Baroness Scotland: hoist her by her own legislation

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I find Baroness Scotland odious and wish that she would be hoisted by her own legislation and extradited to the United States to face Racketeering charges for employing an illegal immigrant as a cleaner, with the same prospect of spending 30 years in a Texas slammer as the NatWest Three.

But I would be despondent if she lost her job as Britain's Attorney General simply because she didn't ask for the passport, work permit, or citizenship papers of her 'daily'. Who on earth does? At least she paid tax and national insurance on her cleaner's wages, which is far more than most other people would do. In politics, it's best to watch your back.

Equally, there would be a poetic irony. It's the government's job to make sure that people are not here illegally – not the job of innocent householders who haven't got the energy to clean their own homes because they have to work round the clock to meet Gordon Brown's tax demands. They pay handsomely for the government's much-vaunted promise to keep the streets of Britain free of illegal immigrants. As Attorney General, Baroness Scotland is a part of that, and if she is falling down on the job, then yes, she should go.

Not that the policy makes sense anyway. Many supposed asylum-seekers flood here because of our cushy welfare system. Maybe we should start there if we want to stem the tide. But many other immigrants come and are willing to work hard, in dirty jobs, in order to better the condition of themselves and their families. If anything, we should be congratulating businesses and householders – and even ministers – for giving a job and a home to such deserving folk.

You're a what?

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I love Jeremy. I love fast cars. I love progress. But I learnt some things and those things terrify me. I learnt that climate change will make my future unrecognisable. I know that I’ll not have the same choices that Jeremy has now. If we keep on loving the fossil-fuelled lifestyle then by the time I hit 49 the world will be too busy coping with the impact of climate change to bother about how big an engine is possible. I’m the biggest libertarian of them all – I’m dumping dung at Clarkson’s gates so he might understand that his attitude will land us all in [it].

So said Tamsin Omond after dumping a load of manure on Jeremy Clarkson's lawn. Oh dear. This graduate seems to be using words she doesn't understand. Perhaps she should go back to university and find out what it means to be a libertarian.

Libertarians certainly wouldn't dump manure on the gardens of those who held views that were opposed to their own. They adapt to their surroundings and/or compensate others who they impose upon. What they don't do is run amok based upon some perceived future that may or may not actually occur. They found their beliefs in fact based upon a thirst for knowledge. Libertarians change their own lives so that they can live happily with themselves. They refrain from imposing their views on those around them recognising, maturely and respectfully, that they have no ownership over others. This is undertaken so that they themselves do not have their way of life infringed.

Sorry Tamsin, but you are not a libertarian. You're an enviromental-fascist. Please leave us alone so that we can avoid having our progress hindered and our futures' ruined via inhibitive enviromental legislation aimed at saving mother Earth.

The leaked 'cuts'

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Westminster is very excited about the recent leak from HM Treasury, which apparently revealed that – despite its repeated statements to the contrary – the government is planning to cut public spending by a cumulative 9.3 percent from 2011 to 2014. But is that really what the leaked documents suggest?

Well, up to a point. It is true that total departmental expenditure limits (DEL) will fall by 9.3 percent in real terms over that period. Look at this in cash terms though, and it just means departmental spending is going to fall from £390.5bn in 2010-11 to £386.3bn in 2013-14. And that's difficult to get excited about.

Moreover, departmental expenditure limits only represent part of public spending – about 58 percent of it in 2009-10. The real story in the Treasury's leaked figures is what's happening to the other parts of public spending. As the Institute of Fiscal Studies' Robert Chote wrote in The Times:

...the Treasury expects debt interest payments to rise by 11.1 per cent a year, social security costs by 1.4 per cent a year and other “annually managed expenditure" (such as public sector pension payments and contributions to the EU) by 3.1 per cent a year.

The result of this is that total public spending – surely the figure we should be most concerned with – is set to rise from £620bn this year to £760bn in 2013-14, when we will still be running an annual deficit of almost £100bn.

Of course I'm happy that politicians are finally talking about cutting public spending, but if they imagine that these so-called 'cuts' will be enough then they've got another think coming. Vince Cable seems to realize this – his recent paper for Reform suggested up to £112bn of cuts over the course of the next parliament. George Osborne and Alistair Darling have some catching up to do.

Public expenditure – identifying the mechanism

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In recent weeks, much political debate has focussed on public expenditure, which – given the unprecedented levels of government borrowing – needs to be cut sharply. However, most solutions being put forward focus on scrapping or cutting spending on individual programmes. Whilst there are compelling financial cases for abandoning the Crossrail project, for substantially reducing the costs of the replacement Trident programme and for means-testing child benefit, this pick n’ mix approach is not analytical.

Instead, the next Government should implement a top-down approach by focussing on the 2009/10 public expenditure projection – before interest – of £671 billion: any Government forecasts beyond the current year carry little credibility. To regain control of public expenditure, ongoing real cuts of c3% per year should be applied to this figure. Hence, for 2010/11, the next Government should aim for a £650 billion out-turn. Subsequently, departmental budgets should be specified by the Treasury to enable such a figure - before any unforeseen contingency items - to be reached. Consequently, major spending departments, such as Social Security, Health, Education and Defence, should be required to operate within these figures.

It should also be made perfectly clear that - like the Chief Executive of any major plc - the Secretary of State is primarily responsible, with his ministerial team, for deciding how the allocated departmental budget is met. Top civil servants, including the departmental Permanent Secretary, should be obliged to play a leading role in ensuring that the best possible services are provided within the budgeted amount.

Any unreasonable failure to deliver should be punished in the same way as applicable to FTSE-100 Chief Executives, whose turnover ratio is high – though still well below that of Premier League football managers.

Of course, there would be political flak but is anything more important at present than regaining control of the UK’s parlous public finances?

Reversing the rise of the surveillance state

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With badly formed and unprincipled policy forming the majority of what leaks from politicians' pens it was with trepidation that I picked up a copy of Reversing the Rise of the Surveillance State. Much to my surprise though, it was clear, practical and thoroughly principled. Provided this paper is acted upon – assuming the Conservatives win the next election – we would see a significant shift of power from the state back to the individual.

Dominic Grieve QC MP and Eleanor Laing MP have set out clear policies:

  1. Scrapping the National Identity Register and ContactPoint database
  2. Establishing clear principles for the use and retention of DNA on the National DNA Database, including ending the permanent or prolonged retention of innocent people's DNA
  3. Restricting and restraining local council access to personal communications data
  4. Reviewing protection of personal privacy from the surveillance state as part of a British Bill of Rights.
  5. Strengthening the audit powers and independence of the Information Commissioner
  6. Requiring Privacy Impact Assessments on any proposals for new legislation or other measures that involve data collection or sharing at the earliest opportunity. Require government to consult the Information Commissioner on the PIA and publish his findings
  7. Immediately submitting the Home Office's plans for the retention of, and access to, communications data to the Information Commissioner for pre-legislative scrutiny
  8. Requiring new powers of data-sharing to be introduced into law by primary legislation, not by order.
  9. Appointing a Minister and senior civil servant (at Director General level) in each Government ministry with responsibility for departmental operational data security
  10. Tasking the Information Commissioner to publish guidelines on best practice in data security in the public sector
  11. Tasking the Information Commissioner to carry out a consultation with the private sector, with a view to establishing guidance on data security, including examining the viability of introducing an industry-wide kite mark system of best practice

There are of course aspects of this that they would be better off ignoring, such as the suggestion that government push for the introduction of an industry-wide kite mark system. And more worryingly is the fact that “A limited exception should be made for those charged with certain crimes of violence and sexual offences. In these cases, DNA on the National DNA Database or the Counter-Terrorism DNA Database may be retained for a period of 3 years, which could be extended to a maximum of 5 years, if approved by a Crown Court Judge", despite the claim that innocent people will no longer have their DNA retained. These people are innocent, until proven guilty.

Yet overall a promising policy paper: a chink of light is visible beneath the smog of oppression.

The BBC has never hesitated to use its tax-funded clout to take on private ventures

Dr Madsen Pirie welcomes Ben Bradshaw’s call to halt the endless and market-distorting expansion of the BBC.

Ben Bradshaw, the Culture Secretary, has stepped into a simmering row about the BBC’s expansion policy. He says it is “at the limits of reasonable expansion.” Set up originally by six private companies to broadcast radio programmes, and nationalised in 1927, the BBC has been a public body ever since. Although it attracted praise for the quality of its commercial-free broadcasting, the BBC has tried throughout its history to monopolise broadcasting by squeezing out competition.

It opposed the introduction of ITV in 1955 and of commercial radio subsequently, following the success of the offshore pirate stations. The BBC has never hesitated to use its publicly-funded clout to compete with private ventures dependent on commercial finance. Local radio stations, set up to fill a gap in the market, soon found themselves in competition with BBC versions, financed out of the licence fee, which cut into their audience and the commercial finance it brought.

The BBC looks at what others are doing commercially, and copies them, trying to maintain its dominant position by undercutting commercial operations with its “free” licence-payer-funded alternatives. The BBC has no need to finance such operations by market share because it has the compulsory licence fee behind it. Everyone who uses a television has to pay it, and bullying big brother tactics and intimidating commercials ensure that most of them do.

Part of the problem is that with media diversification in the internet age, the BBC still wants to do everything. It fears its dominance will be undermined by new technology unless it keeps a finger in every pie. This is very evident in its news services. Seeing the news audience move from broadcast news to internet coverage, the BBC has responded with “free” internet news to compete with and undercut those who need a market share and commercial backing to sustain their own news output.

In response to a proposal to award a small part of the licence fee to local news alternatives, Sir Michael Lyons, Chairman of the BBC Trust, has urged a cut in the licence fee rather than see any of it go to help competitors. Mr Bradshaw’s intervention is timely. Just occasionally, in the way the BBC treats its prima donna celebrities, do people glimpse how their licence fees are splashed around. Less visible is the ruthless way they are used to squeeze out commercial media competitors.

The BBC is rightly praised for some of its output, but it has traded on that goodwill to distort the media market to maintain its own dominance. It is time that its use of licence fees was subjected to close and independent scrutiny, and that alternative funding models were explored.

Published on Telegraph.co.uk here.