It’s Still the British Government

As the euphoria of Labour’s ejection from Government recedes and the novelty of the new coalition Government wears off, it’s time to realise that the more things change the more they stay the same.  Here’s what to expect:

There wasn’t much conservative left about the Conservative Party before the General Election. David Cameron was already on the left side of his party with the Thatcherites severely marginalised. Now that he in in coalition with the LibDems, he has sold off the rest of the family silver. That was the price of the deal.

There is no question about the UK becoming less socialist. In this country it is not a matter of whether socialism but whose socialism. The new Government promises to spend more on the NHS year-on-year, but it will be spending less than was being spent. All the other money went to the banks. There will still be rationing. After promising that everyone will have access to the health care they need, the new Health Secretary admitted that there will never be enough to meet the demand, but that by shuffling around the nurses into various roles everything will be gloriously better.

Having poured the public purse into the bankers’ bonuses, new money to run the Welfare State will have to come from somewhere. They aren’t talking about the tax increases. It’s all about the spending cuts. However the reality is that the Conservatives have dropped the marriage (and civil partnership) tax break they promised during the campaign. That’s £150 per year per couple. They have dropped plans to raise the inheritance tax limit. (Inheritance tax is the tax penalty for dying after saving any of the money that has already been taxed.) There will be a very significant rise in capital gains tax (this means that everyone will dump whatever shares they can before it comes into effect and will drive down the market). VAT (that’s sales tax) will rise to at least 20%, though it could very conceivably go higher. The Tory promise of not implementing the Labour Government’s rise in National Insurance tax is being kept in part. Employers will not have a rise in their NI contribution, but employees will pay more.

The new Conservatives are every bit as liberal on social issues as Labour. They partners the LibDems are even more so. The man who would have been expected to take over as Home Secretary has been left out of the Government because he unwisely sided with a family who would not let gay couples share a double bed in their Bed and Breakfast. Since David Cameron took over from Iain Duncan Smith (an actual conservative Conservative), the Tories have tried to be pinker and greener than any other party. Abortion is not even a political issue in this country, despite the 200,000 that are performed every year.

What remains to be seen is just how the new Government will deal with Labour’s surveillance society. Both the Tories and the LibDems have promised to get rid of ID cards. How far they will go in otherwise getting out of the lives of individuals and families has yet to be seen.

There will be no conserving of the British constitution. The House of Lords, already nearly bereft of the hereditary peers who populated it for 800 years, will be turned into an elected Senate, elected by the LibDem’s preferred method of proportional representation. Like the Lords it will be an upper chamber in name only, with the centre of power still firmly in the Commons, even if it will no longer have the claim to the greater legitimacy of being democratically elected.

As a trade off for the Conservatives taking on the LibDem tax increases, the LibDems only lose one significant one significant policy, which is the only one for which I had any sympathy. The Tories are opposed to amnesty for long-term illegal immigrants, so there will be no amnesty for at least the length of this fixed-term five-year Parliament.

I’m glad to see Labour gone. I’m hoping that the new Government will not be as arrogant as the last, though the British Government is typically quite arrogant, regardless of who is in power.

Almost Everybody Wants Justice for the Gurkhas

It was the first time a Government has lost an Opposition Day Debate since James Callaghan was Prime Minister in January 1978. It was the first time the Liberal Democrats had won one since their formation. The Opposition get twenty legislative days scattered though each parliamentary session (each year) during which they can discuss topics they choose. The topic today was the treatment of the Gurkhas.

Some non-British readers may be unfamiliar with the Gurkhas. They are Nepalese recruits to the British army, a tradition that goes back to the 19th century.  Until 1947, their officers were always subordinate to British officers. Until 1997, they received a smaller pension than other members of the British army. Actually, unless they joined up after July 1997, they still receive a smaller pension.

The worst bit is that even after fighting for the British, they have had no right to settle in the United Kingdom. This has caused great consternation not only for the Gurkhas, but also for fair-minded British people across the political spectrum. The Government decided that Gurkhas retiring after 1997 would have the right of residency, but it has been happy to deport those who fought in the Second World War or the Falklands War. The High Court ruled last September that Gurkhas that left the army before 1997 had a right to residency as well, but the Home Office did not feel particularly compelled to obey the court’s ruling and said it would review its policy.

A couple of days ago, the Home Secretary said that she would now allow a few more Gukhas to settle – those that had won one of the top four bravery medals or had health problems as a direct consequence of their service or had served at least 20 years. That meant less than 100 would be eligible, since Gurkhas are not allowed to serve more than 15 years unless they are officers. Everyone except the Government was outraged. After all, those in the armed forces from any other Commonwealth country are eligible to live in the UK after four years service.

That’s why the debate was about the Government’s treatment of the Gurkhas, and that’s why the Government lost. Of course the vote is not binding on the Government. That’s why it is commonly said that we have an elected dictatorship. But the Immigration Minister did read an emergency statement to the House of Commons tonight that this would be reviewed again before Parliament breaks up for the summer. It’s a step in the right direction.

If all the Gurkhas and their families that want to settle in the UK did so (estimates are about 6000) it could cost the Government as much as £230 million. That sounds like a lot of money the Home Office wants to save the taxpayer. It does until you put it into perspective. The Home Office spent £150 million last year just on outside consultants. Another £540 million was lost last year when it was wrongly paid to Income Support and Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants. Then there are the billions and billions spent bailing out the banks and paying bankers’ bonuses.

So let’s see. Should we spend the money on consultants? Dole overpayments? Bankers? Or should we spend it on veterans of the British Army? It’s a no-brainer for most people. Except those in the Government of course.

Godless Politics

Tony Blair once opined that if a British politician talks about God, “people think you’re a nutter”. Nick Clegg doesn’t plan on being thought a nutter. The new leader of the Liberal Democrat Party told an interviewer on Radio 5 Live that he doesn’t believe in God.

Most polticians don’t step over this line either. They usually just say that faith is a private matter, while hinting that they may attend religious services on rare occasions.

This is such a contrast to American politics, where no one who run for office national office without making some sort of strong (even if imaginary) connection to religion. Outside of spiritually icy Blue States, candidates for lesser offices will make even more of their faith.

Nick must be hoping to pick up the youth vote. Surely if he advertises his atheism, he will appeal to the increasing Christianophobia leaving schools and entering the adult world with each yearly cohort. This may finally sever the last remnants of the traditional connection between the Liberals and the chapel (non-Anglican Protestant churches) – just as the Church of England was once called the Tory Party at prayer.