We don’t need no Graduation (Tax)

So, we are back to the debate about how to pay for higher education. And the choice being presented is between increasing the tuition fees (to up to £14K a year to do a science degree), and introducing a Graduate Tax. I was opposed to the fees when they were brought in by the 1997 government, and I still am. I wasn’t too happy about the erosion of maintenance grants and their replacement by loans – a process that started under the Major government. When a Graduate Tax was being proposed back in the early 90s I opposed that too.

The problem with a lot of these approaches is that they take the simplistic basis that the only beneficiary of a university education is the student. This is untrue. Society as a whole benefits from having doctors, research scientists, architects, engineers, lawyers*, accountants etc. Companies and other employers have a pool of talent to draw on, and so ‘wealth’ can be created. Indeed, some graduates even become employers on the back of their knowledge and so are providing opportunities for other people to work (and not simply other graduates).

Yes, people with a degree are likely to earn more money as a result than people who do not, and this is a clear direct benefit to graduates. However, as a result, they are already likely to be paying more in taxes on income and consumption than those who do not. So why should they have to pay again through another special tax or through high tuition fees?

Now, of course so far I have simply been arguing against things, and it’s quite reasonable to ask what I would actually support, and how we should expect to pay for an expanded higher education sector**. So here it goes:

Because the whole of society benefits in general, and because one of the main ways in which graduates benefit is financially, why not simply use general taxation? We do it for pre-university education, don’t we? We don’t insist that kids with A-Levels pay extra for staying on for a couple of years more on the basis that they can get a better job as a result. It’s accepted that education up to the age of 18 is publicly funded, not simply because every child and their parents benefit from it, but because the nation as a whole is better off with a more educated populace. For a good thirty years (from 1962 to 1992), we had a system that provided full tuition and additional means tested maintenance grants. The prime beneficiaries of this system were the ‘baby boomer’ generation. In Scotland and Wales there is more public involvement than in England, with no tuition fees for Scotland at all.

But what would be the cost to taxpayers? Well, in 2002/3, there were 1.6 million UK students in undergraduate education in the UK, and by 2006/7 that had risen to 1.8 million (source DCSF). So I’ll assume that there are about 2 million today. Currently the tuition fees are up to £3,125 a year. This means that at the most about £6.25 billion would need to be found to pay the same tuition fees. This is equivalent to adding about 1.5p to the rates of basic Income Tax, NI, or VAT, according to HMRC figures, or a few more pence in the pound on higher rates. My numbers are rough, and over-estimates***, but that should allow some room for the expansion of higher education and increasing costs of tuition.

To supplement the costs, Universities should be encouraged and helped to get more private funding for research, through partnerships as well as from traditional funds like the Wellcome Trust. Indeed, I am far less worried about corporate involvement in universities (as long as it is regulated) than I am about it in schools.

Now, I fully realise that I am proposing a tax-and-spend policy at a time when the new government is embarking on a tax-and-cut policy in an attempt to rapidly reduce the deficit. However, I take a different approach to education than the Tories (and now Lib Dems) do – it should be seen as an investment to improve the ‘asset’ that is an educated society, rather than just as a cost. It may not be a change that is seen as affordable now, but it’s one that I would like to see put in place for the future.

Besides, making the change now would actually add to borrowing, because for the first two years all of the tuition would have to be paid for but the tax would not apply until people graduate and are working, and it would take decades to ramp up to the full revenue stream.

And let’s face it, any politician who graduated before 1999 will not have had to pay tuition fees, and any who graduated before about 1990 went to university in the era of the maintenance grant. If they want to make the system more expensive for students they could at least explain why the old ways were ok for them. Eh, Vince Cable?

* I know that lawyers are not always necessarily seen as a public boon, and certainly a surfeit of them is a very bad thing indeed, but as my girlfriend has an LLB I have to say that not all lawyers are irretrievably rotten. Mind you, she doesn’t work as a lawyer…

** We have seen an increase over the last 20 or so years, and at the moment there’s likely to be a levelling off. There are debates to be had about whether we need nearly 50% of people to get a degree and what degrees they should be taking, but this post is already long enough already. For my part, I think we probably should aim to have as many people living to their potential as possible, and I’ll leave it there for now.

*** Not all UK students in UK universities pay tuition fees, not all courses are full-time or charged at the maximum of £3,125. The figures include mature students, and those at the Open University and the private University of Buckingham

Is Germany a few months ahead of us?

A recently formed coalition between the larger conservatives and a smaller liberal party that has been in power for 8 months is in danger of collapsing, partly over accusations of overly rash cuts in public spending…

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jun/14/angela-merkel-germany-coalition-collapse

Rugby Psephology

I used to do this for Crawley, so following the latest local elections, I’ve compared the results in all of the May Borough elections (I’ve not done any by-elections) to see if there are any patterns and trends by ward (with whether it is in the Town or a rural area in brackets) and by party. It is a little long…

By Ward

The general case over the past five years seems to be consistency. Results have the same each time across all wards, with the only exception being Dunchurch & Knightlow where anti-development Lib Dem Ron Ravenhall and his wife Sally have taken seats the Tories would probably usually win. Because this year’s General Election drew out nearly twice as many voters, the results are somewhat skewed when looking at the details, but even then the winners were pretty much in line with previous years, even if the share of the vote varied in places.

Admirals (Town)

3T, Safe. Usually get 50%, did better last year with Peter Butlin. Labour second, trend is generally down, from 38% in 2006 to 28% last year. Contains new estate of Cawston Grange.

Avon & Swift (Rural)

2T. Very Safe. Consistently 65-68%. Labour slightly ahead of the LDs, when the latter stand.

Benn (Town)

3L. Usually 43-44%, lower this year. LDs just ahead of Tories in second. Greens sometimes stand, only place where vote share went up for them.

Bilton (Town)

3T Safe. 60-66% usually, but lower when David Wright stood, and this year only 49%. LDs have been overtaken by Labour into second recently.

Brownsover N (Town)

2T. Becoming closer. 58% in 2006, 52% in 2008, 46% in 2010. LDs & Lab vie for second place, LDs only 38 votes ahead this year.

Brownsover S (Town)

2L Marginal. 44% in past years, 38% this year. Majorities all less than 50 over Ts. LDs a fair way back in 3rd.

Caldecott (Town)

3LD Marginal, going safe? 44% consistently, Cons usually on 40-42%, slumped to 31% this year. Turnout or forrun name? Lab 3rd,

Dunchurch & Knightlow (Mixed)

2T 1LD. Marginal, going T. Ravenhall name seems to have given LDs seats, otherwise Ts on about 50%. Now Ron has passed on, could well see LDs recede. Lab distant 3rd, Greens even more distant 4th

Earl Craven & Wolston (Rural)

3T. Safe usually 70%. Lower this year, perhaps result of proposal to close local Fire Station. Lab main second party. LDs or Greens get about 10% if they stand

Eastlands (Town)

3LD Safe. Usually 60-70%. Cons second on 20-25%, Lab usually on 11-12% but turnout improved result this year.

Fosse (Rural)

2T. Safe. 70-75% usually lower this year – perhaps turnout, perhaps Fire Station. LDs second by a few percent

Hillmorton (Town)

3T. Usually 44%, but Bill Sewell seems to have large personal vote. LDs have replaced Lab as second place, but they are very close.

Lawford & Kings Newham (Mixed)

2T. Marginal, becoming safer. Was seat of anti-Cement Works campaigner Patricia Wyatt, and she comes second here as an Independent. Lab usually 3rd, but in 2008 BN stood (only time in Borough elections since 2006)

Leam Valley (Rural)

1T. Safe – 80% in 2007, LD stood, but not Lab.

New Bilton (Town)

3L usually about 50% but lower this year, with Cons usually on 30%, LDs up to 22%. In 2008, no T stood, and Greens took 27%. This year both stood, and Greens 4th on 6%.

Newbold (Town)

3L usually 47-48%, 43% this year. Cons slipping from 35% to 30%, LDs usually on about 20% – Greens came 3rd in 2008 taking most of LD vote, this year collapsed to under 5%

Overslade (Town)

3T usually 50-57%, 44% this year. Lad around 25-30%, LDs usually 11-13%, but nearly 20% this year. Greens 5-7% (seem to take votes from LDs)

Paddox (Town)

2LD safe 53-61%. Cons on about 30%, Lab on 10-12%

Ryton-on-Dunsmore (Rural)

1T safe 59%. Lab second on 22%. Patricia Wyatt stood when no election in Lawford, came 3rd on 19%

Wolvey

1T ultra-safe. Over 90%, only challenger was Labour

By Party

Tories – dominate the rural areas, where once Independents used to have a chance. Also do well on the outskirts of town – Hillmorton and Admirals, Bilton and Brownsover North. Also win in the central ward of Overslade. 28 councillors

Labour – based in the north and west part of the core town area – Brownsover South, Newbold, New Bilton & Benn. 10 councillors

Lib Dems – have a clump of wards to the south and easy of the town centre – Caldecott, Eastlands & Paddox. Losing ground in Dunchurch & Knightlow. 9 councillors

Greens – Sometimes can get a good 3rd place, but generally seem to split the vote. It’s not consistent where the split comes from – Labour, Lib Dems or even Tories. Generally losing support since 2007.

BNP – stood once in Lawford & Kings Newham, got 16% (which seems to be the usual peak across the country when they first stand). Hopefully will not stand again

Independents – There used to be four Ind councillors, now none are left. Patricia Wyatt is the only one consistently trying to get back in. Dave Elsom stood as an Independent in Hillmorton in 2008, but for the LDs there this year. He was a Tory some years ago (assuming it’s the same Mr Elsom as I saw on an old report about 2002 elections).

Overall

I can’t see many changing trends at all, the past few years has seen very consistent results over time. I expect that the Tories will get the last seat in Dunchurch when it’s up next (2011?) all else being equal. They could also take Brownsover South from Labour with a small swing. Benn could become a 3-way marginal if the Labour vote slips. However, Labour’s vote was already probably at a low in this period, and certainly they were losing seats that had been won in the 2002-2004 election cycle. So if Labour starts to recover generally, and if people want to protest against a Tory-Lib Dem coalition, chances are that local results will move towards Labour. Of course, we won’t see that until next year at the earliest, and there may be a honeymoon effect for one or other coalition party.

In terms of personal votes, I detect positive ones for Bill Sewell and Peter Butlin of the Tories and the Ravenhalls for the Lib Dems. On the other hand, David Wright seems to be unpopular for the Tories. Other than that, there isn’t much variation in each ward, so for the most part it looks like people are voting by party.

New government not that cosy…

Now, I am not one of those who blames the Lib Dems for their coalition deal with the Tories to form a government. I’ve never really been that convinced that the Lib Dems are really part of ‘The Left’ to start with. Some of them are lovely soft greenie-socialdemocratic types. And others, like much of their new front bench are primarily economic liberals who hate trade unions and would love to bring the ‘market’ into public services.

For the most part, the coalition proposals launched last week are as expected – a mix of Tory and Lib Dem manifesto ideas, with some compromises made on both sides, combined with the natural tendency to blame their predecessors.

But one item took me by surprise. It wasn’t in either manifesto, but it’s there on page 24 (second item) in the ‘Justice’ section:

  • We will extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants.

Woah.

This is almost unbelievable, and a massive backward step. For one moment consider how hard it is to even get victims to come forward, then how difficult it is to build a case including intent and establishing non-consent, and then remember that we still have a bit of an attitude that certain people have (and judges are not immune unfortunately) that some victims ‘bring it on themselves’. But one thing that is clear when it comes to serial rapists – if they are named, more victims are likely to come forward.

There are a few questions that arise immediately – Why rape alone? Does it include paedophilic rape, but exclude other paedophilic crimes? Why not murder, that’s pretty heinous?

I know where it comes from, it’s the meme that there are loads of women out there who are making malicious complaints. It happens of course (just as for any criminal allegations, there’s a possibility of false witness), but it’s not exactly that common, and with the ridiculoulsy low conviction rates for rape (6% of reported rapes end up in a convistion for it, rising to 14% if you consider a conviction for other crimes as a result) would appear to be unlikely to work.

Where it does happen, clearly someone who makes a knowingly false allegation of a serious crime should themselves be prosecuted heavily, especially if they perjure themselves in court. But going to the extent of ensuring anonymity for defendants is way too far – and it will make it less likely that other victims will come forward. It also seems to be sending the message that the government thinks rape victims are more likely to be liars.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ll be mentioning this to any Lib Dem voter I meet.

So what now?

The election is over, and so is my recovery period. My blisters have stopped throbbing and I’ve caught up on the lost sleep. And now we have… um… no real certainty.

First off, my result:

  • NEWSOME Paul Michael Samuel – The Conservative Party Candidate – 861 (25%)
  • RICHARDS Owen Keir – The Labour Party Candidate – 706 (21%)
  • ROODHOUSE Jerry – Liberal Democrat – 1,818 (54%) ELECTED

It’s not a huge surprise. At the last borough election in 2008, the results were:

  • Malcolm Bassan (Con)…368 (21%)
  • *SUE PEACH (LibDem)…1,168 (67%)
  • Kathleen Yu (Lab)…214 (12%)

Turnout was nearly doubled, but Labour’s vote trebled, the greatest proportional increase. Of course, even then I was still about 150 votes behind the Tory and 1000 voted behind the winning Lib Dem, just as my predecessor was. I’d like to thank everyone who voted for me for their support, and especially to those who helped in the campaign.

Elsewhere in the Borough, the only east to change hands was Dunchurch and Knightlow. The Lib Dems were defending after the death of Ron Ravenhall, but the Tories won. As a result, the Tories now have a majority of 9 and Labour are the second-largest party.

I was very disappointed to see the swing across Rugby in the General Election. Andy King was, by all accounts, a great MP and he and the local party put a lot of effort in. I met spoke to quite a few people who said they were voting for him personally. I hope that he’s not too upset with the outcome.

But the main question is what is the actual outcome. Labour lost, of course. But not by as much as many thought, and we did far better than the opinion polls of only a few months ago would have suggested. The Conservatives failed to win. They should have been able to capitalise on the economy, on Brown’s unpopularity, and on the niceness of their leader, but they couldn’t. They came close, but clearly do not have a mandate to govern, at least not alone. The Lib Dems somehow managed to lose seats while gaining votes. One thing of note that some high-profile MPs lost – Lembit Opik and Dr Evan Harris among them.

Labour can possibly form a coalition with the Lib Dems, but would need more suppport. Even with the allied Northern Ireland parties (the SDLP with Labour and the Alliance with the Lib Dems), there would only be a total of 317 seats, several short of a majority. It would be unstable and would rely on more support from small parties such as the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, DUP or Greens. So it makes sense for the Liberals to see what they can get from the Tories first.

Of course, that means a fair bit of compromise. The Lib Dems have a strong case to press for electoral reform – they had 23% of the vote and less than 9% of the seats. The Tories will not want to be seen to concede too much as they feel they should have won outright.

A coalition can damage at least one of the parties in it. On that basis, it may well be best for Labour to wait and see if a Lib/Con alliance can be formed and if so, accept the Opposition role. If it cannot, then that’s the time to make a strong offer to the Liberals. Say, a referendum on PR and other reforms. If such a referendum were to take place and pass, an election would have to be held as soon as practical afterwards anyway.

Knights who say NI

On the national campaign, this NI thing is a bizarre one. It’s not that big a shift, but it does contribute to the long term need to narrow the budget deficit.  As NI is supposed to cover unemployment benefit, state pensions and the NHS, it makes sense for a marginal increase given that all of them have increased over time and are resistant to cuts. The Tory argument (as exemplified by Duncan Crow, who thinks that personal abuse and ignorance combined make a reasonable political argument) ignores a key element, one which the government find hard to express and is not easily demonstrated over a sound-bite driven media, but is important nevertheless:

The Tory plan is to make deeper cuts in 2010 in order to pay for not increasing NI from 2011. Those cuts in spending would inevitably mean the loss of public sector jobs. This would mean less money going into the economy via their wages (even public employees need to use the private sector to buy food and other goods) and would increase pressure on unemployment. It would also mean less money going to private companies who supply the public sector. The next six-nine months are pretty important for the UK economy in terms of the recovery. Germany could slip into recession again, and so could other countries which have cut early. By April 2011 we should be through that crucial period when the recovery needs to be nurtured and the private sector is able to grow naturally, and can better absorb a marginal tax increase. It also seems to me that a mixture of measures designed to increase revenue as well as control spending are more likely to be effective than to simply try and control spending.

No-one denies that the current budget deficit is unsustainable. Most of it is caused by the recession, of course, and so the end of that will see it come down quickly – it’s already lower than expected by £11bn. However, the question that is crucial is how fast and how early we take action to further reduce it. If we don’t act at all, or act too late, then there will be more long term debt to pay off, which isn’t great. If we act too fast or too drastically, the effects on the wider economy can damage it’s capacity to recover. The problem with pretending that the public sector is separate from the ‘real’ economy is that it isn’t – they are inextricably linked. Public debt is a private asset (ie: governments borrow by selling bonds that investors buy); money that is paid to employees, public or private, goes into the cash economy as it is spent; Things that the public sector doesn’t do can have an effect on the private sector, or can draw activity into an already hard-pressed voluntary sector.

What’s more this false dichotomy doesn’t chime with the same Tory propaganda that equates the public debt issue with the national economy – it’s perfectly possible to have a large public debt and a strong economy or a low debt and a weak economy, but they seem to bang on as if they are the same thing.

My belief is that a reluctance to be seen to increase taxes is the main reason that the deficit started to grow in the years before the recession. No-one complained when new schools were being built, when NHS waiting lists came down from many months to a matter of weeks, when OAPs were given a guaranteed minimum income. But at the same time, no-one wanted to pay for those things, it seems. The tax burden has not really changed much since 1997 (indeed, it hasn’t changed much since the late 1980s), but we still have the basic problem with democracy – people will vote for more spending or lower taxes, and choose between them, but they are reluctant to vote explicitly for spending cuts or higher taxes. I’d prefer that the government had been bolder in the second term and established the principle of ‘you want it? you pay for it’. Mind you, at least we did better than the US government which slashed taxes are probably the worst time possible (as the economy was peaking and they were trying to fight two wars). In the first term, there was a budget surplus, and the long term debt was being drawn down. Keynesian principles should have been kept up, and an open means of tax increase (the 50% band, full NI on higher incomes?). Mind you, the whole of the second term was an opportunity lost – especially after 9/11.

But still, a bunch of business leaders don’t like NI going up? Not a huge surprise. Perhaps we could see what their profits are doing at the moment – M&S for example are seeing profits rise as many of us struggle, and CEO Sir Stuart Rose is very well remunerated and his successor will come in with an even higher package this summer. I’m not sure that these same businessmen would like to see VAT go up by 2.5% instead (which is what the Lib Dems allege the Tories will do if they win power).

When is local not local?

In my home town, they recently had a by-election. The ward in question, Northgate, had been Labour for a long time, until in the mid-eighties the Lib Dems, through a particularly active and dedicated couple, took one and then the other seat. The two of them held on for all this time, but the husband stood down in the summer due to a personal matter.

Both Labour and the Tories had been vying for contention over the years, and by-elections for local councils tend to be low turnout affairs, so the seat was always know to be up for grabs.

The Tories had been putting leaflets out, but apparently hadn’t wanted an early poll – I’ve heard a rumour that they wanted to wait until the clocks went back so that evenings were less in inviting for canvassing. Labour not having the Ashcroft and Horsham financial backing had people on the ground to campaign instead.

The only things I saw about the campaign were on a couple of blogs. Duncan Crow, a local Tory councillor had two posts, pointing at errors in the other main parties’ leaflet. Andrew Skudder, a Labour ex-councillor, mentioned the feeling in the campaign and then the Tory reaction to it.

In the second of Skuds’ posts, he mentioned one of the things in the Tory leaflets that may have counted against them. They claimed that their candidate was “the only local candidate”. Fine, but as it is, none of the candidates were from Northgate. The Tory’s address was given in Three Bridges, which is near Northgate, but with Crawley’s easily demarcated neighbourhoods, it would be obvious that he was from a different area.

It strikes me as odd, that when one Tory is picking at minor errors in other party’s leaflets (in both cases probably down to slips in copy editing), their own leaflets contain a stonking falsehood that any voter can see is such when they come to read the ballot paper.

The result?

THOMAS, Geraint (Labour) 527
SMITH, Ryan (Conservative) 446
WISE, Darren (Liberal Democrat) 230
KHAN, Arshad (Justice) 13