The Sad Stupidity of the Tory Conference

Political discourse is at the heart of our democracy. We are allowed to disagree, to argue our corner and to present our positions without fear. This is a hugely important thing, as anyone suffering under a totalitarian regime will tell you. Perhaps the most compelling facet of this debate is analysing the extrapolations of policy from a position of ideology, and reviewing the evidence. A well-reasoned argument over a policy approach may in fact just boil down to what each side believes, because there is a case to be made for the tactic either way. It’s possible to argue, for example, that red tape is strangling business and cutting employment rights will boost the economy. I would fundamentally disagree with this, citing the importance of secure jobs and confidence from a demand perspective. However, it’s a debate.

At the Conservative Party Conference, this type of political reasoning has gone out of the window. The week has been full of ideas which at their very heart are just utterly, irredeemably, stupid. It’s a shame, because it lowers the quality of politics in this country and it leads to government by headline. I’d love to analyse the merits of the Tory’s economic approach, but we don’t get anything new, apart from a plan to swap shares for employment rights (stupid).

Here’s my inexhaustive list of the stupid things cabinet ministers have said this week:

1. George Osborne announced that companies can offer shares to new employees if they sign away employment rights and these shares will be free of CGT. There are so many stupid things about this idea that I need a list:

  • How do you value the shares in a start-up? How can you accurately measure an increase in their value if they are not publicly traded?
  • If you can value them, as an employee, how can you sell them? Do you need to wait until a takeover or floatation to get any money out? How many companies will this then apply to? (Answer – virtually none)
  • Individuals already have a CGT allowance of £10,400 a year. If you get £5000 of shares, you need them to triple in value before you are even thinking about CGT anyway.
  • Companies already have two years to dismiss employees without them having recourse to tribunals. Why would a company give away equity when this already exists?
  • Assuming ex-employees can’t hold shares, if someone is fired, the company will need to value the shares (see above) and then buy them back themselves. This means a share capital account to cover liabilities arising from the issue of shares. Why would a small company want to go to these lengths?
  • If the shares have voting rights, companies are going to be even less inclined to issue them as it would tie their hands in terms of making business decisions
  • Given all this, why on earth would an employee even want the shares in the first place, especially if it left them without the chance to request basic employment rights?

I could probably go on, in particularly about the added bureaucracy and “red tape” this would add to a small business, but I think it’s pretty clear that just about no-one will ever use this stupid scheme. We are repeatedly told about the brilliance of Osborne’s cabal of advisors. After this (and pasties, caravans etc etc), it’s hard not to think that they are in fact, stupid.

2. Chris Grayling wants to change the law to allow homeowners to attack burglars more excessively. This is so incredibly stupid I can hardly bring myself to write about it. Another list:

  • It’s a stupid solution to a non-problem. Between 1990 and 2005, SEVEN prosecutions were brought against homeowners for tackling burglars. Less than one every two years. The chances of this being relevant to the average person is so infinitesimally remote as to make winning the lottery pretty much a 50:50 thing.
  • Grayling doesn’t want people arrested if they attack a burglar. However, all his new law does is alter one (established) judgement call on the reasonableness of the action to another. If a burglar is badly hurt, the homeowner will still be arrested while a judgement on the new test of “not grossly disproportionate” is made. As we know, virtually no-one is charged anyway, so the change will make no difference.
  • How can giving the general impression that violent actions are to be encouraged help make the country safer? Obviously, it can’t.
  • This is classic, stupid, knee-jerk, right-wing garbage that desperate politicians think makes them look tough, but in fact makes them look stupid.

I think Grayling may have won “stupidest person at Tory Conference 2012” this year, but it’s such a tough call.

3. Jeremy Hunt claims he’s increasing spending on the NHS by £12bn. This isn’t actually a stupid comment, but it does assume everyone who hears it is stupid, which they aren’t, so therefore becomes stupid in context. The £12bn figure is “nominal”, which means not adjusted for inflation, or, in practical terms, irrelevant nonsense. Spending on the health service is flat “in real terms” (ie adjusted for inflation). However, the NHS is widely agreed to require an increase of 4% each year to stand still. Under Thatcher and Major, when the service nearly collapsed, there were still real terms increases, just not enough. If you don’t think claiming to be spending an extra £12bn on the NHS now is stupid, wait till it falls apart in a couple of years.

4. Theresa May wants antisocial behaviour victims to choose the punishment for those convicted of wronging them. This is another policy which nobody has sense-checked. Or if they have, they have no sense. It undermines a basic tenet of English law, that crimes are committed against the community (embodied by the Crown), not individuals. Therefore punishment is managed by the Crown’s representatives. There’s a good reason for this, which is to ensure that everyone is seen as equal in the eyes of the law. Under May’s stupid idea, it will completely depend on what the victim chooses as to how people are punished for the same crime. This sets a very dangerous precedent.

Yes, the system needs to support victims better, but this can be assisted by them trusting in the state to manage prosecutions fairly and appropriately, not by introducing a roguish element of vendetta into the criminal justice system. Stupid.

These are just some of the stupid things said this week. There have been broader stupid claims made, like the highly dubious claim to have cut the deficit by 25%, which only works if you stop counting in March 2012, include massive cuts to capital spending and ignore the fact that borrowing is rising sharply again now. Still, pats on the back all round!

The stupid claims about fairness and “all being in it together” are so ridiculous as to barely merit comment anymore. However, although the richest 10% have been hit the most in percentage terms, they are only slightly ahead of the poorest 10%, who again just do worse than the next poorest 10% and so on. And none of this analysis takes into account the disproportionate use of local services by the poorest. It’s a mendacious argument to suggest the rich are being squeezed. As another £10bn is lined up to be cut from social security, the only way the rich are to be targeted is through some tax evasion work. This apparently will happen despite the Treasury having lost 1000s of employees.

Interesting, isn’t it – while the poor get hit harder and harder, the rich are supposedly suffering because the government will try to make them OBEY THE LAW!

It’s sad the Conservatives have been so stupid. I sense a real desperation. It’s the politics of last resort and I suppose for that we should be grateful.

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1 Comment

Filed under Economy, General

One response to “The Sad Stupidity of the Tory Conference

  1. Sean O'Hare

    Greg,

    Sorry this is a bit late, but you post so seldom nowadays I now only very occasionally take a look at your site. I will now check “notify new posts” so hopefully I will be less tardy next time 🙂

    Political discourse is at the heart of our democracy. We are allowed to disagree

    Allowed Greg? Allowed? WTF? the people are sovereign – they work for us! We should be able to do whatever we like unless the people have sanctioned a law to the contrary. The fact that these politicians have recruited heavies (the police) to prevent us is indicative of where it has all gone wrong.

    It’s possible to argue, for example, that red tape is strangling business and cutting employment rights will boost the economy

    I would suggest that both are undeniable, however you are right it is a debate.

    How do you value the shares in a start-up? How can you accurately measure an increase in their value if they are not publicly traded?

    Isn’t that the whole point? You can only realise the value of employee shares once the business is successful. The harder the employees work the better the chances that the business will flourish. Like life it’s a gamble!

    Assuming ex-employees can’t hold shares

    Why do you assume that?

    Given all this, why on earth would an employee even want the shares in the first place

    In one word DIVIDENDS!

    I could probably go on, in particularly about the added bureaucracy and “red tape” this would add to a small business

    Who is responsible for the “red tape” then? It isn’t the business is it? No its government and even more outrageously it is the EU! Accepting the dead hand of government interference in shareholding in what way is there more red tape involved when employees hold shares?

    That’s enough for now. I may come back and have another go later!

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