Tories' care home costs plan


Cameron's 'thoughtful revolution' in elderly care needs more thought about principle.

The latest fusillade in the Conservatives' 'thoughtful revolution', which Philip Salter reported on here, looks – well, completely devoid of any thought at all.

In fact, this latest vote-winning wheeze shows how devoid of principle or imagination the Conservatives have become. (Not that this is much of a criticism, since all parts of the political class are naturally more interested in votes than in either of those.) Indeed, it looks like a quick-fix plan to match Gordon Brown's costly promises on the same subject

The plan is that if people pay the £8,000 at retirement, then the government will give them free long-term care when they need it. It is absolutely extraordinary. It means that the Conservatives – the Conservatives – are proposing a new form of national insurance. An extension of the Welfare State. It means that a Conservative – a Conservative – government would crowd out private insurers who might just be able to do that sort of a job better and cheaper than Whitehall bureaucrats. (Admit it, that has been known.)

If anyone in the Eton-Islington Axis was actually moved by principle rather than PR, they'd have consulted two decades' worth of think-tank reports pointing out that things like long-term care – and healthcare in general – are best provided through a partnership between individuals, insurance, and the state. The deal should be that if you fund or insure yourself for a reasonable period (say two years) of long-term care, then yes, the state will pick up the tab for the rest – since it's those unpredictably long stays that give insurers the collywobbles. It certainly shouldn't be that the state insures everything.

As an insurance company, the state sucks. It should focus on its proper role – welfare needs and the provision of things people can't save or insure for – not advancing into new areas that never occurred to Aneurin Bevan. Now that would be a thoughtful revolution.

Dr Butler's book The Rotten State of Britain is now in paperback.

Ain't no party like a nanny state party


May 1st 2010 will mark the launch of an annual celebration of all things New Labour: The 'Nanny State' Party. It will be a raucous affair where everyone can let their hair down and party like it's 1997.

Every party needs something to make it go with a bang, and this party will be no different. There will plenty of Nanny State ale to consume, and for those who prefer the grape, over the hop, bottles of Recession Red, to help celebrate the end of "boom and bust" economics. (Alcoholic drinks vouchers will be handed out at the door on entry, limiting people to the correct daily amount). Both will be served in recycled plastic glasses. Catering will be provided by our 'Five-a-day" officers who will be serving a wholly nutritional platter of organic fruits and vegetables. Nibbles will be in the form of organic pulses, beans and muesli. For guests who wish to smoke, there will be a controlled outside environment where we will allow 'electronic' cigarettes. For those who wish to consume nicotine in the old fashioned way you will be handed a nicotine patch and signed up to an intensive six week NHS Smoking Cessation course.

"Things Can Only Get Better" by D:Ream will be the only song available on the jukebox. And Harriet Harman is to be the spokesperson of choice, giving her view of the past 12 years. So please RSVP for your ticket soon to ensure your place at what's going to be the party of next year. We also want to ensure that we record your details on our 'entertainment' database which will of course allow us to issue you with your party ID card. John Prescott will be on the door and enforcing a no ID card, no entry policy.

The event will be powered by renewable energy and there will be ample bicycle and electrical car parking. An OFSTED licensed creche will also be available. Tickets only cost £13,000 (roughly equivalent to your share of the national debt). RSVP now and we'll even pay for your CRB check.

Fascism is communism


We ask that the government undertake the obligation above all of providing citizens with adequate opportunity for employment and earning a living. The activities of the individual must not be allowed to clash with the interests of the community, but must take place within its confines and be for the good of all. Therefore, we demand: … an end to the power of the financial interests. We demand profit sharing in big business. We demand a broad extension of care for the aged. We demand … the greatest possible consideration of small business in the purchases of national, state, and municipal governments. In order to make possible to every capable and industrious [citizen] the attainment of higher education and thus the achievement of a post of leadership, the government must provide an all-around enlargement of our entire system of public education … We demand the education at government expense of gifted children of poor parents … The government must undertake the improvement of public health – by protecting mother and child, by prohibiting child labor … by the greatest possible support for all clubs concerned with the physical education of youth. We combat the … materialistic spirit within and without us, and are convinced that a permanent recovery of our people can only proceed from within on the foundation of the common good before the individual good.

– From the political program of the Nazi Party, adopted in Munich, February 24, 1920.

The fashion police


Police cover-up at the Joy fashion chain in London sends a message to Cameron that he needs to strip our laws down to their foundations.

Yes, the fuzz have done it again. The new Islington, London store of fashion chain Joy enterprisingly launched a promotion, in which the first 25 customers to turn up in their underwear would get free outfits. Rather a fun idea.

But no sooner were 25 lucky ladies assembled outside the door in their smalls than the bluebottles (in the now-standard body armour) turned up to accuse them all of committing pubic indecency. That's an arrestable offence – actually, everything is an arrestable offence these days, as you'll find if you drop an apple core. Faced with the prospect of being marched in handcuffs down to the nick, swabbed, fingerprinted, cautioned, charged, and taken to court, everyone grumpily covered up, saying that our bobbies lost their sense of humour.

No, they haven't. They are just doing their job. And that's the problem. Politicians, in their anxiety to stamp out anti-social behaviour, hate crime, indecency, offensiveness and litter, have passed laws that give the cops powers to arrest (swab, fingerprint...) people for almost anything. No problem, you might think, if the Old Bill use common sense.

But you can't expect them too. It's simple bureaucrat economics. If they don't intervene and people are offended (or worse), they will get pilloried and people will demand they lose their jobs. If they do intervene, the worst that happens (to them) is that we complain they are a bit heavy-handed. Give bureaucrats – officials, rozzers, whoever – a power, and they will use it. All the time. It's just self-preservation.

That's why these powers should not exist in the first place. Sure, the peelers need authority to protect the public against terrorism, or stop breaches of the peace. But – note to Cameron & Co – if we want to make sure we don't face arrest for over-filling our wheelie bins, our politicians need to be much more precise about exactly what the law is there for. They won't, of course, because they like having the powers and think they will apply them sensibly. But for the reason I gave above, that's a fat chance. (Or can I be arrested for hate crime for using the word 'fat' in an abusing manner? When everything is unlawful, it's hard to know what to do.)

Dr Butler's book The Rotten State of Britain is now in paperback.

Cameron’s revolution


There is little to be garnered from David Cameron’s interview with Fraser Nelson of the Spectator. However, despite his deafening silence on policy of late, the excellent Fraser Nelson does pursue two interesting lines of discussion that elicit rather telling responses.

Firstly, Cameron claims that: “the sort of tax system that I believe in is one that’s effective in raising revenue — rather than one that is trying to make a particular point". Thus, the Conservative's are not going to soak the rich without just cause. The problem is that with all matters political, the truth is easily manipulated – thus, this is no insurance at all. The principal reason the rich should not be taxed at a higher rate than others is that it is morally wrong to do so. A Conservative government should drop the 50% rate and institute a flat tax for this reason alone.

This point is connected to his second interesting utterance:

There is an easy radicalism, whereby you take the latest idea that comes out of the Institute of Economic Affairs or wherever and just say, “well, that’s it",’ he says. ‘Proper radicalism is thinking through how you are going to get from A to B to C to D. I think that’s what we’re doing.’

As we all know, the IEA releases many excellent reports every year that should and could be turned into government policy in whole or in part. It might be easy radicalism, but it is at least innovative policy as distinct from New Labour. The problem with Cameron’s position is inability to stand up and state whether or not he in fact radical. He alludes to the fact that we should tacitly accept that he would get to “D" in the end, but a position is so unprincipled is not worthy of respect and hardly worth getting excited about.

Cameron's thoughtful revolution is no revolution at all. The state of the nation demands cool hard policies, yet Cameron is still coasting on autopilot. Victory is not watching Brown crash and burn, but instead to come to the country with the policies upon which this country can thrive.

Michael Moore's capitalism


One critic declared that the value of Capitalism: A Love Story was not in the moviemaking, but in its message that hits you in the gut and makes you angry. This film did not make me angry, but it did punch me in the gut. The people in that theater with me, including Moore, were not bad people. They just seem to all have consumed a lethal dose of Kool-Aid.

Michael W. Covel 'Michael Moore Kills Capitalism with Kool-Aid'

Harman and prostitution


I see that Harriet Harman, the UK's minister for women's affairs, thinks that Governor Schwarzenegger should close down the website PunterNet, which is based in California but posts reviews on UK prostitutes.

PunterNet must be delighted with this publicity. At least they are sensibly out of Ms Harman's grasp over in Sacramento. But the worrying thing about that is what she would say – and do – if the site were based in Britain. No doubt any website that offended her metropolitan middle-class sensibilities would be facing the axe. You can forget free speech when politicians have attitudes like that.

Ms Harman is already seeking to make it illegal to pay for sex, under the guise of preventing coercion (her legislative proposal talks about prostitutes 'controlled by another person' – though not even the cops have much idea of what that 'controlled' is supposed to mean). And she praised a police raid on a Birmingham massage parlour which 'freed' nineteen 'trafficked women' (it did nothing of the sort: it just nicked women who had come freely, if not always legally, from Eastern Europe to work in a wealthier country).

Now where people are sold into any trade against their will, we should move to stop it. But the small number of such cases are no reason to squeeze prostitutes out of a living because Ms Harman considers the activity immoral. Yes, prostitutes travel – it used to be to the next town, now, thanks to Ryanair, its the next country – to go where the money is better, and to protect their future employability (as Gary Becker puts it, their human capital) against tut-tutting neighbours and relatives. But where prostitution is a voluntary bargain, why should the state intervene? There may be issues of public health, but those are better fixed when prostitution is out in the open, than when it is forced underground.

The excellent book Prohibitions from the Institute of Economic Affairs points out that prostitution should, properly, be regarded as a caring profession, like nursing. There are many people who, for one reason or another, have no sex partner. If that leads to a voluntary agreement to exchange sex for cash, then both parties benefit. Ms Harman objects that this is 'exploitation of women'. Well, I had a look at PunterNet. Yes, I'm sure, in the shadowlands of prostitution today, the agencies take about half the fee. But even then, at anything up to £500 an hour, I'm pretty sure it's not the women who are being exploited.

Dr Butler's book The Rotten State of Britain is now in paperback.


Lord Turner attacks independent financial advisers


FSA proposals could halve the IFA industry, leaving only the rich able to afford investment advice

Lord Turner of Makebelieve is at it again. His Financial Services Authority (FSA) is introducing new rules for Independent Financial Advisors (IFAs) that will probably drive half of the 20,000 or so IFAs out of business by 2012. The requirements of the FSA's new Retail Distribution Review (RDR) will make life impossible for the smaller IFAs, many of whom are on the breadline now.

Ironically, the FSA is supposed to protect the consumer from biased financial advice and yet the RDR will drive all but the wealthy into the arms of the same big banks who are responsible for most consumer complaints. 59% of these complaints are about banks as against 3% complaining about IFAs. Once again the FSA is seeking to destroy the UK financial services sector rather than improve it.

The FSA is failing effectively to regulate the big banks and driving more consumer business into their arms. Not, of course, that advice from your friendly banker is ever biased.

Hat-tip to Simon Mansell who has the whole chapter and verse. He can be contacted through his website here.

You can also sign a petition deploring the FSA proposals at the Downing Street website.

New UK nuclear build?


Events over the last few days have dented the prospects for UK new nuclear-build.

In Germany, the success of the CDU/CSU and FDP coalition has been welcomed by the markets. The shares of both E.On and RWE have rallied in the expectation that Germany’s controversial nuclear phase-out policy will be abolished – thereby massively boosting their free cash flow.  Such a reversal does not mean that new nuclear-build will be undertaken in Germany.

It would mean, though, that both companies, along with EnBW and Vattenfall, could extend the lives of their nuclear plants whose capacity exceeds 20,000 MW. Furthermore, both E.On and RWE may well undertake investment at their existing nuclear plants to boost output. Against this background, their interest in participating in UK new nuclear-build may wane. And, in E.On’s case, with net debt of c£40 billion, reducing capex – rather than increasing it – is the compelling priority.

The UK Government’s new nuclear-build hopes also centre around EdF, which is 84% owned by the French Government. EdF has just confirmed the appointment of a new Chairman, Henri Proglio, who has spent most of his career at Veolia Environnement: he will now be top of DECC’s must-meet list. Central to his new responsibilities will be the reduction of EdF’s burgeoning net debt, which presumably will involve reversing some of the ambitious international expansion of late. The sale of some UK electricity distribution assets is anticipated.

Consequently, EdF’s hitherto robust commitment to new nuclear-build in the UK may erode. After all, it will not yield any revenues until 2018 at the earliest. Add to that, the more general weakness of oil and gas prices – at least compared with the boom times in 2007/08 when new nuclear-build interest peaked – and it is no surprise that the UK new nuclear-build programme is wobbling.

Is this unduly pessimistic?