27 September 2011

The same old story... and the same old mistakes

It's part conference season over in the UK, and following the so-called 'Fib Dems' last week, it's the turn of Her Majesty's official opposition, whom following a successful campaign from the last conference to get their stalking horse candidate in, now find themselves fronted by a talking horse.

A post on Miliband has been 'in the works' for several months now, and to Conservatives he remains the coalition's greatest asset, although the redrawing of the electoral landscape under the previous government, due to a huge increase in the Public Sector workforce, unlimited immigration and a significant increase in the number of welfare claimants, means he actually stands with a healthy lead in the polls, as Hal Berstram takes great pleasure in reminding me. More on him later, for sure, but pending the arrival of Compass latest offerings, it's time to examine another blog from the Democratic Left, Left Futures

It's an interesting name, given that for many the Left has no future, but the latest post in response to the Shadow Chancellor's remarks made yesterday, is worth looking at, if only to point out to people opposed to the anticipated 'cuts' in Public expenditure, some of the logistical issues with their preferred solution. The speech by Balls was, it has to be said, something of a tour de force, quite brilliantly summed up by one of the men who is under no illusion about the dangers posed by the Hard Left, Norman Tebbit here. I've never been overly enamoured by Balls ever since he was memorably skewered by then Deputy PM Michael Heseltine, with the memorable line, 'It's not Brown, it's Balls', and even in a political age where Chutzpah is a stock in trade, the speech took some beating. Arguably the most outrageous claim was made when he blames the many issues caused by immigration, which was deliberately encouraged by his government for political purposes (to 'Rub the right's faces in diversity') on one country in particular, Poland.

Now, at this point , I must declare an interest, my previous employer's workforce profile was very much geared to take advantage of the previous government's decision to 'open the borders' in 2004 to the 8 former Warsaw Pact countries which joined the EU in May of that year. I would hazard that around a third of the workforce, even 7 years on, remains Polish, with healthy minorities from the Czech Republic, Latvia, Slovakia, Hungary and Lithuania. I'd probably now number around 40 of those former colleagues as people I would consider reasonably close friends, all from Poland. Having some contact (usually in the form of insults) with the extreme right, I'd hazard Eastern European immigration is somewhat less objectionable than many other types, due to the ethnicity, religion and background of those immigrants. They are primarily White and Christian, but Balls, deeply conscious of previous statements from Conservative Leaders that were described by members of his own Party as 'the road to Auschwitz' and 'having the whiff of the gas chambers about them' chose instead to demonise people from Poland, rather than the somewhat more concerning, from an integration perspective, immigration from the Islamic world. As I said, shameless courting of the lowest common denominator.

Nevertheless, taking that consideration aside, the Left futures blog post posits the issue with Balls' prescription is that it doesn't go far enough! The core 'solution' provided in the blog is not new, but once more the details are wanting. Let's examine the core text.

'The key problem is not indebtedness, it is lack of demand. The Tory government policy of massive cuts in public expenditure and benefits, plus the VAT increase, is drastically worsening the problem of lack of demand without hardly reducing the deficit at all because of falling tax revenues and rising unemployment. The alternative – the only way to get out of slump when the private sector contracts – is a public sector-driven jobs and growth strategy, getting people off the dole and thus hugely reducing the cost of benefits, and into work so that regain their independence as well as then being able to contribute to tax revenues.

Keeping a million people on the dole costs £7bn a year. For the same amount of money 400,000 jobs could be created. And the country gets a double whammy: jobs are created in areas where they’re urgently needed in housebuilding, in improving transport and energy supply, and in creating the new green, digital economy. And the deficit is cut faster as growth slowly but steadily begins to take off again.'

This prescription, as already mentioned is reminiscent of the film Groundhog Day. there's the uncanny feeling we've been here before. Let me just state for the reader's benefit, that my background is in Logistics, which, simply put is the 'art' of ensuring resources are in the correct places. So what logistical difficulties does this plan present?

I agree a demand stimulus would certainly help the economy. As Tebbit posited when commenting on Balls' original speech, had the previous government not created a coterie of 'Non - jobs' for its own placemen, it's arguable that the necessity to cut wouldn't be there. The problem for Balls, and by extension the Labour Party, is that such people are almost to a person Labour voters, so to jeopardise that constituency would almost certainly mean losing the next several general elections. That would be suicidal, so the bloated payrolls of Local authorities (of all hues, incidentally) and his power base in the non-productive Public Sector remain untouched.

Let's now examine the proposal to create 400,000 jobs , which the blogger suggest will be in housebuilding, transport, infrastructure, and creating the new 'green,digital economy'. Let's deal with the last of these first, shall we? The one thing adepts of the Green economy fail to tell me is what this new 'Green,digital' economy will comprise. It's adherents, men like Chris Huhne , and people like Caroline Lucas, specialise in the production of prodigous quantities of hot air so my first thought was that, but in all seriousness, what are these 'creators' doing - if it's simple IT related tasks, then Ok, there might be sufficient unemployed with those skills to simply get them into a job, but I haved some reservations. Being charitable, let's assume its in the role of facilitation, and thus creating perhaps new cabling and broadband infrastructure, a key 'enabler' if britain is to gain widely based prosperity geographically.

The issue I find fault with, and it's not the first time I've pointed it out is that the writer seems to have zero understanding of either the construction industry or the logistical difficulties faced in facilitating this work. A cursory tour of the few remaining building sites in the South East will quickly reveal:

A/ That the job is skilled not unskilled - you can't just shoehorn 400,000 people into jobs as carpenters and bricklayers. The training even to get to a basic standard is at least six months and for more skilled workers like electricians or engineers a good deal longer than that! I believe this wider ignorance about almost any aspect of either Public Sector 'frontline' or Private Sector Production, Distribution and Construction industries is partly a function of the increasingly narrrow field from which many potential political figures come. That's as much true of the Coalition, as it is Labour.

B/ That, in a great irony, it is Poland that provides a huge number of these workers. This is due to a strong traditional work ethic, and also, as many of my colleagues have said, the need to engage upon massive reconstruction after the devastation of the Second World War. Ironically, the legacy of a command economy is that there were significant numbers of skilled workers, a tradition which due to an almost Stakhanovite work ethic seems to have been passed to a younger generation. These workers manage to undercut indigenous Labour and, as many will testify, manage to do the work to a much higher standard. So unless the Labour Party is willing to echo it's former Leaders call for 'British jobs for British workers' , which would be illegal under EU law, the expenditure welcome though it may be, is likely to be dissipated by some of the money being sent in the form of remittances to Szeczin, Rzesow, Wroclaw, etc

Leave aside the merits of the funding in the penultimate paragraph, with the discredited Tobin Tax again posited , and a move to the Dennis Healey levels of taxation circa 1979, we're not left with much of substance. Sadly, reality hurts and I think the road ahead will be long and somewhat painful!

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