashing around the newspapers this weekend – like the 25% cuts we’ve been talking about previously – are not 40% cuts at all. In fact, they are 40% reductions on projected increases. This manner of presentation, which does not accord with the way real people perceive budgets, isn’t just misleading and liable to strengthen opposition to necessary cuts; it also perpetuates the Brownian doublespeak that portrays higher spending as inevitable, desirable ‘investment’ and makes any attempt at fiscal rectitude seem like a dastardly attempt to cut vital services.

Now that we have broken free of Gordon Brown’s policies, we should also liberate ourselves from the terms he set on the debate. The baseline assumption should be that spending rises only in line with inflation. Less than that is a cut; more (regardless of previous projections) is an increase. Linguistic clarity will undoubtedly aid responsible economic management.

Government in secret talks to toughen strike laws

One thing you can be sure of, however, is that no matter how modest or even illusory the spending cuts are, the public sector unions are going to resist them bitterly. It scarcely matters that their demands are utterly unrealistic – they have grown used to government largesse and are prepared to throw their toys out of the pram at the slightest provocation. So it is no wonder plans are afoot to curb union power, perhaps by requiring a certain percentage of a union’s membership (not just those voting) to approve strike action.

Of course, anti-strike laws are a classic example of intervention begetting intervention. If governments did not regulate employment so stringently, and freedom of contract reigned supreme, we could just leave employers and workers to get on with it. Employers would be able to dismiss workers who breached their contracts or even sue them for non-performance, but they would have to balance the benefits of doing that with the enormous costs it would impose. Similarly, unions could call strikes without the authorities breathing down their necks, but would know that their positions were not guaranteed while doing so. This balanced relationship would encourage co-operation and negotiation, not the confrontation inspired by the current set-up. But as it is, new rules to govern unions (which ought really to be wholly private institutions) are probably a necessary evil.

Dr Jeffrey John may be next Bishop of Southwark

Another area the government should not be involved in is the selection of bishops. And yet according to The Times, “the Prime Minister is know to support” the candidacy of Dr Jeffrey John, an openly gay cleric, for Bishop of Southwark. The traditional practice of the Church of England short-listing candidates and then handing the final decision to the Prime Minister and the Queen is outdated and should end. A disestablished Anglican church should then be free to follow whatever path sees fit.

And in other news...

The hot weather may be slightly unpleasant for those of us who work in offices without air-conditioning, but one of many silver linings in the news that vineyards in the South of England are expecting a bumper harvest. We already produce excellent sparkling wines and perfectly acceptable whites, but so far production has been too limited to allow competitive pricing. And before the climate change lobby claim this as evidence of dangerous global warming, they should remember that the Romans raised grapes and made wine in England in the first century AD. Catastrophe, I think, is unlikely to be lurking round the corner.