...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Day 3921: Nu(Lab)Speak: What does Profligate Mean aka More Balls


The GENIUS of Mr Bully Balls is to hold two completely contradictory views simultaneously without EXPLODING.

For example:

On the one fluffy foot, the (Hard Labour) Government CANNOT be blamed for the MASSIVE ECONOMIC IMPLOSION of 2008 because they were at the MERCY of worldwide economic conditions, the poor helpless little ducks.

On the OTHER fluffy foot, the (Coalition) Government are ENTIRELY to blame for their powerful, cruel, ideological policies causing the stagnation in growth and employment in 2011 because that CAN'T be anything to do with the meltdown of the Euro and the chaos in Americaland, can it?

Today, Mr Balls has made a speech to the Hard Labour conference setting out a plan to rescue the economy from the trouble he got us into that is entirely the Coalition's fault, except for the bits caused by bankers. Lehman Brothers didn't collapse because Hard Labour built too many hospitals you know, oh no, it was just a coincidence that when they went bust we didn't have any money left and had to borrow massively to save a couple of banks of our own.

Oh and Labour didn't "build" hospitals: they RENTED them on the never-never from PFI firms that will OWN THE PROPERTY at the end of the contracts. IDIOTS.

Mr Balls has FIVE NEW policies for the economy. To a certain value of "new". To a certain value of "five" for that matter.

His policies are:

1.       Repeat Hard Labour's bank bonus tax which does not raise as much money as the Coalition's bank levy
2.       Bring forward capital spending like what the Coalition are already doing (CaptainClegg announced this a week ago)
3.       Cut VAT
4.       Cut VAT
5.       Give businesses a National Insurance holiday like the one the Coalition are doing but a bit different. Ish.

Now as far as I can make out, that's FOUR policies, with "cut VAT" included TWICE.

Why am I thinking of that bit in Star Trek where Gul B'Stard has Captain Picard strapped to the torture-matic and is making him say: "There are FIVE policies!"?

And, you know, "cut VAT" (i.e. Mr Alistair Dalek tried last time and it didn't work but what the hell, we've got two slightly different flavours of VAT cut!) is an idea that Bully Balls has been banging on about for QUITE SOME TIME.

As is "repeat the bonus tax" (i.e. take VENGEANCE on the VILE BANKER!).

Now, I don't want to ASSUME anything but it does not seem LIKELY that Mr Balls has suddenly become an arch MONETARIST and so is not intending to LOWER the tax burden, so I must guess he means to do the bonus tax ON TOP OF the bank levy.

And just the other day Mr Potato Ed was talking to Andy Marrmite about "tax cuts for financial services companies", which turns out to mean the Corporation Tax cut for ALL companies (which, oddly enough is supposed to attract companies to move to Great Britain and hence stimulate GROWTH).

So Mr Ed and his almost-exactly-the-same-as-the-Coalition tuition fees policy wants to fund a cut in university costs FOR THE RICH by creating a differential Corporation Tax rate for banks.

Which is quite a LOT of extra taxes to heap on top of the banking sector. And yes, I know they've been VERY naughty, but still…

Look, I do think that we became OVER-DEPENDENT on financial services during the years that can only be described as "the Hard Labour government", but I am still a BIT dubious about policies that seem designed to drive THIRTY PERCENT of the country's economy into the SEA!

It's not exactly a solid GROWTH strategy, is it?

We need a MIXED economy which includes a SOUND banking sector, ideally with more and smaller banks – more because more competition is good for the consumer, and smaller because smaller is easier to bail out if they fail!

The bank levy is FAIR because we are charging the banks for the guarantee that we will bail them out. But PUNITIVE tax rates on both the banks as corporations AND the bankers who work in them will sooner or later see them relocate their businesses and, from a deficit-cutting point of view, their all-important tax revenues.

So, having redefined the word "five" (to mean "four") and the word "new" (to mean "same old same old") let's cut to something with more than one SYLLABLE and see what we can do about "profligate".

Mr Balls denies that Hard Labour were "profligate".

Well, let's see. You WERE spending more money than you raised in tax during the biggest longest boom in post-war history. Some might say that that was a touch EXCESSIVE. Maybe they might even hazard UNWISE. But was it "profligate"?

Well, the wiktionary gives me the definition:

"Inclined to waste resources or behave extravagantly."

So I suppose it depends on whether you think that Hard Labour ever WASTED any resources.

Was, say, invading a Middle Eastern country on the basis of a lie a "waste of resources" or was that a useful and productive endeavour that in no way wasted hundreds of our young people's lives?

Was it, to pick an example for which Mr Balls was personally responsible, "extravagant" to promise to rebuild every school in the country – whether they needed it or not? Whether we could AFFORD it or not?

Was it a waste of resources to commission a vast, pointless, endlessly unfinished IT project for the NHS?

Was "Blairforce One" an extravagance at all?

Did Mr Frown make the best use of resources when he flogged off the country's gold reserve at an historic low in the gold price?

Are you COMPLETELY sure that the Olympics aren't a MASSIVE VANITY PROJECT?

I could go on…

…and I shall!

The response to the foot and mouth outbreak, slaughtering pretty much every cow in the country, was that the best possible use of resources?

Surrendering the British rebate to the European Union, did we get all that we possibly could in exchange for that?

The Jubilee line extension, do you feel that all the extra payments to contractors have successfully avoided endless closures for repairs?

That, ahem, big tent in Greenwich for 2000 A.D.

Clearly it is POSSIBLE to argue that Hard Labour may have OVERSPENT by an few teensy BILLIONS and TRILLIONS, but only on things that were NECESSARY and IMPORTANT. Like the wallpaper in the Lord Chancellor's rooms. Or repaying Mr Bernie Ecclestone.

Clearly it is POSSIBLE… but only if you are BARKING MAD.

So, we must conclude that in Mr Balls' dictionary "profligate" means something like "spending wisely and with prudence", so he can deny ever being "profligate" and it be perfectly true. .


Simon Fernandes said...

So (to use your own argument) the stumbles in the Coalition's economic policies are at least partly to do with the wider global situation, whereas Labour's failings were entirely of their own making?

Don't get me wrong, I'm no Labour voter and I find Ed Balls particularly loathsome, but you can't be partisan about applying a patently true argument to one government and not the other. That's Mr Balls' job, as you pointed out. Simply reversing the argument to support your own side is no more valid.

Yes, Labour were profligate - ridiculously so. Any government entrenched for that long inevitably finds new and more creative ways to waste public money. I seem to recall though, that the insanely expensive Millenium Dome project you mentioned was actually inherited from the previous government, those champions of reducing state spending the Conservatives. I also seem to remember an awful lot of waste being justified in 1997 with the line, "it's all the fault of the last government". Plus ca change...

Millennium Dome said...

“to use your own argument”

But you’re not, are you.

You’re using Mr Balls’ arguments, reversing the sense so it applies to the Coalition and claiming that’s what I’m saying.

Which I’m not.

So please don’t.

I have always been scrupulous to say that there were many factors that contributed to the collapse of 2007/08. The banks played their part. And then some!

But Mr Balls’ argument is that that means the Labour Party did nothing wrong.

Labour were both highly complicit in the banks’ behaviour, through regulation and tax policy and rewarding them with knighthoods and honours and by their general attitude of encouraging people into debt; and it is unarguable that they were guilty of irresponsible spending in the years from the 2001 election onwards, managing to run a deficit during the bumper tax receipts of the country’s biggest post-war boom.

Nor will you find me saying that the Coalition’s policies are blameless in the current circumstances, particularly some of our rhetorical positions which have made people very frightened for no good reason, and the VAT rise, with its impact on high street spending, was verging on madness and I won’t defend it.

On the other hand, and I’m sorry that it is so easy to dismiss it as “blaming the last lot” but it remains a truism that very little any government does will have an effect on the macroeconomy within three to five years. In fact after the biggest crash in history and left with a trillion pounds of debt, it would be rather absurd to expect us to recover within a decade, wouldn’t it?

And yet Mr Balls’ critique of the current situation is exactly that.

Why has the Coalition not instantly fixed the economy? Because we can’t. Why has the economy not bounced back to pre-crash levels? Because it would be absurd to think that it could. And no one else’s economy has either, not Europe in spite of austerity programmes nor America in spite of Barak Obama’s stimulus plans.

The best that we can do – and in fact that we have done – is to keep a certain degree of calm on the money markets and stock markets. And that is helping to keep interest rates at impossibly low levels (which remains the main difference between us and the economies of the rest of the continent).

Oh, and regarding the Dome: the plan to host some Millennium celebration was indeed from the Major government (Michael Heseltine’s last hoorah, if I recall aright) but the detail and the content were decided by Mr (as he was then) Peter Mandelson.

And I loved the Dome and actually, I wouldn’t say a bit of extravagance is always a bad thing; but I’m critiquing Balls’ argument that they were NEVER extravagant, when plainly they were, and in the eyes of a lot of people the “Greenwich white elephant” was the crowning example.

Simon Fernandes said...

If I've misinterpreted your argument, then I sincerely apologise. It was your use of the phrase "the trouble he got us into" that gave the impression you were reversing Balls' argument, and I think your response to my comment clears up that you were actually using this for comic effect rather than an argument. So, sorry about that.

As to the rest, I do agree; Balls seems to have little grasp on reality, following a partisan lne that rewrites history to his party's favour. The overall disillusionment I feel (which perhaps I didn't argue clearly enough myself) stems from my experience of this being in no way a new phenomenon, but the standard practice of every party whether in or out of government.

All the points you make about Labour's economic excesses and incompetence are perfectly valid. The trouble is that, in my lifetime, I've seen 13 years of increasingly bad Labour governance follow 18 years of increasingly bad Tory governance. And we can probably argue till the cows come home about the difference the Lib Dems have made to the Coalition (my partner and I certainly do!) without ever really agreeing with each other, but my (admittedly prejudiced) view is that they are in government with those self same Conservatives. To be honest, while I know the Lib Dems are committed to plurality in politics, I don't think I'd have felt any better if they'd gone into coalition with Labour - by that point I had a similarly negative view of them.

Ultimately, I've simply become jaded towards party politics in this country entirely. This doesn't mean that I've lost interest in politics - quite the reverse in fact - but I've certainly lost faith with all three major parties. That's why, though I acknowledge that all the points you make are completely correct, my experience of them all (at some point and in some form) being equally applicable to the others is what has given me the cynical viewpoint I currently enjoy.

On the plus side, your Miliband speech parody was one of the funniest things I've read in ages:)